User Experience in India

By Afshan Kirmani

Published: January 22, 2008

“Whether you are an individual contributor, manager, or the CEO of a company, you need to know what is happening in the larger world of UX.”

The usability and user experience communities of practice are experiencing great growth and have emerged in countries throughout the world. These developing practices have brought about a huge economic boom in the UX market as both customers and clients are beginning to understand the business benefits they bring. In India, we have undoubtedly seen the growth of these practices. Indian UX companies are delivering designs that satisfy users’ needs to their clients.

This article shares some experts’ thoughts on the Indian UX market. Through interviewing several international UX experts, I have gained deeper insights into the growth of user experience in India and its future development path from here. These insights have changed my perspective, my beliefs, and the way I think.

Whether you are an individual contributor, manager, or the CEO of a company, you need to know what is happening in the larger world of UX. If you want to learn about the culture and the growth of user experience in India, this article is for you.

The Birth of User Experience in India

As most companies became aware of the emerging UX market in India, in 1999, several companies like Cognizant, Honeywell, Oracle, Phillips, Siemens, and so on, had already begun establishing their operations in India. With the potential these multinational companies offered, Indian software companies like Infosys and MindTree Consulting Ltd. took the opportunity to globally integrate their offerings as well.

Soon after 2000, several user experience and research-oriented companies like Design For Use, Human Factors International, Kern Communications Pvt. Ltd., and Onward Research began to realize their missions to engage users and satisfy user needs.

User experience began in India with just a few people who were excited about the idea of user experience design. The creativity this practice brought to India engaged engineers as well as designers, who began focusing and specializing in vertical markets. Today, there are almost 5000 designers and analysts working in the Indian UX industry who are providing business value to customers.

Our Primary Focus: The Delivery of Services That Drive Revenues

“Few companies practice an entire usability lifecycle, as the focus of clients is mostly on heuristic evaluations and usability testing.”

With respect to the varied product domains that exist, several Indian UX companies have found that the financial domain seems to bring in the most revenue. “The market is an important factor that influences the inflow of business in the industry. Soon after the dot-com crash, our clients have found the essence of user experience in the financial domain that seems to be widely taking advantage of our expertise,” says Sarit Arora, Project Director at Human Factors International. “In fact, Indian banks like ICICI have now begun to consider user experience design after they have recognized that the financial domain seems to be integrating such services. But the Indian consumers don’t seem to demand user friendly technology as compared to the global market.” Companies like Intuit thrive on the value the financial domain provides, as they primarily concentrate on the delivery of user-centered design to their customers.

On the other hand, the retail market also seems to be adopting UX services. “The space for user experience in the retail business is growing rapidly, with Indian clients discovering the need to observe users in their natural environment. The benefits are substantially received once our clients have seen the end result of research,” says Parameswaran Venkataraman, CEO of a startup firm called Onward Research.

Most companies provide merely a part of the whole gamut of UX services to their clients. Few companies practice an entire usability lifecycle, as the focus of clients is mostly on heuristic evaluations and usability testing.

The Need for User Experience

With several companies beginning their UX design practices, the need for UX professionals in India has begun to grow tremendously. As the market realizes the need for user experience, clients expect to receive valuable business solutions that enable return on investment.

Prior to the year 2000, users in India were unaware of the benefits that user experience brought. In India, people were fascinated by the thought of complexity rather than simplicity. “The more complex and varied the features included, the more I would try and figure out how to use it,” says Michael, an ICICI Bank user. Looking ahead, this mindset is definitely changing and creating demand for user experience.

For example, compare the personal banking and the corporate banking pages of the ICICI Bank in India, shown in Figures 1 and 2, and the American bank Wells Fargo, shown in Figures 3 and 4. Apart from any inherent usability problems, the lack of consistency between the pages of ICICI Bank can make users cringe.

Figure 1—ICICI Bank personal banking page on www.icicibank.com

ICICI Bank personal banking page

Figure 2—ICICI Bank corporate banking page

ICICI Bank corporate banking page

Figure 3—Wells Fargo personal banking page on www.wellsfargo.com

Wells Fargo personal banking page

Figure 4—Wells Fargo corporate banking page

Wells Fargo corporate banking page

Let’s look at another example that shows the inherent scope for usability in India. In this market, the Indian Railway System has huge potential for improved user experience. Comparing the Web sites of railway systems in Europe and India gives us a clear idea of this potential.

You can see that the Web site of the European railway system, shown in Figure 5, is clearly a step ahead of the Indian Railway System with respect to booking functionality. On the Indian Railway Web site, shown in Figure 6, users need to move through a series of pages and a registration process to find out the cost and the schedule for a particular train trip. This user experience is hugely important in India, as more than 60% of Indians prefer to travel by train rather than by air. In fact, there are cities in India you can’t get to by plane! The usability of the Indian Railway site is so poor, users are compelled to book their tickets at the counter rather than online.

Figure 5—Rail Europe home page at www.raileurope.co.uk

Rail Europe home page

Figure 6—Indian Railway home page at www.indianrail.gov.in

Indian Railway home page

Another problem crops up when clients demand UX services, but don’t have the time or the budget to invest in the initial user research that would help them develop an understanding of users before providing design recommendations. The practice of contextual inquiry seems to be the most underrated tool we could potentially use to understand users. “Most companies today lack the understanding of a core usability practice. The need is to understand users. This is what should be given most importance,” says Deepa Bachu, a usability practitioner from Intuit.

Current Client Demand

Companies that run their UX operations in India have observed that clients demand three things:

  • value to business—Clients expect UX designers and analysts to provide value to their businesses rather than a process that will lead to solutions. They need solutions up front that can profit their businesses.
  • domain knowledge—It is crucial to have domain knowledge before entering a long-term engagement. Every potential client expects a designer to have both a vertical and a horizontal portfolio.
  • usability labs—Potential and existing clients expect UX companies to conduct usability testing and assessments for them on projects that have good budgets. While 20% of existing companies have usability labs, most of the other 80% are planning to build one in order to compete. Alternatively, they might outsource usability testing to a third party for unbiased results.

Is Usability Testing Always the Best Approach?

“Clients often demand that UX professionals conduct usability testing to discover any usability-related issues in their products or services.”

Clients often demand that UX professionals conduct usability testing to discover any usability-related issues in their products or services. As the money such projects bring in is alluring to the companies that provide these services, they sometimes forget to evaluate the essential value of these services to businesses. Sometimes usability testing is not the right service to provide. “Companies must focus on providing value to business. Testing is not always the right solution. Sometimes, my client requests testing when a Web site can get rid of usability-related problems with the help of a quick evaluation. Here is where an honest relationship of trust and expertise in consultancy lies. If we do not push for a relationship, services will only lead to a give-and-take model, which will harm the growth of business procurement,” says Nishant Jain, CEO of Design For Use.

Space for Niche Markets

As is common in global practice, IT companies in India find ways of achieving the process-oriented delivery of UX services that are integrated into the software-development lifecycle. On the other hand, companies that solely provide usability services are moving toward a specialized segment of the market that helps them with client consultancy. The top services in hot demand include

  • research
  • heuristic evaluation
  • information architecture
  • ethnographic studies
  • wireframing
  • visual design

Companies today are yearning to find a space for themselves in the market. They begin their evolution by creating a unique selling proposition (USP) for their company. “My company solely concentrates on research that brings light to end user needs. While most companies provide a gamut of services, I have chosen to concentrate on this niche segment of user experience, as it provides an edge over other companies. Observing users in their natural environment is the best form of understanding users, and my clients have understood the value of it,” says Parameswaran.

The Potential for the Growth of UX in India

There is a huge amount of scope for the global UX industry in India, including opportunities that provide benefits to users as well as customers;

  • analyzing cost versus benefit—There is always a cost/benefit analysis when customers invest in services from the Indian market. Companies in India are now waking up to the benefits this opportunity brings.
  • designing products for India—Since India is the country with the second largest population after China, customers have begun to realize that creating products for the Indian market requires an understanding of users from a local perspective. By investing in a company that clearly understands the Indian culture, customers show they value relationships that bring them gain.

What are employers and UX professionals doing to promote the growth of user experience in India?

  • hosting seminars—Employers host seminars to facilitate discussion forums for people in the UX industry. Some hold seminars across the county, once every 3 months.
  • organizing workshops—To help build the emerging UX practice, employers hold workshops in various cities to make employees aware of industry best practices. They also invite world-renowned people from the UX industry to present such workshops.
  • hiring specialists—Most employees enter companies with expertise in a certain domain. Employers find expertise in their domain an advantage and are moving toward hiring specialists in their markets. However, companies hire user-centered designers who can contribute the entire gamut of user-centered design services.
  • specializing—In response to client demand, UX professionals are specializing in specific vertical markets to help gain domain expertise.
  • educating clients—Companies have begun providing training for their clients to give them a better understanding of user experience. They hold training sessions to drive business benefits.
  • educating users—User experience remains unheard of by most users in India. Today, some companies educate their users through discussions, interviews, and telephone support.
  • avoiding the use of jargon—People need to understand that user experience evolved for one reason: making things simple to use. UX companies are consciously spreading awareness of the need to use simple language and avoid jargon throughout the UX industry to help clients, beginners, and users understand what we do. By educating employees in effective communication, UX companies can ensure clients and users will no longer feel alienated by this field.
  • training UX professionals—Companies conduct training sessions to educate designers and analysts and contribute to their growth professionally. During training sessions, employees participate in the rigorous analysis of industry case studies.
  • participating in community building—Several companies today organize meetups to help build community awareness of user experience and its best practices. UX community meetups also provide a means for UX professionals to meet potential employers. UX professionals participate in meetups where they can share career experiences with their peers.
  • sharing knowledge—Many UX designers and analysts contribute actively to seminars, because there is a huge scope for knowledge building. Designers come together to host workshops, and analysts share their experiences through case studies. This sharing of knowledge occurs both internally within companies and externally at publicly held seminars.
  • making global connections—Employees want to connect with other people in the UX industry throughout the world. They join mailing lists, contribute to blogs, subscribe to newsletters and magazines, contribute to online publications, and so on.

A Worldwide View: India Must Yet Strive for Betterment

In India, UX practice is achieving greater heights, but some needs remain unmet. While interviewing people around the world, I gained several insights that could help UX practice in India grow further, as follows:

  • discarding the process-oriented approach—Most UX companies today rely on a process-oriented approach that has its delivery benefits. While most companies practice this approach, others are now taking the lead by providing services that offer the right solution at the right time. This consultancy approach helps clients to understand UX practice better and also build trustworthy relationships that can last a lifetime. It is important to provide solutions before providing a process.
  • building innovation—With companies aping their competitors, innovation in delivery seems to be lacking throughout the UX industry. As companies churn out products and services, creativity is taking a backseat when it comes to delivering what is right to satisfy user needs.
  • educating startup firms—It is most crucial to educate startups, as their progress defines the UX industry of tomorrow. Experts in the industry should strive to understand startup companies better and help to define their businesses.
  • getting involved with educational institutions—Since students are always potential employees, the government must provide an adequate education to all students in India. Unlike the other parts of the world, India is lacking in education for UX professionals, as there are no specialized masters courses in Human Factors or Human/Computer Interaction. Experts should also conduct sessions at educational institutions that would make students employable in the future.
  • providing internships—With only a handful of companies providing internships in user experience, students are discouraged from exploring opportunities in UX. If companies develop internship programs, they can contribute to the education of students in UX.
  • doing internal employee training—Some companies conduct internal training sessions, but not enough of them. With only one company providing a certified course in usability in India, there seems to be a huge gap in employee training.
  • creating partnerships—A few firms do partner up with usability consultancies globally, which helps them gain a better grasp of the cultural nuances in different countries. Through partnerships, companies have opportunities for further education of their employees and can develop a practice together through an environment of mutual learning and collaboration.
  • educating clients with a specific focus—Most companies just describe the entire gamut of usability services they provide, without going into the finer details. They don’t adequately communicate the benefits they offer in providing solutions to clients and the value that a methodology provides to business. It isn’t just the definition of usability that matters; it’s always about the value we can bring to business.
  • involving users—Most projects don’t encompass understanding users. Most projects concentrate on wireframing, heuristic evaluations, and visual design. An awareness of the importance of understanding users is lacking.
  • refraining from just following competitors—As companies emerge as champions in the industry, it is common for companies in India to follow their practices. This approach is a mistaken one, as companies must understand the need to focus on a particular business direction. For example, a company might focus solely on user research. Building a usability testing lab would then serve no purpose, as the need for it might be at best minimal.
  • involving NASSCOM—Since the demand for software is high, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) in India must endeavor to contribute to the industry boom. It does offer industry training programs, but not on the user experience front. Concentrating mainly on technical education, NASSCOM needs to help build awareness and education about UX.
  • organizing all-India meetups—To ensure UX professionals all over India can connect with one another, there should be meetups across the country to help them gain contacts and share knowledge. Usability analysts and designers aren’t the only ones who stand to gain. Education about UX should span engineers, developers, and project managers. As the demand grows, UX professionals in India will find it necessary to segregate the job responsibilities of a designer and an analyst—though this is not currently the norm.
  • talking clients’ language—At every meeting with clients, UX companies must ensure they talk their clients’ language, because it is important for clients to understand every step of the delivery process. Simple terminology will go a long way toward helping them to understand UX, ultimately benefiting users.
  • showing design iterations to clients—With each design iteration made on a project, clients need to see the changes to help build a trusting relationship. Clients need to the see the evolution of their projects. Once clients become convinced of the progress from the first to the last iteration, demand for UX services continues to grow.
  • building communication skills—The need to develop communication skills has become paramount as India goes global. Some user-centered designers and analysts have the skill to produce the best designs, but the need to effectively communicate their ideas curbs their creative thinking. By ensuring that schools deliver adequate education in communication skills and having employees engage in debates, people can develop skills to help the industry to grow further.
  • displaying case studies—Companies must deliver case studies in which a compelling user experience has influenced the outcome of a project. They can exhibit these case studies both internally and externally.
  • promoting social responsibility—While we proceed with projects within a corporate culture, we now need to help the disabled connect with the broader world. Watching the disabled use your service or product should be the most satisfying experience of a UX professional.
  • developing a passion for learning—As UX professionals contributing to the evolution of the practice of UX, we must always have the yearning to know more and continuously learn from our colleagues.

The Future of User Experience in India

“If the above-stated gaps are met, user experience has a positive journey ahead in the Indian market.”

The industry of user experience is growing and will continue to do so. User experience in India is going global, as customers demand the presence of companies in various countries, because of the emerging scope for cultural studies. “Most of our clients demand that we hold a presence in their country to understand their users closely in conjunction with the culture,” emphasizes Anshuman Singh, Senior User Experience Consultant at MindTree Consulting Ltd.

If the above-stated gaps are met, user experience has a positive journey ahead in the Indian market. “The market will continue to expand once we put our mind to the future ahead of us. If we make our products tangible enough for users, the scope is never ending,” says Sagar Paul, Program Director at MindTree Consulting Ltd. Two untapped markets that promise to gain momentum in the future include user experience involvement in legacy software and product design.

Even if your company doesn’t currently work in India, understanding the Indian culture can be beneficial for the future of your company. Please tell me about your experiences across the gamut of user experience in India. Through your comments, I can better understand the expansion of the UX industry across the global economy.

Questionnaire—You can assess your company’s UX practice with the help of my questionnaire.

If you score 23–33, you have a good UX practice within your company; if 13–23, you haven’t yet gotten there; if 0–13, start building your knowledge of UX and the value usability can bring to your company.

19 Comments

Afshan

Nice read. Though I think the UX problem in India has bigger roots—and I am speaking from my experience, so please don’t mind the subjectivity!

I think the Web infrastructure in India is not robust enough, and it has not really penetrated into the common man’s household, therefore, it gets slightly pointless to build complex database sites that are targeted only toward Indian consumers. I think it might be more worthwhile to target Indian businesses and build sites around their needs, since they are the power users in this case, and they are ones that enjoy fast bandwidths on stable computers.

I also think, if the Indian consumers need to be drawn into the Internet, it has to be via cell phones—much like Korea and Japan—and in that case, UX has to be reinvented for the mobiles and the PDAs—and the desktop browser analogy has to be dropped out of it completely, since these users will not be aware of it!

Though I definitely agree with you on creating a solid UX—and UI and IA—community and spreading awareness through seminars, research, and just good old networking! :) Thanks, G

Gaurav,

I completely agree that we need to build Web sites around customer needs, and that is what the UX practice entails. And this is not just the case with the Indian market. I also do agree that we need to build more for the common masses rather than just for business purposes. Alas!

You mentioned that we need to push the usage of the Internet from the desktop to mobile phones. This we’ll definitely conquer 50 years down the line. But right now, the mobile phones that do have Internet access are way too costly for the common masses. This would be ideal once there is provision of the Internet for all mobile phones.

Thanks for the comments. Feel free to talk about the practice out there in the US. I would love to explore more. :)

Dear Afshan,

Good read. I would like to contribute a couple of points. Firstly, there is a lot of education on UX available in India. Design institutes like NID, IDC (in IITs), and many other professional design schools in India all teach design for better user experience. Many pioneering teachers come from these institutes and have done a lot of work in the educational sector. Unlike the US, Human Factors, Cognitive Psychology, and Ergonomics have never been popular educational streams in the Indian education sector. However, I think design thinking in these institutes has always promoted a user-centered design philosophy, and one tends to look at their graduates with a lot of hope. I see some of the people in your interviews are also designers by profession. I find it hard to say the word UX… without a …D at the end of it. :-) Call it bias or what you may.

I am a graduate of NID myself and happen to teach at some of these design schools now. You may want to see the work done by—to name a few at the top of my mind—Prof. Anirudha Joshi and Prof. Athavankar of IDC IIT Bombay; Prof. S. Balram and Prof. M.P. Ranjan of NID in this area.

I think there are two different scenarios one needs to consider when one talks about UX in India. There are many companies who are outsourcing UX work for international markets. However, there is a large amount of work being done for products launched in the Indian market itself. Look at our group, for example: Design Incubator R&D Labs Pvt Ltd www.designincubator.com. India is becoming one of the leading markets. With over 30% of the users illiterate, about 60% without 24-hour electricity, and many other issues, our country may still own one fourth of the world’s mobiles phones in the next five years. I think the one billion population in India represents at least 100 different countries, with 10 million populations each, due to its diversity and vastness.

I think there are many others in India who work in overlapping fields of UX. They might not call it that. They may not go to the CHI, UPA, and other conferences. Many call it “modernizing craft products.” Others may be local innovators driven by need. (GRID run by Prof. Anil Gupta of IIM comes to my mind as one of the places to find hundreds of such examples.)

What I would call UX design in India is not as organized a sector as what UX may mean to the western world. But isn’t this paradoxical? There is a user-centeredness to the way the field has evolved in India. The context of design is so local and so different that UX design does not happen only in large corporations, and designers are no longer essentially people with university degrees in Design, Psychology, or Human Factors. Most of it—I would think almost all of it—happens in very local, unorganized design sectors in the country. It would be really interesting to look at UX in this light when one talks about design in the Indian context. By trying to fit the knowledge of user-centered design, born out of the cultural and ethnic needs in India, into a framework of known UX paramenters that have never been tested in this context, I think we may be biasing ourselves even before we start understanding UX in our own context—Atul Joshi

Thanks for the insights, Atul. :)

I think the same plague that haunted our product companies is behind our IT framework also. Instead of seeing India as a cheaper place to do design, the UX or UCD communities should focus on creating innovative and intellectual designs. I agree with Gaurav that the infrastructure blockade on our Internet and related media will slow down our progress in this sector. I believe the new age and future of UX will lie in mobile devices and portable, hand-held, and household devices rather than the PC. If we need to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world, we should create innovative content for our common users, seeing the technology and infrastructure barrier as a challenge—for example, creating new applications for farmers on common mobile phones, using the current network and technology to aid in farming and knowledge transfer. Just an example…

The only way out would be to see our red tapes as challenges and then work around them for innovative designs using UX or UCD as a tool.

Good article and particularly like your point about “avoiding the use of jargon.”

Great article on user experience in India.

UX people should be involved in the project from the scratch, but the scenario in India is UX people are called only when the project demands UX people for a shorter period of time and then moved to another project, without getting in detail about the project and domain knowledge. This type of approach should be changed. UX people should be involved from requirements gathering till the deployment of a project.

Nice and very good article. Great job, Afshan. Keep writing and sharing.

Jithesh, thanks for the insights. :)

Innovation really needs to be given a boost and that is reflected by the business model of any company. We will see that growing only when companies begin to believe that innovation rather than features reflects revenue returns. What do you think?

Daniel Szuc, thanks for the comment. :)

Your company seems to focus a lot on training. If you have examples to share from your experience, feel free to do so.

Vijay, thanks for your comment.

Business is money. We all know that. If we begin learning, training and sharing our knowledge, probably we could change the current scenario. :)

Shahnawaz, thanks! :)

I’m hoping that you could also share your experiences on this front.

Thanks, Afshan Kirmani.

I think the interesting challenge for companies wanting to adopt usability and UX is to look at the culture of the organization first to see where there are sweet spots for adoption.

No amount of training will help if people are not empowered in the first place or in an environment where real change can happen.

See “Apple’s design process” and “Secrets of UX Design Productivity from Google.”

Daniel,

The links that you sent were aptly useful. Looking at innovative companies these days, we know how essential it is for user experience and innovation to move hand in hand. A great resource here. Thanks.

A very well thought out and written article. Very useful information.

Thanks, Anton. :) I’m glad that this was useful to you.

Hi Afshan,

I am searching for good course regarding UXD, can you give me some idea, where I can find these courses in India, or long distance too if possible.

Thank you, Ritika

Hi Ritika,

I apologize for the delay in my response to you. My answer to you would completely depend on what you may want to pursue. For example, are you looking at a course that is analytical and research driven as compared to a course that focuses on visual design and interaction design? With respect to the former, you may want to look at HFI (Human Factors International). If it were the latter, you’d want to look at NID, among many others.

I would also recommend programs that help you get a Master’s in HCI, Human Factors, or Ergonomics. Some universities include: Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Georgia Tech, University of Washington, UCL, and Indiana University.

Talk to people and do a Google search to make an informed decision for yourself. I’m also reachable on LinkedIn if you need to chat. :-)

Hi Afshan,

I am looking for some training—admin or author training, not developer training—on user experience, Web usability best practices, mobile and tablet usability, usability testing, and Web design best practices. It would be great if you could help me to find any institutes or vendors who organize such training or workshops in Bangalore or Delhi.

Thanks lots, Sasi

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