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User Experience in India

January 22, 2008

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.

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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

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. 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

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. PDF

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.

Senior Omni-Channel Commerce Consultant

London, UK

Afshan KirmaniWith over ten years of experience in customer experience, Afshan delivers ecommerce experiences based on omni-channel content and commerce solutions. She specializes in conversion-centric design, using behavioral psychology to persuade and drive conversions. Her projects focus on discovery and definition for content management and commerce platforms, and her design solutions have a proven track record of delivering growth in strategic accounts and revenue streams within global enterprises. Afshan has worked on Web sites and applications that take a mobile-first, responsive approach to produce designs that span hand-held devices, wearables, and retail kiosks. Her experience touches on social media, analytics, applications that leverage personalized content, and user experiences that optimize customer retention to increase sales.  Read More

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