Frugal UX: A Jugaad Approach to Research and Design

Innovating UX Practice

Inspirations from software engineering

A column by Peter Hornsby
September 25, 2017

In recent years, the Hindi word Jugaad has gained popularity as a synonym for frugal innovation—that is, the ability to do more with less. While the concept of Jugaad came out of developing nations such as India, the concept has garnered interest in the developed economies of the West. This trend has arguably occurred after a half century of relative wealth. Consider, for instance, the British wartime call to arms on the domestic front to “Make do and mend.” The idea of frugality is not simply about making things cheaply. Companies, particularly well-known Western brands, have hard-earned reputations they need to maintain. For these companies, frugality means staying true to their brand values while, at the same time, delivering additional value to the customer. They may accomplish this by

  • reducing overconsumption and waste—Thus, a company can deliver environmental benefits as part of their corporate social responsibility.
  • engaging with a broader range of users—This may mean delivering value in new markets or engaging with customers who the company had previously excluded from consideration by virtue of their age or disability.
  • making their product-design, development, and production processes more decentralized and flexible—This helps the company respond more quickly to market trends and opportunities—functioning like a fleet of speedboats rather than a single supertanker.
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All of these concepts resonate with economic trends in the West. Here in the UK, discount supermarkets are gaining a higher proportion of customer spending as a result of their both offering low prices and maintaining high quality. They achieve this through innovations all along the value chain. Indeed, the notion of doing more with less is characteristic of a huge number of innovative companies—including Uber, Airbnb, Zipcar, and others that are part of the sharing economy, which is predicated on the notion that people no longer need to own a thing to benefit from it. So we can characterize frugality as delivering greater value using fewer resources.

In their book Frugal Innovation: How to Do Better with Less, Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu set out six key principles of frugal innovation:

  • Engage and iterate.
  • Flex your assets.
  • Create sustainable solutions.
  • Shape customer behavior.
  • Co-create value with prosumers.
  • Make innovative friends.

I believe that UX designers have an important role to play in putting these principles into practice and achieving their goals. By implementing these principles—and communicating User Experience in these terms—UX researchers, strategists, and designers can help organizations to deliver more effectively against their goals.

Let’s look at each of these principles in greater depth.

Engage and Iterate

The principle of engaging and iterating emphasizes the need to understand customer needs. While it does not exclude traditional research and development methods, the emphasis is very much on developing a contextual understanding of customers, rapidly iterating to create solutions that meet their needs, and continually validating proposed solutions with real customers. How a company invests money in innovation matters far more than how much money it spends on innovation. Product lifecycle techniques such as dynamic portfolio management and agile-development methods can support the notion of rapid iteration and ensure a company can nimbly react to change. This principle already clearly underpins effective UX design, particularly when design pairs with an agile-development process that allows rapid customer feedback as a product evolves.

Flex Your Assets

Many writings about flexing assets within the context of frugal innovation center on the use of new manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing, social manufacturing, and continuous production, which help companies to satisfy customer needs more rapidly. However, we can also draw parallels in the use of software in supporting mass customization and tailoring the experience to the needs of different types of users. While all of this is bread and butter to UX designers, it also introduces a challenge: the need to explore existing design assets, identify which of them still add value, and understand what additional value you might be able to squeeze out of them.

Create Sustainable Solutions

Achieving sustainability throughout the product lifecycle has become increasingly important to companies, with a growing awareness of the impact manufacturing has on the environment. While UX design’s focus on software means our work will typically have little impact on the environment, our ability to better understand the needs of users, their context of use, and the broader environment can make a significant contribution to a product’s sustainability throughout its lifecycle.

Shape Customer Behavior

UX designers have had an important role to play in shaping customer behavior for years. Work in behavioral economics has long filtered through to design thinking—usually to have a positive influence on user behavior. This may involve rewarding desirable users behaviors such as reducing their use of resources or using techniques such as gamification, visualization, or social comparison to influence behavior. While all of these techniques are positive, we need to avoid the dark side of UX design, in the form of dark patterns. Remember, with great design power comes great responsibility!

Co-Create Value with Prosumers

Frugal innovation has triggered a resurgence in companies’ desire to seek value by engaging with prosumers. However, the view of the prosumer as someone who simply engages more with a brand is no longer sufficient. Consider instead the rise of the maker movement, which is indicative of just how much a company’s mindset may now need to change regarding the level of engagement of some users. For these companies, engaging with customers and involving them in the design process does not just make good business sense, in terms of their ultimate output, it also makes sense as a way to build their brand and create a positive view of the organization.

Make Innovative Friends

While in frugal innovation, making innovative friends refers to macro partnering between firms and between divisions within firms, for the UX designer, it means finding and partnering with

  • colleagues across the business—This means working with others to understand their role in far greater depth. The intention is not for UX professionals to change their career, but instead, to understand another person’s role in sufficient detail to be able to identify opportunities to innovate within the organization.
  • partners in other organizations—Consider what opportunities exist to share work between organizations by reaching out through your own network. While design work may be commercially sensitive, we can share research findings between organizations to the benefit of all.


Frugal, or Jugaad, innovation provides the UX designer with the opportunity to innovate—not only in a way that ultimately touches the user, but also in a way that positively influences the product-development lifecycle within the organization. The core tenets of frugal innovation reflect much of what UX designers have been practicing for decades: engage with and involve users early and often, listen to what they have to say, and—all too frequently—try to get as much done as you can, with very limited resources! 

Director at Edgerton Riley

Reading, Berkshire, UK

Peter HornsbyPeter has been actively involved in Web design and development since 1993, working in the defense and telecommunications industries; designing a number of interactive, Web-based systems; and advising on usability. He has also worked in education, in both industry and academia, designing and delivering both classroom-based and online training. Peter is a Director at Edgerton Riley, which provides UX consultancy and research to technology firms. Peter has a PhD in software component reuse and a Bachelors degree in human factors, both from Loughborough University, in Leicestershire, UK. He has presented at international conferences and written about reuse, eLearning, and organizational design.  Read More

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