The UX Story from the Indian Subcontinent

User experience (UX) design is one of the least discussed subjects amongst Indian start-ups today. This is surprising because numerous studies have shown that for every dollar spent on “implementing focus on customer experience” can make between one and two hundred dollars in return. If that wasn’t enough, it can increase a user’s willingness to pay by 14.4%, reduce their reluctance to switch brands by 15.8%, and increase the likelihood of their recommending a product or service by 16.6% (Forrester). It’s about time that this field come out of the shadows and we take notice of what it can do for the bottom-lines of many start-ups in India.

UX design is a relatively new field that is responsible for designing an interface in a way that it becomes simple enough for customers to understand and use. Any human-machine interface, right from your microwave to that of any of the apps on your smartphone, was designed by a practitioner of this skill. While the skill always existed under different titles before, it was brought to the fore when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone. Apple wasn’t the first to release a smartphone, but the user experience of the iPhone was clearly far ahead of anything that ever existed before. It made things so simple for everyone to use that it became a runaway success, creating an entirely new category of products and setting a new price point for them as well.

But in my experience, having worked with clients across many industries and geographies, the conversation about UX is postponed further out in India as compared to others, until a time when the “product [or service] has been built and functioning well”. This approach is odd because the same people would agree that architects must be consulted before constructing a building but are completely missing the point that UX designers are providing the analogous service in the technology world. While things are still not entirely fixed, there are signs that this attitude may be changing amongst some techno-preneurs. Many businesses involving finance and banking (“fin-tech”) are now adopting a “UX-first” strategy and ironing out their mechanisms “on paper”, as it were, before pushing out development of the software. There are three benefits to this approach, first, they are able to reduce the costs involved in development of the software; second, these prototypes are also becoming a vision-document for the company internally, setting the milestones to be achieved; and third, they are using these prototypes to pitch for investments from potential investors who appreciate that they have all the aspects of the systems they are building fleshed out. One client of ours was able to raise ₹600 crores worth of investment using exactly such a prototype!

But if an entrepreneur didn’t consider consulting with a UX designer before, it’s not entirely their fault either as the field has been evolving quite a bit too. In the beginning, we were largely entrusted with the job of presenting things in more aesthetically pleasing ways. We then evolved to answering some more questions about customers. In the Indian context, our big foray into this field came with the ecommerce wave we saw in 2011. In the initial years, we spent most of our time trying to design experiences that answered one of two questions — how can we convince people to shop online because most people were disinclined to do that, and how can we ask multiple questions of users so we can profile them better and show them relevant products.

The field has now evolved to a place where we are not only able to do ethnographic and psychographic research about users and provide better mechanisms to address their needs, good designers are able to also use that to have conversations about business models that may impact the revenues of a company directly. UX design agencies have typically worked with a number of clients and have the unique vantage point of knowing what works in an unrelated industry that may not have been considered before, saving many months of evolutionary steps that may bring the entrepreneur to the same conclusion.

But not all is great news. Practitioners of what is known as “dark UX” have focussed the same kind of efforts into developing interaction patterns that makes an unaware user do things that they may have not intended. For example, consider your response to the following question asked by an application, “Would you like to allow this app to access your contacts? Multiplayer functions will be disabled until such permission is provided.” Anyone that has paid for the application wants to get the most out of their money and when presented with such a question, you are most likely to answer in the affirmative regardless of the fact that you don’t know what “multiplayer functions” include. It may just be a chat function or an indicator of another player being online which could probably have been achieved in other ways. But the objective of the application was to mine your contacts list and that was achieved.

Such patterns when applied in other areas like in government schemes or banking services are likely to affect two segments of society the most — those new to technology and senior citizens who are used to a society where personal information was shared without worry, leaving them susceptible to identity theft — a real threat in a world that is going rely more and more on electronic systems. Thus, it is imperative, now more than ever, that we are aware of all that this powerful yet little-understood field of UX design so it can be put to the right use.

Sharan Grandigae, Partner, Redd Experience Design

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