There is a saying about how- if you want God to laugh, tell him your plans. Recently I’ve begun to suggest an addition to it- ‘If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans and your research proposals’.
Project Kish was a blue sky project from inception. When the objective is to restate the manner in which contracts are communicated, one has to be ready to go wide. After the initial research towards better understanding the barriers in information symmetry while contracting, we launched open design sprints. It involved getting designers to participate in the process of converting contractual terms to graphical prototypes.
Each of the prototypes were then taken on field to be tested and to categorise the learnings from them. While these field visits gave us a lot of understanding in terms of the reasons for information asymmetry and the conditions of where, when and how a person contracts, the design feedback that we were able to eke out from these field tests was substantially lacking. Where a particular graphic was found lacking in communication- we weren’t able to accurately reflect if it was the result of an inaccurate design principle or bad manifestation of the principle.
After three open design sprints, with the last sprint yielding no real prototypes- we decided to take a step back and examine the process we were following. The design sprints were focused on creating a design manifestation of insurance contracts. We zeroed in on the contract type being on the grounds that a) it was a particularly important concept (b) it was still a relatively unknown concept that we could test out the comprehension of the communication that we put out- as opposed to a document setting out loan terms- a concept that is already fairly well understood.
However, the insurance contract prototypes sought to communicate a lot of information and it was difficult to identify very clear design principles from this process. We went back to the drawing board to re-evaluate our research plan and the way forward. It was evident that subsequent sprints would offer direction but not clear principles. At this point, we decided to engage with a design research team that broke down the idea of graphical communication prototypes and tested different visual styles and concepts.
This sharp turn actually helped yield a different perspective of the issue.
The objective was then rephrased towards identifying the visual representations that the target audience would be most comfortable with and is best able to relate to. Comfort level and relatability becomes relevant when we are trying to ascertain the most engaging visuals and as a result, identify what the customer would spend time trying to understand. This perspective more closely reflects behavioural patterns of contract engagement.
In typical urban scenarios, where contracts are communicated in English and a contract recipient also understands English, it is clearly not the language that alienates. A lack of intention to engage with the contract is a constant thread underlying most contractual engagements. In some cases, this apathy emerges from intimidation and in some, a sense that ‘this is not made for us’. It was important that the visual communication we were seeking to champion address this basic behaviour.
Our hypothesis, therefore, is this — the challenge that a visual representation of a contract should be able to communicate is a second tier concern. The first tier concern is that the visual representation of a contract should get the persons to engage at all.
With this perspective in mind, we have launched our study and our field research. The learnings so far have been extremely insightful with several ‘Aha’ moments. While there was an expectation of local context in the comfort and ease with which one set of visuals is received over the other, personally, I think I vastly underestimated the impact of socio-economic background and conditioning in determining the appeal of one set of visuals over the other for our target audience.
Any designer would tell you that they try to present their designs in a relatable manner for their viewer. But a lot of prevalent financial communication shows that there is a lack of understanding as to what exactlyrelatable looks like.
We had set out a research plan with expected goals but with the research taking a life of its own, we have pivoted in our research approach and more importantly our perspective on expected outcomes.
It only remains to be seen whether we stay this path or give God a reason to chuckle.
About the Author:
Saranya Gopinath is a Bharat Inclusion Research Fellow who is exploring a ‘New Paradigm for Contracts’. She tweets @Saranyagop.
About Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII):
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The program focuses on solutions leveraging technology open access, inclusive technology platforms such as the India Stack. It integrates financial inclusion research with entrepreneurship and training to transform these solutions into scalable, viable and high impact businesses. We are keen on partnering with entrepreneurs who are driven by building next-generation digital services for India. Reach out to us at email@example.com or ask your questions in the comments section below.