Design India
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Design India

User Experience (UX): The failure of Start-Ups in India, and the need to re-design our minds!

When we talk about user experience, we think of technology, products that are derived from technology and services that revolve around technology. That’s the norm. User experience, the term in general was coined by Don Norman, and when we think of User Experience in general, we have two names in mind — Don Norman and Jakob Neilsen, for these two men did some ground-breaking and revolutionary innovations in the field of user experience.

But as a user experience researcher, what is my approach towards it?

I have worked with Peepal Design, Bangalore for 3 months during my summer internship, and one thing that I learned while working with them was that — everything I thought I know, and everything that I actually know, are both wrong. The way we study/teach user experience is absolutely different from the way it actually works.

User experience is a broad umbrella that covers a lot more other fields like — user interface design, interaction design, product design, typography, functionality, and even content.

So, when we think of user experience we think it encompasses these strata and that’s all. But the reality is very different from the books.

When companies demand you to do user experience research, you have to talk to, interview, observe, study, and interact with — people, or the potential users of the brand/product. Users who aren’t the way they are described in books or theories, but people. Regular. Working-class people. Sometimes even those who have a lot more going on in their lives as well, so the first thing you need to do is — be empathetic.

In my internship, I learned a lot would be an understatement, because I also observed a lot and from my personal observations, I derived one conclusion, that the problem with our start-ups (in India) isn’t that our ideas aren’t great, or that our solutions aren’t great, but the problem with our start-ups is that, our problems are not real problems. Again, I am not talking about all start-ups, but most of them are failing.

The ones who are failing, also fail to understand why they failed, which is a concerning issue. The CEOs and the co-founders are so sure-shot and confident about their success that they don’t really pay attention to one thing — is their start-up solving a problem? If yes, what?

Most of the new start-ups that are blooming in India are solving first world problems, but they forget that we are still a country with over 25% of our population, thriving below the poverty line! It’s not that we don’t have problems, it’s just that the first world problems are too little for us.

Our cab is late, we don’t need another app to solve that issue, we don’t even need ‘more’ cabs because Bangalore roads are already clogged with them, but we sure do need more transportation options instead, to cater to the huge population cap! We do not need an augmented reality mirror in our malls to help us select clothes without trying them, because — honestly, have you seen Indian malls? They’re so crowded, that nobody will ever have time or space to use that mirror and it will be nothing, but fancy equipment that we don’t need!

So, more than the problem, the geographical and demography set-up also matters, and it highly affects the success of your start-up.

When we talk about start-ups that are failing, we also must consider how they did their ground-level research, and that is where most of the things go wrong. User Experience design is important, but User Experience Research is like oxygen, your start-up will die without it! If you are targeting users or people, you need to include some kind of UX research to finally come up with a viable deliverable.

Now talking about the successful start-ups. An old friend of mine, Sourabh Gupta, is the CEO of vernacular.ai. It’s a start-up based on artificial intelligence, and they are solving a very basic, very grass-root level problem, and that is — language.

India is a country with over twenty-two languages that are spoken by hundreds and thousands of people, and there’s a high chance that you will not be able to understand a language at all because of its diversity from the languages that you’re fluent in. So, when a north-Indian travels to South-India or vice-versa, how do they communicate? Translation apps exist, but typing in everything you want to ask someone again is a hassle. Even with voice command, it becomes difficult to first speak in your question, then get the translation in another language, and then get the answer in another language, and translate it back to your own — so frustrating!

So, they came up with a much more comfortable solution — automatic translation on both ends. Whatever you say will be automatically translated to the language that the other person has set for himself on his smart-phone, and whatever he says, you will receive that in your set language — a solution, minus the hassle and minus the frustration.

We need such start-ups and start-ups who do proper UX research before they start with their design or development phases. A lot of money from venture capitalists and angel investors is flushed down every year into nothingness, only because a proper UX research is lacking, and by proper I mean very rich research which includes users from different spheres and backgrounds and social strata. See it this way, if you’re a North Indian who knows English and Hindi, and you are riding in a fancy Uber cab in streets of Chennai, chances are that your driver is a Tamil speaking person who has no idea about Hindi or English, so how will you make your product useful to him? How do you understand the problem of Tamilians or Keralites if you have only received a positive response about your product from a high-end Punjabi social group?

And, it’s not only important to have User Experience Research in the very initial stage of your start-up, but it’s also important to see if your users are genuine and not only interested in the research for the incentive or money they’re getting! Because this is also a big issue with UX Research, that people will tell you what you want to hear because they think they’re being paid to do that. Make sure, you communicate effectively with your users and try to extract quality information from them, instead of just flattery. More than putting the focus just on their answers, also try to analyze and study their behavior, observe them closely, and if possible — also try to conduct ethnography research to get a glimpse into their lives, believe me — it always helps.

Lastly, user experience as a field is very vast, and I feel really lucky to have dived into it at the right time in my life. This is just the beginning of my career as a User Experience Researcher/Designer, let’s see where life takes me from here…

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