Shram: A Comprehensive UX Case Study

How might we enable handymen (electricians, plumbers etc) to decrease their unemployment period? If you are using a smartphone, I recommend using landscape mode as there are images with text in this article.

Raunaq Shah
Jun 2 · 9 min read


Most of us are aware at varying degrees about many governmental initiatives, as well as NGOs, which aim at minimising the worsening nation-wide employment crisis in India. One of my friends shared his experience of a personal visit to rural areas during his research while designing a digital product for rural users. The conversation made me realise the gravity of the unemployment crisis in India in rural as well as urban environments.

My mind was racing to conceive a satisfying solution to “How might we increase the employment of uneducated low-income people?”

A quick glance of the key screen of the finished product

Focused desk research helped me achieve a fact-based understanding of unemployment and its causes and impact.

Surprisingly, I discovered that the many causes of unemployment of low-income urban folk also originate in rural areas like low income in farming, limited agricultural land and many more which pushed rural folk to migrate to cities in search of livelihood. Living as low-income workers in cities most end up as construction workers or in an occupation like plumbers, electrician etc. Many digital solutions like Sulekha, UrbanClap, Handyman etc aim at connecting such people to potential clients and increasing employment.

Source: Farmers Report

From the above graph, it is evident that most of the farmers are small farmers. Small farmers have tiny farmland which limits the number of crops they can grow every year and hence, they are always seasonally unemployed which leads to even lower income and the inability to meet the basic needs. Landless farmers and some medium farmers also suffer from a similar plight.

I formulated the following hypotheses based on the survey reports as well as my thoughts, beliefs and societal conditioning about employment and farming.

The Plan
I had the required academic understanding of the unemployment problem and I also was cognizant of potential business opportunities in solving it. Convinced about the significance of the problem, it was time to plan the process.

The green arrows were added later and signify diversions from the plan

To validate hypotheses and understand the lives of rural people, I needed to capture their stories. But due to poor accessibility to rural people I chose the next closest alternative. I reached out to city-dwelling handymen (electricians, workers etc) who usually have a strong connection to rural life as their extended families stay in villages. They provided helpful insights into today’s rural life.

I conducted 60-minute in-depth personal interviews with 5 interviewees. The fifth interviewee, a scrap collector, had no strong rural connection and hence, the following are the story highlights from only the first 4 interviewees.

I elicited the following key observations from the interviews and gauged my hypotheses against them.

Surprisingly, I learnt that there is no need for certification for a handyman (electrician, plumber etc) to work in a city as a self-employed entity. This would imply that most of the self-employed electricians, carpenters that we know probably are trained by any of their kin or friend who was fairly established in that occupation. Furthermore, an established uneducated skilled worker helps willing rural people to move to the city by training them and making them capable of earning a living thereby indirectly increasing employment. I distilled these observations into key insights.

After brainstorming on the insights I got a dozen of How might we(s). On careful inspection, I noticed that many were pointing towards a set of overlapping yet broader problems and hence, I combined them and arrived at the following HMWs.

I found all the HMWs interesting but I had a better understanding of the urban handyman as well as I had good access to them for future interviews and usability testing. Hence, I chose the following HMW.

The user interviews had given me enough data on urban handymen however, I realised that I lacked a strong understanding of their attitude and behaviour towards digital products and mobile phones in general. The selection of the HMW gave me clarity on my knowledge gap and it begged more focused research. I was successful in recruiting a previous interviewee again and following were my key findings regarding their attitude towards mobile and digital products.

This 75-min long interview gave me some key insights about their mobile usage behaviour and attitudes which were vital in guiding my design decisions.

Not done with the interviews just yet.
The objective is to decrease unemployment periods of handymen by increasing their clientele which consists of regular people like you and me. This required me to understand their behaviour and how they find old or new handymen. Hence, I recruited three people from different demographic and professional backgrounds for 60-min interviews. The following are the key highlights of the interview.

An interesting find.
I found that people have custom contact-saving systems where they put a suffix or prefix to the name of a handyman so that its easier to search for them from their contact list. e.g. Bharat The Electrician or Electrician Bharat Bhargav. Most people had some kind of a workaround to make it easier for them to search their contact list for the handyman from whom they had taken work before.

How do people find new handymen?
On synthesising the research data, I found that trust was indeed the core issue which impacted people’s decision-making, especially when looking for new handymen.

Even within these four categories, more sub-hierarchies of trust were found like people tend to trust some friends more over the others. This was too broad but putting it in context helped inform the design decisions in later stages of the project.

Using the understanding developed from the research data, I crafted two target user personas — customer and handyman.

User journey mapping helped me to narrate a scenario and weed out the frustration points as well as identify the potential Moments of Truth. I reframed every frustration point as an HMW.

Actual Mapping
Actual Mapping

I made many sketches and pushed to be conscious of every design decision that I made.

I created 2 sets of key wireframes — Client & Handyman. The latter was particularly challenging because they had to be in the native language, Gujarati, and given that they had low tech-savviness even basic conceptual models like the perception of 3 dot icon (for settings) etc had to be verified.



I made a clickthrough prototype in Marvel to test with users.

Client Version

Iteration 1 | New Direction
I tested the prototype with one previous interviewee and found that people want faster ways to get things done. The search functionality was validated but the primary information architecture to be more seamless and intuitive. Some interesting ideas and needs also surfaced during testing which gave an interesting direction to the project!

Iteration 2 | New Functionality
New flow for small fixes and repairs was added where a client could take a picture, add optional work details and let the interested handymen reach out to him. However, I found it wasn’t getting communicate clearly that the client has two ways to search for new handymen — request with photo and custom search.

Iteration 3 | Almost there…
I had to completely redesign the navigation and information architecture of the previous prototype to intuitively communicate the capabilities of the app to the user. The client can easily understand about the two ways to find new handymen. Critical feedback only included having explicit information about the visibility of the client’s details to the handyman.

Handyman Version

Iteration 1 | Getting the native language microcopies, right.
The information architecture of the handymen version worked well but getting the translation of microcopies into Gujarati was very challenging. The challenge was that most handymen were not fluent in Gujarati, due to multiple regional slangs, so direct translation didn’t work. Also, some English words, like ‘review’ directly written in Gujarati, were more comprehensible to them than literary translation. I made incremental changes after testing with each testee.

Iteration 2 | Adding Color and Simplifying layout
I used a bright activating green colour as it symbolises growth, good luck, renewal while at the same time invoking a sense of calmness. I stuck with Roboto typeface as many handymen were familiar with it given their exposure to WhatsApp. Testees immediately recognised and appreciated the changed UI. Also, I realised that handymen can't afford iPhones so I recalibrated the screens for regular Android Phones. I explored many sub-iterations with different Gujarati copies to maximise comprehension. Overall, this round weeded out usability, conceptual and majorly rhetoric related design inefficiencies.

Kudos on making it this far! :)

Looking Back

This was my first project where I dived deep in research and synthesis before getting into the solution-mode. I immensely grew as a designer from this project and learnt the following.

  1. Don’t take translation lightly
    Translation for digital products is not as simple as literally translating the word into the target language. One has to understand through user interactions and testing which words need literal translation and which ones only need to be ‘written’ in the target language.
  2. Take time with User Journey Mapping
    User Journeys should always come from actual user stories. When rightly done, it makes information architecture so much easier and quicker.
  3. Don’t be afraid to research, again
    Sometimes, a designer may find a significant knowledge gap during synthesis (i.e. post research). At such times, one should not fear to dive back into research and get the sought-after clarity.

Hope you liked this long journey ;)

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Raunaq Shah

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The Startup

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