Indian Startups Want more Design

(tldr; 2 design workshops down and we’ve realized Indian founders can’t get enough! If you’re in Mumbai on the 2nd of April 2016, and are hungry for design sign up for our Mumbai Design Quicky.)

Asmita Misra giving the run down on how to Bootstrap Mobile UX

We held our first Design Quicky in Delhi in December and recently wrapped up the Bangalore edition three weeks ago. So far across 2 cities we’ve had almost 100 participants (founders, designers, and miscellaneous geeks), from 60+ startups (bootstrapped companies to well known Series A & B funded companies) and 8 speakers with diverse backgrounds, skill sets and expertise.

The Delhi & Bangalore Quicky’s were fun, intense and highly stimulating for us and the participants(read what a founder had to say about our Bangalore Quicky). A Design Quicky is broken up into 2 parts. The first half of the day is a series of functional workshops lead by practicing designers, experts from the ecosystem, and our team. The content of each talk is crafted specifically for startups. In this recent edition we covered Bootstrapping Design, Conducting Effective Design Sprints & Quick Design Research. During the second half of the day, the 500 team sits down with 8 companies for one-on-one design reviews, giving actionable product and design feedback. Actionable is the key word there.

Conducting these programs has been a great experience so far. It’s given us a chance to understand the current state of design in the Indian tech ecosystem. We hope to share this data as soon as we’re done with 3 cities.

To give you some context I’ve been working as a Designer in the startup ecosystem (first in the US then in India) since I started my first company back at RISD. A lot has changed in the last 5 years since I’ve been back in India.

What we’ve learnt & What we’ve seen

Whats Good:

  1. Design is a priority for most founders: There was a time not too far back when we designers had to sell the importance of design. THOSE DAYS ARE GONE. Indian founders are hungry for design.
  2. Indian founders are starting to understand design: We need to stop treating founders with kid gloves, the assumption that founders in India can’t execute good design is false.
  3. Stop the Gyan: Everyone is bored of the same old ‘inspirational’ stories and theoretical sessions, they want meat and substance. Real topics, real tricks, real skills. The most highly rated talks at our events have been functional design topics and skills that they can act upon the very next day. Founders are tired of hearing the same old stories, lets move on.

Whats Not Good:

  1. High demand / Low Supply: We do not have enough high quality — tech ready designers in this country to meet the needs of the ecosystem. The CII estimates that there are 4500 graphic designers in India but the industry needs 15,000(Source: CII India Design Report 2015). There is no record of the number of UX designers or the deficit. There is unfortunately no short term solution to the solve the people problem. The only thing we can do is continue supporting founding teams and building their capacity and capabilities in design.
  2. Limited access to feedback: The opportunities for founders to get mentorship and critical design feedback are very few and far between. Founders and teams want more opportunities where they can speak with experts to get relevant advice on their products. This is the case across the board, not just bootstrapped companies.
  3. Skill Asymmetry: Startups are hiring designers or firms to help them with design, but the design skill levels are not increasing relative to the amount of money available to spend on design. As an ecosystem we designers need to evolve our skills. Most ‘UX designers’ on teams are still either UI designers or front end engineers.
  4. Design is still a support function: Very few teams are thinking about how Design can be an independent function at their organization. For the most part designers are playing supporting roles in tech and marketing teams. Design needs to be both supportive and independent for real design leadership. The most successful companies globally (think Apple, Airbnb, Uber) are winning with design at their core. Indian users are now demanding well designed solutions, the status quo isn’t enough. And as we think about creating solutions for the next 500 million people joining the internet in India design leadership will become critical.

Trends (based off things I’ve seen over time and in particular the last 2 years):

  1. Moving beyond UI/UX: Founders are realising that design has a lot more to offer them than just the usual ‘UI/UX’. Startups now care about things like branding, communication, user research in a big way.
  2. Product design is back, service design is coming: At one point we had many traditional product designers in India, as the market moved many of them became UX designers. It’s no secret that more companies in India are looking at hardware and IoT solutions. This is now creating a demand for experienced product designers, and soon we’ll see a demand for service designers as well. The CII estimates the new product design market in India is potentially worth $12 billion(Source: CII India Design Report 2015).
  3. Basics are still important: While the overall market has ‘evolved’ the basic techniques, processes and methods are and will remain to be important. We just need to communicate these in a language founders understand. Making design understandable and easy is core to our strategy.
  4. Design is a line item: For many mature companies design is no longer clubbed under tech. But the flip side to this is there is a lot of money being blindly thrown at design. It’s creating many short term fixes at the cost of long term ROI.
  5. Designers want MOAR: Designers are now a normal fixture at most startups, but many of them have just jumped into tech with little background or experience. Many startups don’t have senior designers. These designers want mentorship, feedback, and guidance from their more experienced peers. 30% of our attendees are designers at startups and we’ve seen how eager to learn more and get feedback.

What’s next

The 500 India - extended family (photo credit: Asmita Misra)

We’ve wrapped up 2 Design Quicky’s and are now gearing up for our Mumbai Quicky on the 2nd of April. We’re going to be taking our Quicky’s to places like Hyderabad, Chennai, Jaipur, Kolkata and Chandigarh. These will continue along the same format and will be open to everyone.

We’re also going to be running Crit — a 2 day design review and hands on UX workshop later his year, and are also planning 1 week guided design sprints. Both of these events will be small, hands on and curated so we can ensure the maximum ROI for participants.

Our goal is for #500Design to become a larger platform for design & tech in India. Bringing together designers, founders, and experts in meaningful and impactful ways. The Quicky’s are just the beginning for us, you can expect a lot MOAR Design.

Originally published at soaibgrewal.com on 26th March 2016.