Reflections on 2017 and a great year at Happy Horizons Trust

A mail I sent to my team!

Dear Team,
What a year it has been for us at the Happy Horizons Trust. We have been through a wonderful ride, and I am so fortunate to have you all in this amazing journey that we are taking forward. It is only with your commitments and support that we are able to do what we have been doing. I want to take some time to reflect back on the year that was and what the coming year holds for us. 

We started the year with the Fun with Typography workshop at the World Book Fair, and it was only due to the commitment of you all that we were able to deliver such an impactful workshop even within the 20 minutes time slot that we had. 

Later, we got the news of the selection to the Teach For India’s TFIx incubation program. Getting to collaborate with one of best non-profits in India working in the domain of education is hugely inspiring to all of us. The incubation program that started later in May turned out to be so beneficial for the organisation that we are forever indebted to them.  

Through the TFIx program, we attended numerous workshops in the past year. Our first learning circle happened at Munger in August in a residential program at the iSaksham premises and later one at Aavishkaar at Palampur in November. There is so much to learn from each of these organisations and other ones that are a part of the incubation program. TFIx’s interventions has helped us get a lot of clarity on our program design, budgeting, defining organisation values and key strategies. I confess that it was only during these learning circles that we flipped the conversation to keep the child at the centre of our work by empowering the local youth. We truly developed a sense of understanding what it takes for us to firmly believe in the vision that all children can one day attain excellent education. Through their support we are now soon going to operating in the entire Saharsa district working with close to 35 schools directly.

It is always good to get the support of a leading corporate to believe in your work. I have always held high respect for Azim Premji and his vision of driving change in the society with the commitments that he has made towards philanthropy in India. So we were thrilled, when me and Vatsala were selected to the Wipro Seeding Fellowship program, and a part of the Wipro Applying Thought in Schools (WATIS) program. Through their support we are able to engage better with the teachers and drive our Teacher Training and Leadership Development Program in Bihar. 

Our collaboration with Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business will have students from one of the top 20 Business school in US work as consultants with the organisation. It is a matter of pride and honour that we are able to work in this manner. Starting mid January, two teams of 4 consultants each will be helping us in putting together a short term and long term strategy for our Marketing and Financial Planning and Strategy.

Later in the year, our collaboration with the District Magistrate office and the District Education Office in Saharsa, promises a lot more work in the field of education. It also provides us an opportunity to lead education reform efforts in areas where there is hardly any other interventions.

The year end came with a couple of awards and that to me is a good way to end the year. It inspires us to a lot more. 

We were recognised by the Government of Bihar, at the Young Entrepreneurs Summit organised by the Bihar Entrepreneurs Association at Patna. We are in immense gratitude to Shri Sushil Modi ji, Deputy CM of Bihar for the award bestowed upon us. Myself winning the Young Entrepreneur Award will allow us to be more connected with key personalities in Bihar, and with the upcoming setting up of the Patna office, we have a task at hand already. 

As our organisation works a lot to empower girls, it was only befitting that our co-founder Vatsala was bestowed the Special Jury Award by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, through the WEE (Women Enterpreneurs and Empowerment) program hosted at IIT Delhi. The award was given by the director of IIT Delhi. Through this award we are hopeful of being able to collaborate more with IIT Delhi and the DST as highlighted by the Director Mr Rao at the prize distribution ceremony. 

We bid adieu to 2017 with an immense amount of gratitude for all the people who have believed in our cause, and supported us in different capacities. We thank everyone for the belief they have in us and our work. Whether it was a friend who hosted a fundraiser for us on his daughter’s first birthday, to friends who have helped in cash or kind, to someone who went all the way to speak to so many more people about our work to raise funds. There are countless number of people who have taken notice of our work, and are more than willing to help out more. That is motivating! 

The past year stretched us to come out of our comfort zones and challenge us in different capacities. Our reaching out to every block in Saharsa district for the 30 new champions, gave us a much better understanding of the socio-economic-cultural-political landscape of the region. The experiences of these travels are something we will cherish forever and use it to strengthen out our operations better. 

The year also got us immense publicity in terms of articles that was written about our work and the new education paradigm we are creating. Amongst others, the Better India and The Logical Indian wrote about us and through these articles, we developed new relations with people and they became our supporters. These further enhanced our self belief and the hope for the cause we are all working towards.

The coming year 2018 promises to be more exciting for all of us for we will be working at the district level with support from state and central bodies, collaboration with a foreign university and more individuals on board. With more employees and a larger team to lead there will be more set of variables to think about. Very soon we will be a 40 person strong team and it scale comes with own set of challenges. We will need to remain humble, learn from our mistakes and execute our vision with an immense amount of passion and gratitude. In the journey, we will celebrate our successes and stand by each other in tough times.

I am sure that the year ahead for us is going to be immensely fruitful. I wish you and your entire family a very Happy New Year 2018.  

Warm Regards,
Kshitiz Anand
CEO, Happy Horizons Trust

Writing on Design

At the UX Now conference last week, I was speaking to fellow designers and academicians on the dearth of good literature coming out of the Indian design fraternity. So while, we live in interesting times, where people have a lot of devices and avenues to read on, there is lesser original content that is being published to read. When it comes to writing, we in India flair pretty badly at it.  As a result, we continue to rely upon literature that from other contexts, which are more likely from the west.

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I speak a lot at conferences and do multiple workshops on Design, Design Thinking, User Experience and when it comes to giving materials as pre-readings for my workshops, it all boils down to finding articles from a totally different context. I truly feel that we need more writings from here. We need to have more good literature on Design from India. Design in India is heavily influenced by culture and the ways we respond to it. Our business ethics are different and our structure of the economy is different too. So it makes sense to read more about it. For long, Design in India has been ‘inspired’ by the west, and it is time to change that.

As a part of a class I am teaching this semester, I am seeking the students how to write. I am a firm believer that designers today need to be better at writing and conveying their thoughts. Needless to say, it has been challenging. I strive to get at least one paper out of the class. My only goal for the class is to ensure that students learn how to write well.

Why is it difficult to write?
We struggle to write, because people spend lesser time reading lengthy articles. In the age of instant gratification, reduced attention span, the plethora of information available at fingertips, and information in shorts, it is difficult to expect someone to devote a lot of time to read an article. Even though the average time spent reading has gone up, it is more with multiple short articles or information bits in that of 140 characters and smaller news notifications. Building arguments in short articles is tough and if your piece does not have the sufficient interest from paragraph to paragraph, one has  lost the reader.

Coming out of the writers block
This is more challenging that I thought it to be. For people who were accustomed to writing (like me), getting back to doing it regularly after a considerable amount of time (few weeks to months), is immensely challenging. The mind is too fickle to concentrate on the writing part, and gets easily distracted. It is important to make writing a habit. Only then will one come out of this block. Pledge to write at least a minimum number of words every alternate day, if not everyday.  I remember the days when I wrote long articles. I need to get back  to doing so.

Writing in the Flow
I am striving to get into the flow of writing more often. Bring in discipline is important. It has to be done. I am now looking at at least 1 if not 2 articles / post on my website every week. There is so much to write about. From politics, to environment to education to wicked problems to governance. Design in India is seeing a resurgence, with its value being felt across disciplines. Therefore its the best time to write on design. 

If you have any particular thoughts on how to write better, I would appreciate some in the comments too.

Design as Social Capital

All good design leads to Social Capital. It is at the core of everything we design. Some call that process the user-centred design and some as human-centred design. The notion of Social Capital relies on building solutions that are based on Reciprocity, Trust and Cooperation.

A lot of the population in India still does not have access to the basic amenities in life, and when we talk of building solutions that are going to be useful in these contexts, the Social Capital is something that one cannot ignore.

When working in the development sector, towards creating solutions that have high impact and are long lasting, one should seek help from Social Capital.

These are the Slides from my talk at the UX India 2016 conference, where I put out an open call to the UX community to leverage the notion of Social Capital and build highly impacting solutions.


Total and Marginal Experience

Understanding Economics for Design
I have always been a strong proponent of the fact that designers need to constantly keep an eye on other disciplines of study. It contributes to the holistic learnings for the designer. So, it disappoints me when the students in a lot of design schools today do not read. I have made reading compulsory in the classes I am teaching this semester. One of the things I always enjoy reading about is Economics.

I recently have enrolled in this class on Public Policy, and Economics is one of the core courses in this. I have always been interested in Economics, and have often considered learning more about it. This became even more evident, when I found myself constantly referencing different aspects of Economics while discussing how human behaviour has changed over the years in India, since the liberalisation of the 1990s. Whether it be education, transport, healthcare, retail or entertainment, our lives in India was never the same after the then PV Narasimha Rao government open up the doors to more foreign investments in the country.

The more I read about the circumstances in which things happened and the decisions that were take to ‘save’ the country, the more intrigued I get about it. I get into a series of nostalgia, trying to recollect the India from my school days from 1991 onwards.

On Rational Behaviour and Design
At the core of economics is the notion of rationality and that all decisions made by the end beneficiary is based on perfectly sensical rational behaviour. One of the key notions we face, is how do we design for rational behaviour?

Policies are created to make people act with rational behaviour, which is the act that they do in their best personal self interest. This brings us to the notion of subjectivity, that we rely so much heavily on in design.

When we think of design, we want our users (customers) to go with this rational behaviour. We often mention that the users should feel completely natural in performing an action.

There are few fundamental aspects of economics that are important for designers to understand.

The concept of utility is amongst the most important of them all.

In economics, utility is a measure of preferences over some set of goods and services. The concept is an important underpinning of rational choice theory in economics and game theory, because it represents satisfaction experienced by the consumer of a good. A good is something that satisfies human wants.

This is further divided into two kinds. Total utility and Marginal Utility.

Total utility is the total satisfaction received from consuming a given total quantity of a good or service, while marginal utility is the satisfaction gained from consuming another quantity of a good or service. Sometimes, economists like to subdivide utility into individual units that they call utils.

Total and Marginal Utility
Fig courtesy :

As you can note, as we increase the consumption, the Total Utility (TU) increases and our Marginal Capacity decreases.

This understanding of utility can be an important thing when thinking about experiences as well. What is the just the amount of experience you could provide to the users could be termed as the total experiences. What if the user did that extra task that convinced them to do one thing more. This is the marginal experience that he/she has gained by doing that extra task.

When these extra tasks end up becoming higher in number, we lose out on the total experience gained in the first place and the marginal experience is not that substantial to add any value to the earlier felt experiences.

Many times in the desire to do more, we end up adding a lot of features to product interfaces. This is a classic example of us trying to give more to the user than he has an appetite for.

The advent of 4G and telecom wars

Every-time there is a disruption in the telecom market, there is a flurry of wars that come out of it. It happened when Reliance had its CDMA phones, it happened when Tata-Docomo was launched and there will be now when Reliance JIO is launched. These are healthy wars from the end customer point of view.

Telecommunications in India is a good case study. It gives many interesting insights about consumer behaviour, about how markets are driven and how companies bring their strategies to execute to win.

Telecom IndiaA few months ago, I was in Bihar, where Reliance Jio was already launched as a part of their pilot study (or early market capture if you want to call it). The new markets to be captured are there. (Bihar, UP and Bengal are amongst the most populous states in India). I was pleasantly surprised to see that people had these amazing phones with good configuration and decent design. I was further surprised to find many of my friends catching up on serials on Colors, Sony etc, on their JIO connection phones without buffering. Now this is a location in Bihar, that had good 3G and now has 4G. Not many places around the country has the same. So when Reliance mentions that they are looking to make 4G accessible to at least 90% of areas in the country, it is definitely worth taking notice.

There is a whole new generation of users who are going straight onto mobiles without ever having used a laptop/desktop and also now on 4G directly. This is an interesting thing in the context of designing and developing solutions for this market. New rules would have to be written for this interesting demographic.

There are different plans launched for the consumers, and I think the Rs 499 one is a good price bracket to capture the masses. The unlimited usage at night is a good offering. Mobile data has always been the more expensive thing, left for the elite few. For this audience that I am talking about, the notions of small recharges, 100MB data over a slow 2G connections have been normal. So 4G and this really attractive pricing changes all of that. The behemoth that Reliance is, it can take this step to not (or low) charge customers upto December, till they get their critical mass of audience.

In a way this is also a signal to other service providers to get in the game and play. Some service providers have already announced the reduction of the rates of their existing plans. I am sure the likes of Airtel and Vodafone and Idea have been following the developments on the 4G front with keen eyes. We wait to see what comes of it. Airtel has been trying to get the maximum of this 4G game for some time, with advertisements specifically focusing on 4G and the free distribution of  (or upgrade to) 4G sims.

While Reliance could have done this to play to the masses, it is important to see how the experience is. Quality will suffer and the challenge is to see whether the technology and telecommunications network is able to live up that expectations. Loyalty of customers to a certain brand, was nullified with the ability to port the number to other network. As a result the only way that remains is the customer experience and value added services that come along with it. I am hoping that the end customers will benefit immensely from this.

On the equipment front, Reliance had done this game changer move with bundling up with Nokia and other phones for their CDMA technology service. Currently it is doing the same with LYF phones and its range of affordable yet good smart phones. The vision is that the phones will become a top selling phone, for there will be no other way to get JIO.  Which also really brings to the point worth pondering over. Just how much extra do we end up paying for our Phones presently!

Today Innovation happens in an Ecosystem and not in isolation. JIO is also relying heavily on VoLTE as a key offering through the JIO eco-system. Eventually the plan could be to build this Eco-system.

These are all interesting times for the designers and innovators. We will be forced to come up with new rules and ways of working to ensure that the products and services that are designed for this audience who perhaps do not care about loyalty, and is still highly experience driven.

Design is not ‘cosmetic’ work

Good things come with a price. Good Design is one of them. How well do you know what good design is? Do you even understand what Design is ?  These are some questions that keep me up a lot these days. An integral part of my work these days is Design Evangelism through workshops at corporates and colleges.

The good part of things, as it stands today is that owing to the popularity of ‘design learning centres’, there are a lot of ‘designers’. The bad part is that there are very few ‘good designers’. The worst part is that there are a lot of people out there who hire people who are not designers and get them to do design work, for their understanding on design itself skewed and limited.

There are lot who still view Design as an add on-thing. Something that comes later. Historically, the goal of design as an act was to make things look beautiful. This means that the impact of design stopped at the Visceral level. More often than not, this ‘beautification’ would come at the end of projects. In software engineering parlance, Visual Design or the final appearance is a Last-in-First-Out (LIFO) thing. Designers add the visual (cosmetic) component to the designs only after the development has been done.

It is important to let clients know that there is a lot that goes on to make things look (simple and) beautiful. Unfortunately there are many who don’t believe so still. Recently, I got this email from a client, whom I have been chasing to do some balance payment. They shamelessly put it as, we will not pay because the logo design you did was just ‘cosmetic’ work. They go on to further say that for these small change requests we have, on the designs you delivered for the android application screens; we will not pay anything. That is also ‘cosmetic’ work, and we are not in a position to pay. And that we will continue to ask for changes.

In my previous avatar of not being able to say no to clients, and being the good-exploited-designer, I would go ahead and agree and do the work. This time I did not. I reminded about the balance payment and refused to do the work till past payments was cleared.

There are numerous designers out there who do not refuse what the client wants, or question the clients and later complain of being exploited by clients.

Design has moved beyond just the aesthetics. It has even reached the boardroom! It’s time clients accepted that fact. It’s time designers speak more about this.

The client often does not know the terms of engagement with the designers. Is it the designer’s task to inform the client about what design is and what the deliverables would be like? Now this is important because often we as designers ourselves are not sure of what our deliverables are.

Once, I had to convince a client that as a consultant to their product, one of my deliverables would be a critique ‘document’. The client was of course shocked to hear this, because they were expecting fancy screens. It is important to let the client know that even this is work, for we spend the time and energy in doing the exercises. There are many instances where I have delivered only paper prototypes as a part of the final deliverables too. Sometimes they are just wireframes that explain the entire product.

Design is NOT just cosmetic work.

There are ample resources out there to tell you that there are so many more components to design. The sooner you understand this, the better are your chances of a high success to the designer.

If you are a designer in the true sense, either by virtue of training, I sincerely request you to spend some time of yours in purely Design evangelism activities and letting the people know the difference between a the role of a designer and a software operator. Until that happens, we would be forced to pay high amount to people just trained in softwares and assuming they know design well.

#design #startups #teamwork


The post will form the crux of Chapter 3, from upcoming book ‘Make-it-look beautiful’.
Notes from my teaching and consulting work in Design over the past 12 years.

You can read the previous chapter Do me a favor, kill the term UI/UX .

Do me a favor. Kill the term UI/UX!

As an advisor to many startups, I get to speak to a lot of entrepreneurs, product managers, developers and hiring managers. One thing that remains consistent is that they face a lot of challenges in getting the ‘right’ designer on board. This of course is after they have decided that they do need one and that the designer or the creative guy is also an integral part of the team and equally responsible for the success of the product.

Getting this ‘fit’, is challenging because the designer has to understand the product well and often be forced to think from the business perspective, and for the product manager it is challenging because with design being a subjective thing, the designers’ bias always come into the picture.

To make matters worse, product owners are often asking for something that is confusing. You cannot ask for UI/UX person and have the same expectations from them? They are two different breed of people and come with different skill sets.

Every time you use the term UI/UX, a pretty bird dies somewhere!

This is a serious problem, and one that is doing a lot of damage to the product and design industry both.  We have to understand why we got into using this term and where we messed it up. In my opinion, there are multiple factors to this. One is a clear case of a problem of supply and demand. With the dearth of good UX designers, people often have no choice but end up taking a UI person. If you have studied design, you would know that they are different. Second is the fact that you do not have a clear understanding of whether you need a UI or a UX person. Third is that a lot of the job descriptions for design positions are written by people who have no or little background in Design.

When you put up a requirement stating that you are seeking UI/UX guy, you are literally saying that you are okay with hiring either a UI person OR a UX person for the same set of requirements that you may have. This is NOT right. This is further not right because you have underestimated the potential of engaging a good UX person and more likely assumed that the designer (UI person) could come to make that interface of yours look beautiful.  I understand that you are in a crisis and need to hire the person soon, to get the designs out. But you should be aware on what to expect, when you hire a particular profile.

Expectations from a good UI designer ?
He ends up studying a lot of the design Trends, rules and theories behind good Interface design, become good at softwares and tools. Dribbble and Pinterest are perhaps his best friends.

Expectations from a good UX designer ?
He ends up studying a lot of design from different aspects. You get to understand market trends on innovation, data, business and the disruptions happening in the industry. He understands design process well. He speaks from the user’s point of view all the time.

It’s evident that these are clearly two different set of skills and profiles of people that we are dealing with.

If you still don’t believe me, take a look at the numerous job postings out there. Majority of them seek a ‘UI/UX’ person.

As a designer I get a clear understanding about the culture of the company or the people I will be interacting with, just by looking at this job posting. It reflects a lack of clarity in the product owner’s vision and engaging with people.

We need to bring a corrective measure to this. 

Let’s start by doing me a favour. Kill this term UIslashUX aka UI/UX. I cringe with frustration, every time someone uses that term. If you need a UI person, ask for one. If you need a UX person, be prepared to engage them in matters beyond the UI and give them that space, resources, time and budget to fulfil that need. As product owners, you need to have this clarity. It would ensure that your engagement with the designers would be a much better experience.

In my opinion, as product managers, your goal should be to get a UX guy. Someone who is proficient with the different things under the UX umbrella and is really rock solid good at either one or two disciplines within UX.

Be clear in your requirements and your expectations when you are hiring the designer. For many product owners the realisation that you need a designer on board comes early in the process and they engage the designer at the right time. It is often seen that for the ones that realise early, they are seeking the User Experience Designers . For the ones that realise late, they end up hiring more User Interface designers.

How do you know whether a person is a UI person or a UX Person? Here are some pointers. 

  • UI person talks in interfaces. UX person talks in experiences.
  • UI person talks more about the layout and trends on interfaces. UX person talks about the overall experience from product sales and marketing to product usage to customer support.
  • UI person will talk more about the tools. UX person will talk more about the processes and design rationales.
  • UI person is more screens and Visual Design driven. UX person is more system and strategy driven.

A word of advice to a lot of junior designers is to move up to being more of a UX Designer and not be limited to only a UI Designer. I started my career as a UI person. We were called User Interface Designers then. Except the once in a while call with the Business Analysts who would sit onsite and assume to know everything about a product, there was hardly any insight into the business side of the project. Even talking to the developers used to happen only once in a while. Over the years where I evolved into a User Experience person, I enjoy my conversations with the developers on a regular basis as well as the challenges that the business is facing. Often, I am discussing with the marketing team on how the USP of the product, which has a great UX needs to be highlighted and marketed well.

We are evolving into a product-driven industry, constantly trying to create amazing products. Design plays a substantial role in the creation of these products.  As companies adopt the Agile and the Lean way of working, the need for collaboration amongst the three, viz the Designer, Developer and the Product Owner (Manager) is the way forward. UX needs to be emphasised as a company culture element. Something that is fundamentally evident in everything you do.

Finding the right designer for your product is tough. Seek and you shall find. Just make sure you ask the right question.


This post was first published on Linked In.
This post is Chapter 2 of a series of posts on Product Management, UX and Design, from Make it Look Beautiful. A compilation of essays and tips from my years of Design Consulting practice and teaching at Design schools and Management schools.

Here is the Chapter 1.

The Designer’s Angst

We have built this product, and are looking for a UX designer who can ‘Make it Look Beautiful’.

This would be the content of I do not know how many mails I have received in the past from Product Owners, Entrepreneurs, Cool Startup Guys, Project (Product) Managers at large companies, etc. I have had no problems with that, except when it started getting repetitive and, as a result frustrating at times. More often than not, I would reply back with the question whether you are looking for a Visual designer or a UX Designer. The reply would always be UX Designer, but in reality, I knew that they wanted a purely Visual Designer. Needless to say, I would often end up refusing to work with that client because more often than not the UX suggestions would be discarded.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 18.50.10

Over the past few years, I ended up teaching at an Exec MBA program, mentoring students taking courses in design both online and offline, taking workshops at corporates and speaking about Design at various conferences and events. My interactions with lots of Product Leaders, Product Owners, Product Managers and people who want to start their own Product Companies gave some very interesting insights. From being clueless about UX to the classic misunderstanding that UX is UI, to not understanding the value of research, to being driven by beautiful things! I also attended numerous startup events, spoke to numerous investors, visited a couple of accelerators to understand where the problem is.

I come to the conclusion, that in India (and to some extent perhaps around the world), we face a huge supply-demand gap. There are few (good) designers, and the demand has suddenly risen; for design is cool and the buzz word in the industry today. The role of the designer in the industry itself has changed over the years. However, the notion of what constitutes a good UX is still missing widely.

It is for sure that almost every Product Leader now at least knows that design is ‘important’ and should not be ignored. But not everyone is sure about when to invest in it and how to go about it. These are perhaps the greatest challenge that a Product Leader faces.

For some this engagement with a designer comes from the inception, while some get them too late. How do these things impact the team? With the introduction of new processes that teams follows, how does the Designer with a penchant for the waterfall way of working adapt and fit into it.

With the plethora of resources available, picking up the skills and knowledge is not that difficult. So why does the UX designer still demand a high value?

Make it Look Beautiful! is a handbook for Product Leaders and Designers to collaborate better to create amazing products. Over the course of the different chapters in this book, I would write about my discussions on various aspects of design, product management, innovation and research.

Notes from the India HCI 2015 Conference

IIT Guwahati is one of the most beautiful college campuses in India. That is a well known fact by all now. I have had the good fortune of having studied here. I am truly grateful for it. So when the next edition of the IndiaHCI conference, India’s premier conference on Human Computer Interaction was scheduled at this beautiful campus, it was certain that I had to attend. The campus at this time of the year is really beautiful.

The theme of the conference was ‘Design for Bridging’, and it was wonderful to hear different speakers present their views. It is a wonderful theme to understand the different India’s that co-exist today.  

So what does it mean to Design for Bridging? And who or what are we bridging? I was invited by Xerox Research (India) to present my work on Design for Social Impact and how we at the Happy Horizons Trust have been looking at improving the quality of education. It is a very small attempt at Bridging the gap that exists in the country in the domain of education. In my talk addressing the theme of the conference, I highlighted the different challenges we face on the ground when working with the government schools. Two main takeaways from my talk were the emphasis on a systemic approach to problem solving when we are dealing with wicked problems like education and the secondly the notion of truly understanding all the stakeholders in the system and designing for the secondary users as well. We often tend to ignore the secondary users, because we do not consider them valuable. Especially in the notion of designing for resource constraint environments that we work in, it becomes imperative to talk about these two at length. Another notion I emphasised on is the need for us to go on the ground and truly spend time in a more ethnographic manner to understand the realities better. 

I was also a part of a panel discussion on the state of Design and design processes across companies in India, chaired by Atul Manohar, Director of UX at Informatica. I shared my insights from my years of working and consulting with entrepreneurs, teaching at Exec MBA programs comprising mostly of Product Managers and Product owners. Amongst the points I highlighted included the challenges faced by designers in dealing with Business owners and vice versa. I posed a simple question, as to how many in the room could confidently give an answer to the question, What is Design? This is important for many in the industry still need to get an understanding on the true value of Design. So to me this is yet another bridge we need to design for.  

On being asked, what has changed in the industry in the past 10 years, when it comes to the role of Design, I mentioned that we have gone to a larger acceptance of Design now. We have gone from ‘No Design’ to ‘Know Design’. The next few years would be spent in ‘Embracing Design’ and as a result make a collaborative effort towards innovation and creating wonderful products that solve a need towards bridging the gaps.

Pick up any area of social welfare. Be it education or healthcare or agriculture or sustainability, there is an immense need for us to contribute towards bridging the gap. 

In this regard I thought the selection of keynotes delivered by the invited speakers were wonderful. The opening keynote by Professor Shendeng Zhao from National University of Singapore, was a great one to start the conference. The talk focused on the different research work being done by his lab. The lab’s emphasis on understanding what part of the Human Computer Interaction can be automated, what can be done by the computer and what still needs the human intervention was truly inspiring. Dr Phillippe from Toulouse in his entertaining talk spoke about the need for the HCI community to build more reliable systems. In my opinion, this holds immense value as we start to look towards building solutions for an audience who perhaps are not very tech savvy yet. One of the most inspiring talks I attended in this meet was the one by Dr Sanjay Tripathi, who presented an eye opening account of the healthcare facility in India and how much we are lagging behind when it comes to providing quality healthcare to the masses in India. Technology has to be of help here.

Pramod Khambete’s (teaches at IDC IIT Bombay) talk on understanding Design Patters in Service design was wonderful too. The conference also had a few presentations on Gestural interactions and the work done by the TAUCHI lab in Tampere University, Finland was interesting too. The best full paper award went to a paper by a team from IDC IIT Bombay, which shared results and findings from a research on the text entry for Indian Languages in Virtual Keyboards. Discussions with Mr Manish Gupta (Vice President at Xerox Corporation and Director Xerox India) was truly insightful and something I would cherish for a long time.

During the stay at IIT Guwahati this time, I clicked three wonderful photographs of the campus. (I like to think so, going by the number of likes it received on social media). I never get tired of clicking images on the campus. Only that this time I was doing it all with my mobile phone (which I have been doing so for the past 3 years now)

The first morning of the conference we woke up to the campus engulfed in a beautiful fog. One was that of a cormorant drying itself on the water pipe. Just when I was about to click the image, it flew. To me this was a constant reminder of the opportunities that go away if we do not act upon it. 


The second day while on the way to the conference venue, I clicked this shot of a juxtaposition of the barren trees with leaves laden trees forming a canopy over the pathway. To me the barren branches of the trees, reminded me of the different pathways that people take after graduating. Some get lost in the mess of convoluting pathways, and some still manage to keep sight of the goal that they want to achieve.


The third that that of a migratory bird taking flight, against the backdrop of the boys hostels at IIT Guwahati. To me the campus is a place where many dreams take flight.  


I come back from this conference with a lot of insights on the developments on the Technology front and hope to work more with it in my work on Design for Social Impact.  

Notes from Industry-Academia Panel Discussion at UX India 2015

A few weeks ago (last month to be precise) I was a part of a panel discussion at the UX India 2015 conference called Industry-Academia Fusion. The panelists were people from the Industry and Academia. There were a lot of discussions, deliberations and talking about the situation as it stands. It was a very interesting discussion, that brought upon many points that were critical to Design Education in India.  As someone who has spent quite a few years in the industry and then moved to the academia, I have been able to understand both perspectives and am often voicing my opinions from different sides.

A common concern amongst many people who hire designers, is that the quality of students graduating is not adept, or the industry has to train them on certain skills before they could get onto a project. Why is this so?  Is it even a justified demand from the industry? 

If we look at the early days of UX in India, there was always a certain amount of time given to fresh graduates to adapt the needs of the industry. A lot of the managerial people in the UX would not come from formal studies in UX, for the field did not exist then. It is only over the past 10 years that the discipline has seen more graduate programs being offered. The demand side has risen considerably too. 

Industry lead academia or academia led industry

A question that I am often found discussing with my peers is whether industry has become impatient or has the academia started to just fulfil the ‘demand’ of the industry? So the classic question then follows : Should the Industry lead the academics or should the academics lead the industry? You could be a proponent of either of the thought, but it is something that is currently at the helm of how design is taught at the institutes today.  

If you look at business schools they follow the former, whereas traditionally design schools have followed the later. 

But with the rise in “live projects”, internships, industry projects, placements driven curriculum, it is almost as if the notion of Design education is getting limited to precisely what the industry wants. 

A good example given by panelist was that of the US where a lot of the Academic research was used by industry to progress. Which meant that it was the academia leading the industry. It was here that the industry would set up research centres in colleges to new technology, research, innovation etc and then use that research to come up with industry ready products. 

In India, however the notion of research itself is not very prominent. Design schools are hardly encouraged to work on research. The culture of research is non-existent. Very few research papers get written. One way of changing that should be to encourage all faculty to write papers, articles and get involved in research. That is the true value quotient of any school. 


It is well known and should be clear that design education cannot adopt the same ways of working as an engineering or management education.  So it can therefore never be the about the numbers and having too many students at a point of time. Design education is different because one has to pay special attention to the individual learning capacities. Someone could be a fast learner, someone could learn slowly. Courses need to be ‘designed’ in a manner that it encourages the learning. 

Speaking of learning, schools and colleges today need to rebuild themselves as centres of learning and not as training centres. While training is a short term thing, learning is a life-long process.

Academia and Industry should be different but work together
Even though there exists some difference in both, it is important that the academia and industry work together on certain aspects. Design education has multiple aspects to it. 

It is important to understand on what parameters are the graduates evaluated when they are interviewing for jobs or pitching for projects. As a good design school, it should be imperative that there is ample focus on these to prepare someone better for the industry.  One is the skill building (which is often evaluated by the portfolios of designers), second is the creativity quotient (which is evaluated by how innovative the designs are) and third is the critical thinking (which is hardly given importance during recruitment). 

How does the Industry engage with academia

A common misconception with the people from industry is that the only way someone can get associated with the academia is to teach by giving up your job. Well, if they were doing that, then the role of the academics would be lost. There are other ways in which one can engage with the academia. I am mentioning a few of them. 

  1. Intensive workshops on topics that are contemporary and relevant (Demand full attention of students by not having classes parallely)
  2. Float Long projects that the students can work on with the faculty at the Design School. (Make sure you pay the school for their efforts on this. Make your intentions clear when it comes to what you are going to do with the final results? Will the student and school also have any role to play in the IP that is created through the project ? Who owns the IP?
  3. Take guest lectures highlighting the work at the companies and its success by design
  4. Float short term projects (always engage in short-term projects first before a long project
  5. Hire students as interns (make it a compulsory part of your company)
  6. Find time to give back to Design colleges by mentoring students and making them aware about Design professionalism.

I would love to hear more from you on how you can encourage the industry and academia to create better learning experiences for the students.