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.

Making print ads more interactive

Of late one can see the usage of QR codes in advertisements. So much so that it has been catching attention. It’s there on prints, can be found on the web medium and even displayed at notice boards and other common areas in public spaces. In case you are not familiar with it; QR codes stands for Quick Response codes and was meant to be a code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed. (Read more about it here on the Wikipedia page)

With the introduction of more phones that are based on the Android and the Symbian 3 platforms, it is but natural to have more applications that will make use of it.With the 3G network slated to come on a larger scale in the market too in the next month (Tata DOCOMO has already started the promotions for it), the number of applications will only increase. If there is anything that is sure, it is that the interactivity level of the users with their devices will increase.

It is this aspect of Interactivity that is the focus of this article. One can imagine and agree people spending more time on their devices (the phones, ipads, tablet pcs etc). With everyone trying to create solutions for different user groups keeping technology in mind, the number of possibilities are vast.

The down side of this would be the vast pool of information that will be available at the disposal to the user. In such a scenario it is very important to get the right piece of information in the shortest time possible. And that is precisely where the QR Codes (and another thing called Data Matrix) come in handy. Just feed in the information that you need to be coded, into many of the freely available, QR code generator like this one here.

We tried this for our company name and you can see the result here.

QR Code for Deskala
QR Code for Deskala
Data Matrix
Data Matrix

Let us take a couple of points to illustrate the usage of the QR codes to improve the User Experience of the viewer when they peruse through the ad. scenarios that come to mind.

The first and foremost value ad that this provides is that one can prioritize the information that is being presented to the user. The user is thus given only sufficient information to show their interest in it. Beyond that a lot of the information can be presented to the user. The QR code could contain video links, links to photographs, multimedia presentations to name a few things. You could also introduce simulators and other stuff after the user has accessed the QR codes.

The rise of the QR code
The rise of the QR code

These codes are also in a way bridging the gap that exists between the print / static medium and the devices that the users are carrying with them. It’s the communicating channel that exists in-order to make sure that the appropriate information reaches the user. So in a way its making them interact with each other.

Also the fact that the user can get the code and save up the information to be consumed by them at a time that is convenient to them is an added advantage. Take this scenario: You are in a hurry and are flipping to the papers and you spot this ad with the QR code. You glimpse through the ad, find it interesting, take the QR code and read it later at your time. Now all of a sudden you as a user are actually interacting with the advertisement, unlike earlier where all one did was see and forget or at max call up for more information.

QR Code in another Ad
QR Code in the Ford Figo Ad

The down side of this is that there is always the case of not all phones featuring the applications (and cameras) that would make the camera function as a QR code reader. However that is a bet one can take with the rate at which the mobile industry is growing. To make things simpler and to use the existing way of pulling information through SMS, the new advertisements also are educating the user and providing the link from where the code readers can be downloaded. Also the way things are one might think likely for a scenario where every mobile phone will come with a built-in camera.

In Conclusion; Mobiles, the 3G network, the Rich Applications and the information seeking consumer; form a formidable team. A team that is on the move always and is always going to be in the fast lane. By introducing this layer of Interactivity, one is bound to open gates to a universe of information that was just lying there somewhere.

State of UX in India

I recently came across this article by Joe Fletcher titled “The Bridge Between Cultures and Design”
The synopsis of the article is that:
Over roughly the last 10 years, China and India have given way to a huge rise in technology outsourcing. Jobs are outsourced from companies like Microsoft, Google, T-Mobile, Honeywell, and many others. In Microsoft I’ve worked with teams in both India and China developing software for a variety of uses. Having our headquarters in the US, I usually work with small satellite teams in these countries. I couldn’t help but wonder why these countries who had become huge in the area of software technology, struggled so much in the area of user experience and UI innovation.Note: this article refers specifically to software UX. Both of these countries have very innovative and creative aspects in other areas of their culture, and I’m not expressing these comments as blanket statements.

I think that is a very valid question that Joe puts across. However I do not quite agree to all the points that he mentions in the article especially if one is looking at the case of India.

Cross Cultural Design
Cross Cultural Design

One of the key things required to see is the growth of UX as a field in India. While in the west the field UX, Interaction Design, HCI have been around for much longer a time, in India it is know only for say last 5-6 years.

This leads us the point that in India, Interaction Design has a long way to go before it catches up on the west. In my opinion, in India, the Interaction Design as a field is still limited to the software industry and all the User Experience is still discussed in the context of the Software Design. Unless the understanding of Interaction Design, expands beyond the UI,  and people understand Interaction Design from a more broader perspective, there is bound to be this case as expressed above.

Also Interaction Design as a discipline in the academics has only been offered only lately in the design schools. The study of HCI and USability is still very limited. Most of the professionals practicing in the IxD field in India are either graduates in Product Design or Visual Communication. A lot of the professionals thus have been in the field by virtue of their self learnings.However that is changing, with Interaction Design and related studies being offered at numerous schools in India and a keen interest by professionals to follow the subject. Some of the schools doing that are offering course in HCI are the National Institute of Design, Industrial Design Centre (IIT Bombay), IIT Guwahati to name a few.

Thirdly, there has to be more freedom given to the ‘design’ teams sitting in the off shore location (read India), in order to allow to innovate. It is my belief that only when the design starts from the initial stage, there is a scope for innovation and creativity. Creativity is hampered when things are already created. So having the design team sitting in the off shore location, start to innovate when all the requirements and the information architecture is frozen, is difficult. It’s not impossible, but the scope gets reduced and there is only a limit to what one can do at that stage.

Lastly, the design industry or people in the software industry who do design, should interact more with people in the colleges, and illustrate what it takes to innovate and get creativity at the job level where its much more competitive and challenging. We at Deskala, have been doing so through our Design Workshops in HCI, Design Thinking, Usability, Experience Design at corporate houses and various colleges, and the results have been giving us a lot of hope more than anything else!

On Mobile User Experience

Of late a lot has been going on in the Mobile Domain. Needless to say, as designers, we have a huge role to play in the design of phones, its applications and the services associated with it.I have been following the Mobile market in an emerging market like India, very closely. With the tariff for the rates going down to the wire, where there is not further possibility of a reduction in the prices, User Experience and Customer Service IS going to be the differentiator.

Here below are three presentations that I came across today, while doing my readings in Mobile User Experience. I am sure each of them would have been more interesting to attend!

A wonderful presentation, with a good insight into the domain of Mobile User Experience, and what Web Designers (and Interaction  /User experience Designers) need to look into, when designing experiences for the mobile phone.

And then there is this presentation, that gives a sneak peak into the future. Of the exciting times that Mobile User Experience is going to bring along with it. What I am more interested in is how these high end phones can look to get into the emerging markets, provide similar experiences at a low cost.

I remember Pranav Mistry in his TED India talk mentioning about the need to make the Sixth Sense project open source, and thereby reducing the costs considerably. This would ensure that the technology is able to reach the masses and not just be limited to the elite.

The side effects of FBing!

I read a cartoon strip the other day.
One mother to the other: My son is with a book always! How cool is that!
The other mother: On that’s nice. His grades must be really good then as he is with a book always.
First mother: He is on FaceBook. 🙂

Have you been bit by the Facebook bug yet ? I must admit that I have been to some extent. However there have been many other issues of concern that I have been having. One of them being the importance of maintaining my privacy.

The way people use Facebook, Orkut and other social networking sites (SNS) have been a matter of interest to me. This difference is also a result of the cultural differences people have across countries. The fact is also that people have taken a conscious decision on their part (or alteast have thought about it), when it comes to decide what information that they want to share .

One of the things that I always face a problem is the amount of information that I would be sharing on these SNS. Facebook now is the first choice of people to share images amongst friends. I have heard many people request me to upload my professional photographs on Facebook.  I have done so only to a limited extent.

Another large chunk of people use Facebook as a way of letting the world know each and every activity that they do. I mean seriously, is there any reason why I should know in such detail what the other person is doing. If I do, then it is a serious case of intruding into the other person’s privacy. However, wait! I did not intrude… It’s you who made that information public. So there is something going on here and this is where the notion of Publicy comes into the picture. It is not to be confused with the original concept of Publicy, which was commonly understood as the opposite of privacy.

What i am really talking about, is the publicy in a different context. Laurent Haug, writes about this phenomenon in his blog post titled “Publicy, the re-birth of privacy” . I think the post captures the essence of the phenomenon that is hitting the young generation today and is definitely something to think over. I know for a fact that after reading his post, I rethought about the stuff I posted up on the SNS.

A workout plan
A workout plan

Also, now I realize that the more that I spend time on these SNS, the more stuck to my laptop I am. I get more addicted to it. The kind of activities do not involve taking up the quizzes of playing online games, but its mostly just meeting and talking to people. I often fail to make myself understand why I cannot just go out and meet people in person. I do realize that I am starting to have a more of a virtual life and presence than that in the physical space.

And I think that is wrong. There is a certain charm of meeting up people in person, and that cannot be replicated by any virtual experience, no matter how realistic they claim to be.

I am sure numerous others would be in a similar if not same position. And needless to say that due to this shortage of time spending outside, there are a lot of health issues that could come up.

Here is something of a workout that someone came up with. I think it is pretty cool and people should follow it! I admit to not having come even close, but everytime I see it, I feel guilty.

Increasing the User Experience in SNS, aims at retaining the users for a longer period of time. However this should not come at the cost of the other things.

At the same time, I am highly interested in, and have actually been thinking whether the power of the social networking, penetration of the mobile phones and other technology, can be used in the domains where they can actually make a larger difference and that is for the mankind.

Pick Me, Click Me, Educate Me!

I recently gave my masters graduation project presentation on designing for social impact and using photography as a research tool to help in the creation of social awareness solutions. I focused on the issue of child education in rural Bihar (India). The project was well received in the presentation and the overall consensus was good.

The final outcome of the graduation project is the website Pick Me, Click Me, Educate Me!
This project serves to provide a platform to people from different backgrounds (photographers, writers, educationists, social workers, donors etc) to collaborate. It allows to utilize the work done by one group (like photographers who go to these locations and shoot), for discussion with the others who are not able to. It therefore allows aims for promoting , discussing, writing about, and finally donating (again not the prime focus) for, the issue of child education in rural Bihar.

Here is the promo video for the project

And this is the presentation that I made in the class.

5 Things that is NOT Interaction Design

I think these two below are interesting artciles.

I have been in a similar position of trying to explain people what I do for a living and the moment I say Experience Design, it becomes more abstract. The moment I say Graphic Design, it becomes too narrow. People ask me to consult on Usability, but I think that a person trained in Usability should do it. But since I learnt it and done different kind of Usability Activities, I agree to it. Some people ask me to do a look and feel of their website. I think that this is a area of expertise for a person trained in Graphic Design working in Web Medium (often called User Interface Designer).

Below here is the link to an article that I recently read on Coroflot. Its thought provoking. In the end one is left with the question whethere the field really requires a formal definition of some kind, or should it be happy where it is and keep exploring newer ventures within the context of interaction design.

An extract from the piece…
Like most of my friends and colleagues in the creative professions, I have trouble explaining to my mom what exactly I do for a living, so it’s not like confounded laymen are an indicator of intentional obscurity. But IxD seems to be in a different category entirely. Not only does it confuse outsiders, it confuses Interaction Designers too.

Read more here

You could also read up the discussions on this topic at the IxD discussion forums at this location.

While you may agree of disagree to the things that are said in the above two links, it gives a fair amount of understanding to the kind of confusion that exists within and outside the field.

On Content Management Systems

Of late I have been looking into the different ways of creating a website and also helped a few other people do the same. I think that the learning curve is extremely important for a designer and that is one thing I look into closely when I try out something new. With more and more build up of the online communities, one sees a lot of focus on Content Management Systems (CMS). This happens to be an easier way of doing things and thus not being dependent on the services of the developer to keep creating pages by hard-coding it on HTML / Dreamweaver. Perhaps this was the prime reason for me chosing to migrate my website to a CMS based system. I am thankful for that choice!

Wordpress - the backbone of this site.
Wordpress - the backbone of this site.

I have used WordPress for this site (kshitizanand.com) and was totally blown away by the ease of use and the functionalities that it provided. I had been using it for the blogs, so I was familiar with the basic stuff on WordPress. After a while I then decided to try it out for a website. The wide number of themes and the every growing community makes WordPress an easy learning tool for designers. I am in love with WordPress and definitely recommend anyone who is interested in putting up an easy to maintain website

In a past project on creation of a Collaborative Tool designers and researchers, we had done an in depth study of the existing tools. The study was focused around community building, so Ning was the sole leader in seeking out to do multiple things.

Comparitive Study of different Collaborative Tools
Comparitive Study of different Collaborative Tools

However Drupal and Joomla were a close second and third respectively.

Joomla and Drupal - Currently trying out these two
Joomla - supposedly popular with websites and ezines.
Drupal- more mopular with Community building websites.

I have been wanting to try out these two and went about doing the same. I will be looking into further details of each of these three (including WordPress i.e.) and in subsequent posts, try to post the reason for the selection of one over another.

Drupal presently happens to be the fastest growing community, though Joomla is been enjoying on its existence since the Mambo days.

On Publicy

Of late, I have been reading about the tremendous rise of the social networking sites. Facebooking is on an all time high and continues to grow further day by day. With more people giving their private data online, more companies asking for credit card details, friends keeping track via different channels, one is forced to think whether all this would be good in the long run.

I personally use two-three social networking sites and they have my information on it. When I started on these sites, I had all my information from my real birth date to my relationship status to my exact likes and dislikes on it. Over the years, I have removed some of the information. The irony of the situation is that even if you do that, all the people in the network get to know about it. So one would think that everything is lst in the name of networking and privacy is dead.

Recently I read about a term Publicy. Laurent Haug in his blog post titled ” Publicy the rebirth of privacy” talks about an interesting phenomenon that is happening everywhere. He mentions that “Privacy is not dead. It just went global and public, which doesn’t mean you can’t control what people know about you. Actually, it is now the other way around.”

Interesting article to read that one. And lots of food for thought.

Understanding experiences in photography exhibitions for Interaction Designers

This is a final paper I wrote for the Interaction Culture class at Indiana University.

ABSTRACT
As Interaction Designers, two of the most important things that one needs to consider are the experience and also the audience being designed for. The presentation of the cultural expression is dependent on the presentation style and a thorough understanding of the audience. This paper aims at giving a close phenomenological understanding of a highly successful photography exhibition by India’s most renowned photographer, Raghu Rai. In the later part of the paper, from these points and an overall experience point of view, it is aimed to generate points for a framework for its application in Interaction Design.

Author Keywords
Phenomenology, experience, exhibition, photography, interpretation, culture

Excerpts from the paper
Interaction Design and HCI are constantly seeking for analogies from the established fields like computer science, the cognitive sciences, and other disciplines like sociology, anthropology, critical theory and philosophy. There has also been considerable efforts in trying to get an understanding from film theory and looking at experiences in film.

Photography exhibitions on the other hand are highly subjective. It is therefore more likely that any critical accounts of such exhibitions are phenomenological in nature. There is always the vision of a photographer that is being conveyed. And more often that not there is a mismatch between the intent of the photographer and the intent with which the viewer interprets it. There is also the element of time that comes into the picture when doing an analysis of the exhibition.

Conclusion
Feelings and sensibility cannot be rationally expressed in words. It can only be experienced.
Any exhibition of this kind, not only expanded the horizons for what can be exhibited in the Indian market today, but also helped in understanding what goes on in a photographer’s mind and his intentionality. Hence the movement to shift the authority of the experience from the museum, to the visitor is important.
The experience of an exhibition is primarily phenomenological and my understanding of it would be
totally different as compared to someone else. The analysis of a photography exhibition as opposed to a film gives the extra dimension of time to analyze a frame, as the events are not unfolding real-time. This results in a more phenomenological understanding of the various aspects that I have touched upon.
As mentioned earlier, to a large extent, the levels of interaction that are evident are more on a visual and
cognitive level unlike an interaction with a website where there is more digital interactivity and of a physical product where there is physical interactions. Any artistic or designerly creation in general left in a space is open for interpretation. These interpretations are to be reinforced by the feedback from the viewers and what they have to say about it, their interpretations and how closely they are able to relate to what the photographer intended to in the first place. This implies that a thorough close understanding of
any design, art can be highly beneficial. With this I hope to have my interpretation of the exhibition
and how as an artist visiting another artist’s exhibition re-inforce the things that are in my lifeworlds and the way I think about it. It is hoped that Interaction Designers can learn a lot by the analysis of experiences of photography exhibitions.

Download Full Paper here.