How Do We Design For All?
Mobile phones are going to be tomorrow's mobile computing devices. They already are that in a lot of developed countries. But who is designing for the Indian farmer, who does not know how to read or write? Who is designing for a person with no vision? Basically, are we really doing something ‘substantial' about incorporating as many people as possible in our policies, development process, design framework: in short, is our ‘Customer Selection Matrix' incorporating all those who are looking for solutions to make their life simpler?
A mother in rural India wants her daughter to have a better life for herself. With lack of better opportunities and avenues, learning English is a sure shot way of at least obtaining a government job or a small time office girl or sales girl kind of a job. She then will not have to work as a daily wage worker at some construction site.
In semi-rural areas, parents cannot afford more than Rs.5,000 on a computing device, they say. Can then, the mobile phone be their mode of upliftment? Can then, we as designers develop relevant content, which not only helps our employers in terms of revenue, but we then also contribute to society.
We have all heard buzz words such as eLearning, mLearning, mEducation, and the list goes on and on and on. Are the consumers happy? Or are we just throwing all these jargons out, till miracle or chance sustains us through another year of economic turmoil, since our products are not representative of the user's needs. Maybe our solutions are actually sub-standard.
A good starting point then is to remember how we define our Mission Statement, how we gather - if we gather - our customer's needs, establish product specifications, generate concepts, evaluate what the performance metric's ideal and marginal values should be which can then be tested, leading up to product architecture, and product development with effective prototyping.
Remember, User Centered Design is a methodology. This methodology is a process, which is also data driven. Why can then we not leave things to chance?
Establishing connection with users of products & services in emerging markets
There has been a lot of talk on emerging markets, copious amounts of articles, hardly any proportional research to do justice to the population of India and I assume most other BRIC countries, even though I am not aware or qualified enough to make that judgment call. Obviously, there is always a split pot in terms of opinion in most avenues of life, and the development of products and services is no different.
There is a significant Design/ Interaction Design/ Human Factors/ Human-Machine Interaction community in India who understand product and service development. Sadly, they are not a part of the primary decision makers in most product and service development efforts in India. That task has been thrust upon the know-all information technology ‘junta'. Somewhere, something is amiss. Is it the education system, is it the policy in corporate houses, is it the lack of awareness amongst the business community? I think it is a mix of all these factors, and more.
I am not going to go into a soliloquy of sorts and throw technical terms and jargons your way. Nor am I going to give you statistics about what was, what is, or what may be. I will talk about 2 experiences - one which was narrated to me by my uncle when I was an 11 year old boy, and one is a personal experience, at the time of field study, when I was 33 years old.
My uncle used to work for one of the top management schools in India. He also did consultancy work for various clients. One such client was getting into the business of supplying automobile parts to car manufacturers, garages in India, etc. The client did not have a clear understanding of how many cars existed in various parts of India, how many people came to a garage in a day, how many people drove an Ambassador versus a Maruti Suzuki. The client then, had no idea what his precise offerings to his customers should be. This was a time when computer was just another word for the common man in India. My uncle was a common man, and his understanding of a computer was as superficial as it would be for my grandmother. There was no access to ‘Google'. You had to actually go and gather data from the field, talk to the customers, talk to the stakeholders, understand your user, and all this then would generate insights, which would help build a good business model.
My uncle spent days sitting at the whole sale dealer's offices in various parts of Delhi, Bombay (now Mumbai! By the way, did the government talk to ‘users' to see how the mortal population of Bombay reacted to the change of name to Mumbai? I am sure not), Calcutta (now Kolkotta), Madras (now Chennai), and Patna. He at least collected relevant data.
Cut forward 22 years, and I was on the streets of a semi-urban town of South India collecting data for a service provider I worked with. For me a mobile phone is a way to talk to my mother, father, sister, and some old friends. I also exchange messages with them. My friend who picks me up before work each day, gives me a missed call, and I walk downstairs, since I know he will be there 9 - 12 minutes after the missed call, depending on the traffic.
But the population of India has adopted phones in a way, which is logical, yet astounding for me. Field research is the only way you understand the ‘depth' of their ‘inspirations', for this adoption. For me, field research is much better education than reading about it in someone else's article. One thing was evident; there was a huge gap between what the consumers actually wanted, and what was actually being dished out to them. These people are ready to pay for the value added services, but those services just do not exist. They still pay for the semi-standard content which is offered to them under the pretext of ‘value' added services, because of the lack of other descent offerings.
Why cannot businesses supply better quality of offerings? Is it because bad content is cheaper to generate, and the bored housewives, or the traveling salesman, or the farmer, or the security guard will anyways consume it? Is that not the case with the movies which are offered in India?
What businesses fail to understand is this - user experience is about engagement, trust, loyalty to the brand, and re-engagement after the first engagement is served. Business schools do research on Markovian models to predict consumer's behavior change that influences then to change the current brand. Was one of the independent variables ‘quality of content' or was it one of the noise factors, which was eliminated by virtue of what a Latin Square design helps us achieve, by blocking these nuisance variables?
My question then is, "Do Organizations Really Know What Their Users Want?" More importantly, "Do They Want To Know What Their Users Want?"