This indian usability/ux blog attempts to bridge the gap between user requirements research & user interface design. Muthu is based in Bangalore, India & works in the xDesign team, Sun Microsystems Bangalore.
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Monday, October 29, 2007

Usability gurus speak on emerging trends and the Indian usability landscape!

Four Usability practitioners from Bangalore India talk about usability and discuss emerging trends.
An interview by Shazeeye Kirmani , Usability Practitioner at Infosys.

1. Sridhar Marri, is Vice President and Head – Communication Design Group in Infosys Technologies Ltd. He has 17 years of experience with 8 years exclusively in designing. His other interests include Film making, writing and business leadership.
2. R. Muthukumar, an UX Architect in Sun Microsystems has spent 8 years as a usability practitioner. Muthukumar also likes to blog, participate in unconferences, and do yoga.
3. Parameswaran Venkataraman (Param) is the Founder-CEO of Onward Research + Consulting and has 10 years experience in usability. His special interests include Photography, Entrepreneurship and Blogging.
4. Amit Pande is Manager, User Experience at ORACLE. He spent 6 years as a usability practitioner with professional interests spanning the intersection of design-driven innovation, product development, education & learning and new disruptive business models. His personal interests include cultures, cognition, travel, music, non-fiction, and interacting with interesting people. He also occasionally writes at http://amitpande.com.


What according to you is the biggest challenge for usability professionals in India?

Sridhar Marri:
Great user experiences are yet to emerge from India. The key to address this is to showcase the business value of usability and create a culture of innovation.

R. Muthukumar:
Usability practices not being integrated with SDLC owing to a lack of usability awareness in private and government sectors.

Parameswaran Venkataraman (Param):
Most usability professionals in India work on projects where the end-users are located elsewhere, in other parts of the world. To get a clear understanding of users’ needs it is important to be physically present at user locations to gather explicit and implicit cues of their needs to drive the ultimate user experience.

Amit Pande:
One of the biggest challenges for UX professionals in India is creating a consistent, visible and strong identity for themselves as a unified professional group. The absence of a strong identity has caused several different perceptions and understandings to emerge in industry on what role UX professionals play and what value they add to business. Unlike professionals with MBA, Engineering or Accountancy backgrounds, designers do not have a fair say in their role definition, their compensations, or their career growth paths.
Most UX professionals in India are not privy to key management and product decisions and as a result, many choose to do job-hopping while others choose to leave the profession altogether.

How have you addressed this challenge in your area of work?

Sridhar Marri:
We at Infosys have set up an Innovation Lab to address this concern. The Lab exclusively focuses on innovative and emerging technology and business solutions.

R. Muthukumar:

* Persistently evangelized usability both within the organization (to Management, Engineering & Marketing teams and specifically to all new employees) and outside the organization, through periodic presentations.
* Involved usability professionals during the early stages of SDLC , so that “Quality gets “built-in” instead of being “Tested-in”
* Adopted “Predictive Design” methodology based on prior experience and design patterns
* Practiced ‘Participatory Design methodology’ by involving Stakeholders, Users, Developers and Management in the design process
* Improved Web Development and related technical skills to establish a collaborative rapport with the Engineering teams to smoothly conduct “UI Assurance” and achieve “Ease of Development” as a goal

Param:
Traveled to the geographies where the users are, worked with counterparts in those geographies to define users’ needs.

Amit Pande:
One of the ways I have addressed this challenge internally is to have an open management style and involve our UX professionals in key decisions. I have also looked out for or created projects in which UX professionals have to step up and solve fundamental business and consumer problems, not simply UI ones.

What is your favorite Indian website from a usability perspective? What aspect of it do you like?

Sridhar Marri:
I am yet to see a great Indian website on the Internet. However in the Intranet space, our Sparsh – the Infosys Intranet is my favorite. Its telescopic information architecture and flexible design for growth are two aspects that I like most. And it is full of life!

R. Muthukumar:
http://www.cleartrip.com/
I like it because the overall ticketing process is easy to use, defect free and fast.

Param:
www.cleartrip.com
It is not cluttered. The user interface is simple. Implementation is slick and consistent (like immediate page refreshes, etc.).

Amit Pande:
The last one I liked was http://www.cleartrip.com – it made bookings easier by providing a lot of relevant information upfront, making trip price calculations easy, and keeping the credit card payment process straightforward. I also like some of the UI components used in the site, including the collapsible panes.

How has the usability landscape changed in India over the past few years?

Sridhar Marri:
From the time we began our journey as the first generation usability professionals, we have seen the field rise from being just another cosmetic feature to an important driver in software development. Today, maturity levels of clients, software organizations, users, designers and technologists have risen dramatically. In the first phase of evolution, we have had to resort to guerrilla techniques, under-the-radar methods, and several entrepreneurial approaches to make usability a respected and much sought-after profession today. Now the time has come to build on this foundation to make India a source for leading edge user experience strategies.

R. Muthukumar:
Over the past few years, usability practices are more established in private product-companies than in service companies. Usability representation is seen in top management through formation of Usability SBUs. Usability professionals are involved right from the early stages of SDLC, involved in user research etc., No marked improvements are seen in G2C (Government to Citizens) applications.

Param:
There are 3 main changes.

Firstly, the kind of skills applied and requested for are specialized like information architects, visual designers, etc. Previously usability was a one-man team with the designer applying all the skills.

Secondly, with the introduction of blogs knowledge sharing has become easier for the regular practitioner thus raising the bar for learning and applying immediately.

Lastly, career growth was limited to a managerial role a few years back now practitioners have the opportunity to be individual contributors and still grow.

Amit Pande:
The usability market in India has slowly but irreversibly changed in the past several years. The ecosystem continues to evolve into several layers and niches –a sign of a maturing market. While the multinational companies (Infosys, SAP, Yahoo, Oracle, Cap Gemini, Accenture) make up a large part of the ecosystem, several smaller global companies (such as SupportSoft or ThoughtWorks or Yodlee) and Indian consumer web companies (such as Minglebox, Naukri.com or guruji.com) have increased their UX footprint so increase the overall ecosystem. Adding to this the presence of user and design research companies (such as www.designforuse.net or www.onwardresearch.com or www.cks.in) and the scattered groups of freelancers and UX consultants has increased the usability ecosystem significantly to make it one of the larger ones in Asia.

At another level, there are many more C-level executives and product development owners who are now aware of the critical role of User Experience and Usability and are willing to invest in UX staff and UX infrastructure. This has meant more budgetary and corporate support for UX hiring, UX customer initiatives, and investments in training and coaching of product development stakeholders on how to work with UX groups.

At a third level, the Indian consumer has certainly become more vocal and demanding about the quality and usability of their experiences – whether in retail, telecom, banking or software – and the emergence of a more usability-focused Indian consumer means that India based product and service organizations (including and outside of software) will have to make significant investments to make their offerings usable. Indian consumers are not willing to put up with anything less than the best.

Overall, usability in India has certainly found its early voice and is now slowly trying to figure out what to do with it and how to carve a unique professional identity for itself.

What emerging trends do you foresee for usability in India?

Sridhar Marri:
Usability will become a stronger business value driver. We will be required to benchmark our user experiences globally. We will have to demystify and de-skill the profession and adopt a metrics driven approach.

R. Muthukumar:
Usability in India will get to be more mainstream. Loads of educational institutions will start offering exclusive programs on usability. The ratio of usability professionals in organizations will steadily increase.
We will continue to play catch-up with western countries, in G2C applications. Collaborative effort between private sectors and govt. could improve usability of G2C applications.

Param:
More individual contributors will play key roles in the organization. Usability practitioners will be accepted and aligned within the overall organization structure with direct accountability to senior management, emphasizing the impact of the user in the overall lifecycle.
The bar will continue to rise, in terms of the kind of skills & expertise in this field, both via formal & informal education. Clients will expect practitioners to have greater technical skills in this area.

Amit Pande:
I see more peer to peer usability focused organizations and working groups emerge from within the UX community. While formal organizations such as the ACM SIGCHI have done significant work to expand the awareness of usability and provide discussion and learning spaces for the UX community, they have not moved or grown (yet) as fast as the community has. As a result, there is a clear opportunity for doing peer to peer events, un-conferences, and online networking and learning (through blogs and Wikis).

Another trend I see is the consolidation of design, UX, user research, usability and other professional areas (such as Architecture, or Print Design) – and the creation of forums and discussion spaces where professionals from these highly related disciplines can learn from each other.

A third trend I see is the emergence of usability and UX knowledge relevant to the Indian consumer market, using research and field methods that are both indigenous to India and also adapted from the West, where this field began.

I also see a lot more cross flow among the roles of Product Management, Product Strategy, Marketing, User Experience – where people skilled in one or more of these roles grow in their organizations and bring forth ‘design thinking’ to the decision making process.

4 comments:

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  2. very informative article. thanks for sharing.

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  3. This is great..However I am always sceptical about the role of usability in the websites created in India?

    Do you feel that the website creators, really are worried about usability factor and hire external usability experts to evaluate their site? Is there any trend you have been observing in this regard lately?

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