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10 Key Takeaways from UX India Conference 2016

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

UX India is the biggest annual UX Conference in India. This year, it was hosted in the beautiful city of Hyderabad and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. It was packed with awesome speakers from all around the world and there was a lot to learn. For the benefit of those who missed it, I thought I’d share my key takeaways.

#1 Design Responsibly

What should we keep in mind while designing experiences? Jay Peters said, make sure your UX design is:

  1. Desirable (by the users)

  2. Viable (for the business)

  3. Feasible (technically)

  4. Responsible (for the society)

I always thought that UX Design involves just Business + User + Technology. But adding responsibility to it gives a whole new meaning. Siraj quoted in his presentation, we should be aware of unintended consequences of our design. He argued Steve Harvey could have been saved that day, had his cue card been designed right. And that hit me hard. I had already read about it, and I thought it was just a bad design. But the responsibility angle to it made sense. And I think it is applicable not only to the designers, but also to the other stakeholders who choose to ‘not design’ an experience.

You cannot not have an experience.

So when you choose not to design something (as a designer or a stakeholder), you’re leaving user at the mercy of fate, which is cruel. We should make sure the entire user journey is designed responsibly, keeping the overall human welfare in mind. IF every designer does this, the world can definitely become a better place to live in. While designing responsibly was somewhere in the back of my mind, I never used to give it a front-seat. These 2 talks from Jay Peters and Siraj changed my perspective altogether. Here is what I will be using going forward:

Design Responsibly

Concluded from the talks by:

Jay Peters

Sirajuddin Mustafa


#2 True North – The Tie Breaker

It’s very easy to get caught up into subjective evaluations while making some design decisions when you have multiple options to choose from. Weighing pros and cons of various options can make it really difficult for us to make the right call. It could either end up in a guess-work or a very time consuming data-driven approach. At these tricky situations, a tie breaker could come in handy. If right from the beginning, we have one focused goal, a true north, a single parameter to evaluate our options, then making decisions becomes much more faster and easier.

This is often referred to as opinionated design, where we already have a strong opinion about how the best experience is defined for targeted audience. eg. While designing for Zivame website, we had a single goal in mind — EFFECTIVENESS. And, whenever it came to a point where we were having difficulty deciding whether or not to use a particular option, we would use our ultimate tie breaker – Will this option help user make a purchase? In other words, Will this option motivate the customer move further down into the funnel? And that gets us out of the dilemma!

Concluded from the talk by:

Profile Pic of Satish Ramachandran
Satish Ramachandran

#3 Hiring The Right Talent

What to look out for when hiring talent for UX design?

  1. Portfolio: The portfolio of a UX Designer should talk about business problems and solutions, rather than just pretty screens. It should tell stories about how the designer created value for the organizations and the users.

  2. Approach: The approach of the designer should be scientific. He should be applying design principles and methodologies to solve design problems rather than going by gut feeling or hunch.

  3. Thinkers First: Watch out for the designers who jump to solutions as soon as you give them a problem. Make sure he is a good listener. He should take his time to analyse the possible solutions and then come back with a response.

  4. Curiosity: Make sure he is curious and he challenges stuff. A designer who has nothing to ask to you or who doesn’t talk about a problem or two in your current system is not wired to be a good designer.

  5. Learnability: He should be ready to learn new stuff. Make sure he knows when he is wrong, and more than correcting his mistake, he should be interested in figuring what went wrong and how not to make the same mistake again.

  6. No Jargons: Don’t be impressed with the design terms he uses. If he actually uses these concepts in his design process, then these terms are his vocabulary, else it’s just Jargons. You should stay away from these pretenders.

While talking about these points Prasadd insisted that we should add to this list and help him build this list, as the brand UX is deteriorating because of these fake designers, which is not healthy for the growth of design industry. So here I am, contributing my 2 cents:

While hiring a designer, we should go deep into one particular project that he has worked on and argue against his design until he reaches a breakdown point. It is at this point you’ll know his true attitude towards the 6 points mentioned above. If he still keeps defending his design and does not come up with alternate solutions, then you know he can’t identify his mistakes, he can’t take feedback positively and he won’t be able to make incremental improvements to the design and to his own skill-set. On the other hand, if he is genuinely curious about his mistakes and is interested in learning more, then you are looking at a potentially good designer!

Concluded from the talk by:

Profile Pic of Prasadd Bartakke
Prasadd Bartakke

#4 Design for Evolutionary Behaviour

Human behavior is determined by a combination of inherited traits, experience, and the environment. Some behavior, called innate, comes from your genes, but other behavior is learned, either from interacting with the world or by being taught.

Innate BehaviorLearnt BehaviorEvolutionaryAcquiredNeeds to accommodate to very slow changesNeeds to accommodate to rapid changesUniversalEnvironmentally sensitiveDifficult to unlearnEasy to unlearn

If you take a look at history, design has always moved from learnt behaviour to innate behaviour. Early age phones had a circular dial, which needed a good amount of learning curve. As keypads evolved, the punching keypad was for more easier and came more naturally. And then, the gesture based touch screens are even more closer to innate gestures.

Evolution of Phones

So Rajib argued, that rather than designing for learnt behaviors, we should be designing for innate behaviors, so there is a least amount of learning curve and the usage comes naturally. This, he says, is the key concept behind Zero UIs.

Concluded from the talk by:

Profile Pic of Rajib Ghosh
Rajib Ghosh

#5 How Might We …

“How Might We …” is a design thinking technique that can be used for scoping projects. The technique is to fill in the statement below with the right words:

HOW MIGHT WE do something FOR someone in context IN ORDER TO change something

The goal of this method is to find the right problem to solve. A good example of the statement could be “How might we help students easily get to their pencils so they are always ready for classwork.” A step by step process, conducted in a team, that could help you arrive at this statement is as follows:

  1. Discuss with your team and come up with a broad problem area

  2. Each member (individually) should list down all the key players

  3. After a discussion, the team should shortlist the top 3 most relevant players

  4. Each member (individually) should list down issues for each key player

  5. After a discussion, the team should shortlist the top 3 most severe issues for each player

  6. Each member (individually) should come up with possible solutions

  7. Broadly discuss possible solutions with your team

  8. Now keeping the problem area, key players and possible solutions in mind, try to come up with How might we statements for top issues

The problem that we worked upon in our workshop was Chikungunya. And finally, this is what we came up with:

How might we create an ecosystem for the society associations to prevent and report Chikungunya in order to eradicate its widespread.

My key learning from this session, apart from the method, was that I realised doing this as a team enabled me to see through the holes in my approach which I’d have missed otherwise. Also, every team member brought a unique aspect from his life, which I was totally unaware of. Design thinking in a team rocks!

Concluded from the workshop by:

Profile Pic of Lakshman Pachineela Seshadri
Pachineela Seshadri

#6 Rapid Method To Assess Sentiment

I need not emphasise the need of doing stuff rapidly in an agile setup. More than often, we don’t have enough time to research and validate assumptions using conventional research methods. Thus, unfortunately, we choose to go by our gut feeling, dropping the research step and eventually risking everything. In such situations, rapid research and test  methods might come in handy. Steve Fadden explained one such method during his workshop which particularly made sense to me. It’s called Semantic Differential Process and allows us to quickly assess the user sentiment on a semantic scale.

A research paper from Johnson F (EuroHCIR2012) says, semantic differential can be used as a technique for assessing the user experience during information interactions in exploratory search tasks. This can be done on the 7 point scale of 20 bipolar adjectives, as follows:

attractive—unattractiveimpersonal—personaldull—funpowerful—simplisticdisconnected—connectedvaluable—not valuablehigh quality—low qualityirrelevant—relevanteffective—ineffectiveincomprehensible—meaningfulstimulating—confusingboring—inspiringintimidating—empoweringstressful—engagingsatisfying—frustratingfast—slowpredictable—unpredictablecontrollable—uncontrollableintuitive—rigiddifficult—easy

The results from this test may be interpreted to figure how people feel about your concept, interface and experience. It can be used to determine your alignment to intended goals. Steve says, for a rapid validation, you can perform a first impression test by simply using a 3 adjective scale marked on 5 points. Show the screen to user for just 5 seconds, and ask him/her How did he felt about the interface he/she just saw? The interface is:

very attractive—very unattractivevery easy—very hardvery efficient—very inefficient

You can do this test with say 10 users (per user group) and analyse to results to find the gaps in experience. You’ll realise that people who mark the screen as very attractive, perceive it as highly usable even after facing quite a few usability issues. This happens due to halo effect. And hence, first impression is very critical. You may use the above technique, in a task based scenario as well and simply ask the user to mark his feelings on the scale (choose your adjectives from the list of 20 above).

Concluded from the workshop by:

Profile Pic of Steve Fadden
Steve Fadden

#7 The Wanting Hormone

The feeling of happiness is related to release of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. The most popular ones are dopamine and serotonin. When something unexpected happens, it stimulates the dopamine system. Having information show up unexpectedly with an auditory or visual alert makes people want to engage in the behavior. Dopamine causes us to want , desire, seek out, and search. It increases our level of arousal. On the other hand, opioid system is involved in the feeling of pleasure. These “wanting” (dopamine) and “liking” (opioid) systems are complimentary. The wanting system propels us to action, and the liking system makes us feel satisfied. The dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system, hence we seek more than we are satisfied.


The Dopamine Cycle

Now, the flip-side is, these systems are being used to exploit the human beings. The desire for information is being used to keep humans over-engaged by stimulating information seeking behavior and by triggering dopamine system beyond healthy levels. And hence, while we can use this science to keep our users engaged, we should make sure we’re not over-doing this.

Concluded from the talk by:

Profile Pic of Sirajuddin Mustafa
Sirajuddin Mustafa

and the book ‘How to get people to do stuff’ by:

susan weinschenk
Susan Weinschenk

#8 Research — Don’t Just Assume

We are often pressed for time and hence we take shortcuts. We are quick to draw seemingly obvious conclusions. However, if we do research, the data and insights tell a different story altogether. This talk by Neha reinforces the same. She was walking us through an entertainment app designed for tier 2 cities in India. She was explaining how they had designed certain features in the app which specifically aligned to data-pack usage behavior of the users, which of-course they figured during research. And then, in the QnA section, someone asked: If the app is targeting tier 2 cities in India, then why is it in English, why not Hindi or other local languages? Most of the users in tier 2 cities can’t even speak English. The question made absolute sense. All the eyeballs turned towards her, and here is how she replied:

“We did research and interviewed with a lot of users. Turns out that they don’t wanna let their friends know that they have apps in local language. Using an entertainment app on a smartphone is an aspirational thing for them, and they would like to show-off the apps in English, which again is a status symbol in tier 2 cities in India.”

Mind-blowing, isn’t it? This was the moment, when I realised, we should never take even the most obvious facts for granted. Research always helps understanding user’s perspective!

Concluded from the talk by:

Profile Pic of Neha Modgil
Neha Modgil

#9 Finding Good Mentors

I had these very interesting one-on-one conversations with two of the speakers, and I asked them this question: How do I find good mentor for me? Here is what they had to say:

  1. Make sure the mentor is interested in mentoring you. Even if he is a big shot, unless he is really interested in grooming you, you won’t be able to get much from him. Mentor for a namesake does not work. A big shot, who doesn’t have time or intent to mentor you, may be your role model or aspiration, but not a mentor.

  2. Make sure the mentor is able to connect with you as a person. “My mentor is always able to bring a smile to my face” says Satish. Unless the mentor can make that personal connect with you, the mentorship will reduce down to QnA.

  3. Make sure the mentor knows your skill set. And, needless to say, it won’t happen unless you take care of #2. He should be able to help you with your development goals, should be able to help you set a future path for you!

  4. Here are a few obvious ones:

  5. Make sure the mentor is more than a year senior to you. Just a friend cannot be your mentor.

  6. Your current boss would be a bad choice. There would be conflicts of interest and he wouldn’t be able to make a relationship with you. (But there might be exceptions)

  7. Your x-boss could be a good choice 😉

  8. And my own view on this: If you expect others to be your mentor, be ready to give it back to the community. Always be open to mentoring your juniors 🙂

Concluded from one-on-ones with:

Satish Ramachandran

Sanchez Martin

#10 Characteristics of a Good Designer

This is a  very interesting one. While I was having a one-one-one with Pablo, one of the attendees jumped in and asked a question: What do you think are the characteristics of a good designer? What a stupid question, I thought, only to discover a very lovely answer. Pablo replied, a good designer always questions the way things are. He always challenges the status quo. He always spots what’s wrong with the current system and then goes about finding design solutions for improving the same. He solves real problems. He is like kids, who always keep questioning. Pablo gave an example of his 9 year old, who asked him, “Why do we have to keep checking the mailbox in the winter? Shouldn’t the mail directly come to us?” And if you think deeply about it, he was right! So, as a designer, all what you need to do is look around, and find problems worth solving. Don’t wait for an idea to come, just get out there and find problems. Solutions will follow if you deploy proper methodology and team work!

Concluded from a group discussion with:

Profile Pic of Pablo Sanchez Martin
Sanchez Martin

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