Monday, April 28, 2008

Mobile Cheats

Few years back, a telephone connection at home was considered luxury and matter of pride. It was considered as an indicator of social status. That was the time when neighbors would flock in at your home with their whole family if you had a telephone connection. STD/PCO booths were mobbed with long queues of people eagerly waiting for their turns.

Making a STD call to our distant relatives was a social ritual. My parents, my sisters and I would neatly dress up and get ready to go to the nearby STD booth. We would lock our house and also plan to eat ice-cream on our way back. The STD owner would greet us once we reach there. Our excitement would increase with the decreasing queue. When we had our turn to make the call, my father would hand over my relative’s number to the STD owner to dial in. I would impatiently wait for my parents to finish fast with their talks. My excitement would reach the peak when I get my turn to talk to my cousin. Within a minute my father would pester me to finish the call fast to keep the phone bill to minimum. STD was pretty expensive then.

It was 90s and now it is 2008. Welcome to the mobile world of 21st century! Today, almost every member in my family has a mobile. Calling someone has become just another chore with a very less significance attached to it; it has no longer been a “family-thing”.

Mobile usage has changed user’s behavior in a lot of unpredictable ways. It has become an extension of our communication capabilities. We carry mobile phones with us all the time and a separation of even a few minutes makes us feel uncomfortable and nervous.

Lately I shifted my office seat to a different location. I noticed that one of my neighbors in the next cubicle is always engrossed in her work. I found her concentrating on monitor for long hours without changing her pose. She wears her mobile hands-free all the time in her ears. Earlier, I thought that she was listening to songs and concentrating on her work. However, one fine day – to my dismal – I realized that she was actually talking to someone in the disguise of a busy looking professional. She has perfected the art so well that her lips and face barely move when she talks. I wanted to take her picture but could not do that.

Mobile companies never designed the hands-free the way she uses it. I really liked the creativity that she has shown to avoid her boss’s attention. She can now talk for hours without making her boss aware of it. Users are really good at using products beyond the intended uses. They can remould their behavior and product usage based on the context in which they use the product.

Finally, I asked my friend Sriram to pose for me so that I could share the amazing posture with you all. Thanks Sriram!

Monday, April 21, 2008

That’s not my seat!!!

The nose-burning stink and shoe-spoiling urine mix water on the floor will readily overwhelmed your senses as soon as you enter any Indian public urinals. The experience is so frightening and torturing that sometimes I just prefer holding “the pressure” back despite of serious risks to health. I can easily use open public space to relieve myself – a lonely lane, an open drain, or a long wall, or trees or shrubs to hide myself – but I abhor relieving myself there. Sometimes, if things are beyond my control I end up choosing natural open spaces over public urinals to avoid the stench and filth.

The abject condition of toilets is partly due to government negligence and partly due to lack of social awareness or civic-sense in public. It is debatable but I think that literacy and education are two different things. Civic sense starts from home and cannot be learnt at school by attending one course in twelve academic years. Anyway, my intention here is not to debate on it. People (public) constitute of diverse groups from different religions, age, and income group. Therefore, it becomes difficult to analyze their patterns regarding to toilet usage.

In this post, I am going to talk about the employees of my company. Almost 98% of them hold engineering degree or a graduate degree. All are making good money and are exposed to global culture. They are working on complex projects and producing high quality work. No wonder, they are the bright talents of upcoming India. My company is located in national capital (Delhi), therefore, they are also eligible to be called as cosmopolitan.

However, when it comes to civic-sense these so called “IT-professionals” get really bad marks. Despite of working in a demanding global environment, someone needs to teach them toilet-etiquettes.

Toilet Seats

Indian toilets (Squat Toilets) are different from western toilets and many Indians find problems adjusting themselves to western seats. Since childhood (exceptions apart), all their lives, people are brought up with Indians seats. One fine day, when they join an American multinational company, they are faced with a great dilemma of giving away this traditional practice and suddenly adopt the western one. Some people easily embrace it, while others find it difficult. Since most offices have only Western toilets, they end up using western toilets in Indian style, and when this happens, the situation becomes really nasty and perplexing for the Indian user.

Imagine a scenario when a user goes to western toilet. He suffers extreme ergonomic discomfort while using western toilet in Indian style. He invariably leaves stains and shoe-marks on toilet seat while doing so. Once done, he needs water instead of paper to clean him. Paper is not considered as “Indian” and it is untidy religiously. The usage of water makes the whole toilet wet. When he leaves the toilet, he also forgets to wipe off the shoe stains from the toilet seat.

The management seems confused. It has provided both paper and water in toilets. I still wonder whose idea it was? The user remains confused whether to use water or paper? Removing water and leaving paper roll is a good solution but some people might not like it.

Most of the offices have forgotten to provide users with disposable paper toilet-seat-cover to maintain hygiene. How would management know, when they have not experienced a true western style toilet themselves throughout their lives?


Urinals face another kind of problem. Some Indians are habitual of chewing Paan (betel leaf) or Paan Masala (betel leaf mixture). When they go to toilet, they end up spitting it in the urinal because they are too lazy to do it in the wash-basin. Even wash-basin is not made for spitting such kind of thing. Chewing gum is another common thing that ends up in urinals blocking fluids there.

Most Indian (I don’t have numbers) men spit in urinals after they are relieved. I have no idea why do they do it? I am still trying to figure out this. May be, my father missed teaching me something important and cultural - to spit after being done with the job. I used the term "cultural" because I see it happening everywhere. At least fifty percent times I have seen people spitting in urinals after they get done with the job. I wonder if this happens in other countries also.

To counter all this, the management at office has decided to educate users. They have put a label reading:

“Please do not spit/ Throw a chewing gum/ Tobacco etc. in the urinal”

Please see the picture above for more details and do not forget to notice the dangling room-freshener on one of the screws. Did designer leave that screw for the same purpose.

Hope it will help bring some urinal civic-sense to the users. However, the toilet seat problem remains as is.

This clearly demonstrates what happens when we try to fit a product forcefully in a foreign environment. Hope one day we will be able to respect all cultures.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Looking at

User experience is about delighting users and understanding their day to day needs. Most of the time designers design websites and software without understanding user’s context. Context awareness definitely leads to not only good designs but also to creative and out of the box solutions.

One such example is the bus ticket booking site The site has intelligently understood their target audience who are young software professionals sitting in air-conditioned and high-speed internet access offices of multi-national software companies. Working under project deadlines and management pressure, software professionals come from various parts of the country and require frequent trips back home by air, road, and train.

Planning a trip is a time consuming task. Looking for various options and finally nailing down one involves a complex decision making process. The complexity increases the time spent on the site by the user. Most of the times, project managers and bosses do not like their valuable resources spending time deciding travel itinerary rather than working on the project.

To cater this has come up with a creative solution with a pun. The homepage has a link “Boss is watching? Look busy.” (See the attached image at pointer 1) Clicking the link opens up a complex looking excel sheet with charts and graphs. If you saw your boss coming near you, just click the link and start reading the excel sheet. You can click the “back” link once he leaves your desk.

The other interesting thing that I found on is the language selection (See the attached image at pointer 2). As a common practice, all the available languages are shown in global menu. The current language selection is shown as deactivated link. However, differs the convention in an interesting way. Once the user selects the language from the menu, the selected language link disappears from the menu instead of becoming deactivated. To me it appears as a nice concept with no confusion, however, the effectiveness of this concept could be found only through usability testing.

Enjoy buying tickets there….

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Building the dream UX team

“Ignorance is bliss” is an age old adage. It might be true in some situations but taking it for granted could be fatal for the business. I get lot of calls for jobs through consultants and job portals but all of them have one common thing that pinches my soul to the core. The common thing that I am talking about is their ignorance about the job roles in their User Experience (UX) Team.

It is good to see that many new organizations have finally accepted the obvious value of design and usability in software and product development. Four-five years back, UX practitioners had to hard sell the importance of their presence in product life cycle. Only a few far-sighted companies had the vision to sense the value of UX professionals in their teams.

Fortunately the ignorance about UX did not last for very long and more and more organizations embraced UX professionals. The trend did not stop here and soon organization started to boast about their UX design capabilities in their sales pitch and offered it as a distinct service.

Today, most of the organizations want to hire UX professionals without knowing what they are? Therefore, I decided to sit down and write a small blog hoping that it would bring some clarity to the senior executives sitting at the top while making hiring decisions.

Building UX dream team

Building a dream UX team is every organization’s dream but it is easier said than done. Most of the times organizations are unclear about the roles and job responsibilities of the UX team and end up building amateur and shallow team. These organizations look for “All in one role” to cut down cost i.e. a person who has the capabilities of usability expert, graphic designer, and web developer. Such thinking is disastrous and suicidal to the organization and reflects shortsightedness.

A UX dream team in my view would consist of:

  • Information Architect (IA) / User Experience Designer/ Usability Expert (Pick any role based on your organization needs)
  • Graphic / Visual Designers
  • Web Developers

All the above mentioned roles are distinctly different. The usability professional is expert in user data gathering, analysis, synthesis, and design. The visual designer is knowledgeable in interaction design and visual design. The web developer is knowledgeable about the technology. A cross-functional team ensures that people with different perspectives and skills will pay attention to different aspects of the data and the design. They will do whatever they are good at.

More about some of these roles can be read at

It is a good article however it does not paint a holistic picture of the whole team.

The ideal workflow in the UX dream team

Information Architects / User Experience designers do data gathering, analysis, synthesis and redesign or design by creating user need matrix, affinity diagrams, personas, scenarios, task flows, wireframes, wireframe specifications, etc. These deliverables are then passed on to the visual design team.

Visual designers work on visual concepts for the deliverables produced by IA and add cool visual flavor to the interface. They also create visual design specifications of the final concept and incorporate branding.

Web Developers receive design specifications and start developing the prototype. They also create documentation from development perspective.

I have just described a bird’s eye view of the user experience design team. We can get into details if needed by discussing each role and responsibilities pertaining to the role.

In the end….

The important point to understand here is the value of each resource in the team. Let everybody do what they are good at and trained in. By having specialists in the team the quality of work would increase drastically. Instead of forcing one person to take all the roles, organizations should focus on developing a winning UXD team.