DesignUp Bangalore: Exploring the Big Challenges and Unique Opportunities of India’s UX Design Industry

DesignUp Bangalore: Exploring the Big Challenges and Unique Opportunities of India’s UX Design Industry

With an incredibly diverse population of more than 1.3 billion people, it’s safe to say India has its own unique opportunities in the world of digital products. In many ways, it is the new frontier of UX design — with a hungry, driven group of new UX designers ready to find unique solutions to local and global problems.

That emerging group of designers has quickly come together in the form of Bangalore’s DesignUp. Last month, the design-in-tech conference celebrated its second year, and is already becoming the largest event of its kind in India and one of the largest in Southeast Asia. It hosted speakers like Adobe’s principal designer Khoi Vinh — who calls India a land of opportunity in design — and is founded by Jay Dutta (a former Adobe employee himself), who has travelled the world working as a graphic designer, digital art director, and UX designer.

Jay Dutta and other speakers. Image credited to Jay Dutta/DesignUp India.

Dutta’s decision to move back to India and devote himself to building the UX community was partly triggered by advice from his first mentor, Sujata Keshavan Guha. She said to him, “Why are you tweaking and refining brands and businesses when there are airports to be built here?” We asked Dutta, along with Khoi Vinh, about the state of UX design in India and the major opportunities on the horizon in the world’s second-most populous country.

Rapidly changing attitudes in a rapidly changing industry.

The UX design industry is very new in India. Dutta says “that for a long time Indian businesses were stuck in the HCI paradigm (human-factors usability paradigm), which focuses solely on making software ‘usable.’” Finally, he adds, “companies are beginning to understand that design is a differentiator and are willing to invest in it, focusing on making products useful, desirable, and memorable. There are, however, some unique cultural challenges that remain.

“Indians don’t really have a natural affinity for order, structure, or fit-and-finish. The beautiful chaos of Indian life around us is an everyday reminder,” said Dutta.

“There’s some great work being done which doesn’t get produced to the right standards. It may be engineering constraints, the excuse of shipping fast or taking on too much, or the designer’s inability to engage business leaders deeply. We need to balance ‘move-fast-break-things’ with ‘move-slow-fix-things.'”

Adobe’s principal designer, Khoi Vinh, says his recent visit to DesignUp has assured him the next generation of UX designers are devoted to excellence, and he is confident the quality of digital design in the country will soon rival that of other markets.

“When you walk into DesignUp, it looks like a design conference in Europe or North America. The questions you get from the audience are sophisticated. They’re aware of what’s going on in other parts of the world and they’re trying to push the profession forward,” he said.

A uniquely positioned talent base, with little legacy to contend with.

India is incredibly diverse, with many unique cultures and more than 700 different languages spoken. However, much of the business community speaks native or near-native levels of English. This gives the UX design community a big advantage — they are able to design for a huge, diverse market, while doing business with major technology and design firms in the United States and in other English-speaking countries.

“The diversity works in their favor because everyone is incentivized to speak this ‘global language of business’ and it really gives them a leg up because it allows them to become partners to companies based in North America and Europe, but allows them to bring their vast domestic market,” he said, adding that this will shape the way UX teams work in the future.

“The teams in India are going to become more seamlessly blended with the teams in North America and Europe. The talent is going to continue to mature, and also we’re going to get more sophisticated tools in order to work collaboratively across timezones.”

UX designers in India may not have a lot of design leadership to look to since the industry is so new, but Vinh feels this is also an advantage.

“People can come in and establish their name and ways of doing things and brands and companies without the friction of dealing with legacy. I think it’s a unique opportunity for someone entering design,” he said.

Key tips for doing UX design work in India.

If you’re coming from North America or Europe and looking to start doing UX design work in India, there is a learning curve. Jay Dutta says the industry functions differently, and UX designers will have to shift their thinking to effectively work with Indian companies and organizations. Here are his tips for succeeding in UX design in India:

  • Indian businesses have low patience and want to see fast returns. Designers will have to deliver fast and show some results while not losing track of the bigger picture. Investments in systems, patterns, and process need to continue — and it’s a balancing act.
  • Indians worship engineering and you’ll need to take engineers along. In design, 1+1 can equal 3 or 5, but most engineers don’t get that. You need to find engineers who are open to designers and design approach, and engage them. They’re the ones who can show you the next tech opportunities in India.
  • Western notions of “good design” may not always work. There are new paradigms to be uncovered. China’s WeChat is an interesting example of this — how are the next 100 million or 500 million people going to engage with your products and services? The answer may be to look beyond rectangular screens.

A land of opportunity.

Getting back to Dutta’s initial drive to return to India, the country presents many substantial challenges that require good UX design to solve. Now startups are finally beginning to acknowledge this, shifting their priorities from merely copying successful concepts from elsewhere (“the ___ of India”) to designing the solutions for India’s unique problems.

“There are lot of things waiting to be given birth to — a lot of old businesses to be completely reinvented, opportunities in India’s massive healthcare, education, and agrarian sectors. We are just starting to scratch the surface of these,” said Dutta. There is also a strong need to adapt non-Indian brands — like Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon — to uniquely Indian consumption patterns.

With this rapid rate of advancement in India, it’s clear there will already be lots of new UX design challenges and solutions to talk about at DesignUp 2018.

Adobe is a title sponsor of DesignUp. Head over to DesignUp’s website to learn how you can get involved with India’s largest, and youngest, design-in-tech conference.

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