Design thinking Playbook Roundtable by Deepa Bachu


The core idea of a startup is to tap into the previously unexplored markets, identifying unsolved problems and bringing to the market innovation that disrupt the existing eco-system. It’s about understanding complex problems and coming up with innovative, disruptive solutions…a process that requires understanding the consumers’ requirements and behavior patterns to create a well-thought out solution for the customers’ benefit.

While most entrepreneurs spend weeks brainstorming about the idea, they often ignore the key ingredient to innovation : design.

Design /dɪˈzʌɪn/ (noun) – do or plan (something) with a specific purpose in mind.

The Design thinking Playbook Roundtable organized by iSpirit and conducted by Deepa Bachu from Pensaar helped startup founders understand the importance of design thinking and integrate design into their workflow. Here are some key takeaways from the Playbook Roundtable held at the head office of Instamojo in Bangalore:

Design thinking is not just about the graphic elements, UI or tools. It is a creative approach to a problem. It is a problem solving methodology – whether it is blueprints for a building, a beautiful graphic design for a brochure, a sleek UI for a website or a comfortable piece of furniture, design helps to solve any problem, visual or physical.

While it is important to engage a professional, it is crucial that everybody on the team thinks DESIGN. Entrepreneurs should be able to step away from their immediate environment to look around and view their idea from the perception of the consumers, a process that requires creative thinking.

As a good product manager, a startup founder should be able to connect the dots in non-obvious ways to come up with a unique and innovate solution for the consumers. It is crucial for entrepreneurs develop a deep insight of the problem they are seeking to solve and be passionate about it before coming up with a solution. More startups focus more on the solution and forget the initial problem statement. You must never lose sight of your problem, constantly revisiting it while fine-tuning and tweaking the solution.

A product is valuable only as long as the consumer users it. It is thus important for entrepreneurs to understand customer behavior in order to make their product user friendly. Usability studies though interesting, aren’t always reliable. Startup founders thus have to seek out customers and work with them closely to understand what they need, what they think, how they use the product and how they feel about it.

Customer behavior v/s customer intent – it is important to understand the difference between the two. While a user may want to do something in the ideal world (intent), she may not be able to do it in the real world (behavior). As entrepreneurs it is important to differentiate intent from actual behavior. If this is geographically impossible, startup founders should not hesitate to use data analytics to tap into the users’ behavior patterns and modify the product.

Design thinking allows entrepreneurs to look at their idea holistically and come up with the best possible solution for their users. Design after all enables people to create and come up with the unimaginable and unexpected designs.



Product Aesthetics, Community Development and the Step-wells of Gujarat

If you have had a chance to visit the state of Gujarat in Western India, you have almost certainly seen atleast one of the famed step-wells in the region. Known locally as “baori” or “vav”, there are hundreds of these architectural masterpieces dotting the state. The most famous ones are the Rani ki Vav (queen’s step-well) in the town of Patan and the Adalaj Vav (pictured below) at Adalaj, about 30 kms from Ahmedabad. The former makes it to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and both see thousands of visitors and tourists every year.

Major parts of Gujarat have been dry and arid for centuries, with the Thar Desert and the Rann of Kutch having a strong influence on the climatic conditions. The southern parts of the state border the saline Arabian Sea. Water, as a result, has traditionally been a precious and scarce resource. The step-wells evolved between the 6th and 11th century AD to meet the water requirements of the communities that made Gujarat their home. Today they stand testimony to the vision and empathy of the local chieftains and kings who patronized and funded their construction as a public good. They also offer some excellent lessons in product aesthetics and community development, which can be useful even in the unrelated field of software development.

Product Aesthetics

User Experience: Blending Functionality with Aesthetics

The primary function of a step-well was to be a year-round source of water for the community. The deep, multistoried step-wells made the underground water table easily accessible even during the harsh summer months. It would have been economical to simply construct step-wells as a purely functional engineering structure, without the elaborate carvings, sculptures and rich ornamental decorations that we find adorning them. Aesthetics and engineering however went hand-in-hand in traditional Indian architecture, leading to a wonderful user experience. Art-forms and beauty were given equal importance along with scientific principles and construction. Software product designers and architects need to play a similar role for complex software products – features and functionality must be designed with a view of the user experience and aesthetics in mind. Users may start using your product for its features and functionality, but they will become strong champions and power-users of your product if it’s also aesthetically appealing and elegant to use.

Community Development

The step-wells served not just as a stable water source in an arid land, but also a meeting place for the community. The elaborate structures served as a place for the locals to mingle, interact and probably even spend time trading wares and services. Constructing engaging and beautiful structures served the purpose of people spending more time at the step-wells, strengthening the bonds in a migratory, nomadic and dispersed community. Software products can take a leaf out of this book to engage with their users and promote community development. Recent trends in digital transformation have shown that a strong emphasis on leveraging your user community can pay rich dividends for your products and services. Apart from functional aspects of product design and development, having features that enable users to interact with each other and a community support ecosystem that fosters such interactions is critical to product success, user adoption and longevity.

Legacy and Purpose

In the age of multi-billion dollar valuations for seemingly ephemeral apps, it’s easy to get carried away and look for short-cuts to success. As we all know however, these valuations are more black swans than de-rigueur. The patron financiers, architects and sculptors of the step-wells emphasized building something that would not only serve the people of their generation, but would have a lasting impact on the generations to come and leave a legacy. The sense of purpose was a central theme in the construction and perhaps it should be so for the software products we design as well. It may seem naïve to have this point of view given how “exit route” is one of the central discussions for any funding that is sought. But perhaps a shift in focus to the product vision and what it accomplishes for the users and society at large will help us build more enduring and endearing products.

Are there other interesting inspirations you can draw from these wonderful engineering marvels? Which is your favorite step-well and why? I’d love to hear from you!

Approaching Mobile UX – A Product Manager’s Perspective

When building the mobile interface for their existing products, Product Owners are faced with quite a few perplexing questions, especially related to the user experience on mobile. A report from ZDNet says UX is one of the most critical concerns for enterprises looking to develop mobile apps while another study points out that users prefer usability and good user experience over brand names.

Before we start discussing about Mobile UX, let us first understand what User Experience is.  User Experience is not only about visual design. It is actually much broader — it involves the scientific research of users and can answer important questions about the audience for both new and existing products. These include:

• Who are your real users and what do these real users care about?

• How do they actually interact with your existing product?

• How will users interact with a new version or new feature?


While there are several UX design best practices from the desktop world that can be brought to mobile, this piece focuses on mobile specific issues.

The foremost thing to remember when building a mobile interface for your product is that while mobile UX design has similarities with web and software design, simply stripping down your desktop or web experience is not going to do it. While drilling down is fine on the Web, mobile users tend to act more linearly a mobile application. To design a good app, you need to start from grounds up, identifying the customer experience you want, and enhancing it with the right features of your existing product. Great mobile apps are uniquely mobile, they couldn’t be done the same way anywhere else.

When choosing whether to design for brand or device, put your preference on device. Your users have been using the device much before they start using your application. Developing custom interfaces will confuse users, slow down adoption, and put a significant obstacle in the way of engagement. Instead, take the principles of the OS-native interface kit, and subtly style your interface elements without altering the underlying functions.

password-engineA classic example is the Password Engine iPhone app. iPhone users are used to certain ways to access settings or placement of the Back button. By not following them, the app increases the learning curve for users.

Mobile apps will always be subjected to interruption, whether by an incoming call or the user’s station arriving. Design your applications such that it is easy for users to pick up from where they left off  – save states, break larger tasks down into smaller chunks, and put context throughout. Usually users on mobile will on the move, and hence subjected to lots of distractions. Organize content in a way so that it is easy for consumers to browse through.  Take the example of the Gmail iPhone app.



All the fields and Call to Action (CTA) are vertically aligned on the left side and thus the user’s eye needs to move in one consistent direction.



efilecabinetWhile the iPhone app from eFileCabinet forces the user’s eye to scan all around the screen. It has less CTA’s and hence a lot of the real estate on phone screen that could have been used.

Mobile devices generate a lot of information about the user apart from the traditional data generated from a web solution. This includes things like movement, location, sensor data etc. Think about using this data intelligently to pleasantly surprise the user. Customer satisfaction is great but customer delight is even better.

yelpYelp has recently updated its Nearby feature that now offers suggestions based on user’s location, previous Yelp check-ins and reviews, and Yelp friends as well as other data like the time of day and even the weather. This is a great update because it allows Yelp recommendations to be truly contextual. On a cold morning, it can recommend a good coffee shop while on a sunny day it can point to ice-cream parlours near you.





And finally, understand the limitations of mobile devices – constrained hardware resources, screen size and network bandwidth. Consuming too much power or designing buttons for cursors rather than fingers and thumb will lead users to delete your application. Prioritize and present core features from other channels that have especial relevance in a mobile environment and enable mobile users to navigate to the most important content and functionality in as few taps or key presses as possible.

Measuring UX performance

Like any product feature, you need to constantly measure UX and keep improving. A couple of ways to measure UX are:

1. Data

Identify some of the key KPIs for your app. Example of some of the common ones are:

  • Adoption: Track data such as DAU or 7 day actives
  • Retention: Analyze the users who are coming back
  • Engagement: Number of visits or time spent are good indicators of engagement
  • Task Success: Use the funnel analysis to figure out dropouts


2. Usability Test

Observe users using the product.  Ideally, you would compare these usability tests to ones done on your prior product.  Does the new design achieve the intended goals, such as being more intuitive and driving users towards specific actions?


A great resource to start learning about the UX principles for mobile is the iOS Human Interface Guidelines. Another great resource for learning the basics of iOS UX and UI is Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps: Josh Clark. Android too has a few Design Guidelines, and it is always good to have a look at them when developing apps for Android.


The mobile user experience encompasses the user’s perceptions and feelings before, during and after their interaction with your mobile presence. Creating mobile user experiences that delights a user forces us to rethink a lot of what we have taken for granted so far with desktop design. Mobile user experience is still a developing field, and opportunities for improvement continue to emerge. But dissecting the mobile user experience into its key components, and placing the user’s expectations at the centre, gives us a conceptual framework for building and evaluating good mobile experiences.

Guest Post by Rajat Harlalka at PlayApps Inc He has over 8 years of experience in the mobile industry in different roles – technology, strategy and product management. He has worked with companies such as Marvell, ST Ericsson and Exicon  etc. and is currently a Product Manager developing mobile educational games and apps. You can find him on Twitter @RajatHarlalka

3 Easy Pointers to Keep In Mind While Creating Delight Through User Experience

Get the Mental Model right

Mental Models are essentially set of best practices in understanding users’ reason for doing things. Designing around it will create delight

While Aesthetics play a big role in the immediate impression might be very important as a “buying” feature, often it will fail as a “using” feature if not done in the  mental  model for a given customer context or usage scenario.

Good book on the topic is Indi Young’s Mental Models –Aligning Design Strategy with  User Behavior

Here is a summary blog post for the topic – Getting Mental Models Right  –  CrazyEggblogpost

Nobody is complaining” – that doesn’t mean there is no problem

User adaptability is surprisingly high when it comes to dealing with inefficiencies.
A high tech enterprise software product (especially ERP) takes 6 months and 1 M$ to  learn and operationalize, TV remote has 84 buttons on it, the latest microwave oven can cook food in 101 styles (didn’t know there were 100 ways to cook idli!) etc. and yet after a while USERS ADAPT. They compromise & accept the product with its inherent  inefficiencies until someone comes around and solves it (think Apple!)

A good Product Manager and User Experience Designer will uncover those inherent  inefficiencies and create opportunities to simplify things, bringing the “aha” moment  with less capabilities!

One of the roadmap prioritization techniques we advocate as part of our Customer Insights courses at the Institute is Kano Analysis which basically suggests that every product has basic attributes, performance features and delighting features.  Most successful product releases will have atleast a few “delighters”

Integrate UX into the development process

User Experience (UX) is lot more than User  Interface Design and User Interface Design is lot more than pretty fonts and cool colors!

If you plot the maturity of R&D teams across the UX continuum you will find 3 stages of maturity

  1. UX as Styling
    Define the visual elements that determine look of the application

       2.  UX as Process
             Design as a method integrated early into the development process 

       3.  UX as Innovation
             Redefine product concepts based on user insights

Here is a typical interlock/flow of how engineering & design teams work together during a development process of product!

Any thoughts?

Quick Research / Usability Methods: Lean Usability Testing

(Post 3 of a series on quick research and usability techniques. Start-up’s can use these techniques fairly easily to connect to and understand their end users better, as well as maintain usability standards on their products.)

Previous posts in this series showcased two discount usability engineering methods – Expert Usability Review‘ and ‘Heuristic Evaluation’. Both these methods are ‘expert based’ – i.e. an interface is reviewed by design or usability experts vs. getting feedback from end users – and are used to identify usability issues on an interface.

Post 3 introduces lean Usability Testing – A ‘guerrilla’ version of traditional Usability Testing.

Before discussing the how’s and why’s of ‘lean’ testing, here are a few basic points to better understand Usability Testing and why it’s important in context to start up’s.


Usability Testing (UT) is a research method used to gain insight into product usability.
It is a time bound ‘show and tell’ method where a moderator asks representative users to use and/or talk about the product being evaluated, in context to key task scenarios.
A basic test typically starts with open ended ‘interview style’ questions, followed by a longer scenario based ‘show and tell’ session and ends with a debriefing session.

Usability Testing can be conducted at various points of the product development lifecycle.
Although there are several types of usability tests and techniques that can be used, testing can be broadly classified into ‘Formative’ and ‘Summative’ Testing.

Formative Testing can be conducted at any stage of development. (Initial paper prototype / high fidelity prototype / even post release)
The objective is to aid iterative design. Formative Testing is typically qualitative in nature and the goal is to find specific pain points and highlight areas of improvement.

Summative Testing
is done only with designs that are complete or near completion.
The objective is usually to judge the design against quantitative metrics (like efficiency or productivity) or against competitive products.

Find out more about Usability Testing and how you can plan for and conduct a test, at

Steve Krug’s demo video is also a good starting point to get started with Usability Testing.

Demo Usability Test








The Malcovich Bias

The UT method is particularly relevant to start ups, where the environment is characteristically ‘inspired’ and ‘driven’ by a shared product vision.
In order to pull in the best talent and sustain momentum, start-up leaders ‘sell’ their product to themselves, to their investors and to their employees.

While this can energize teams and enhance productivity, it also fuels the ‘Malcovich Bias’.
(‘The assumption that ‘target users’ use things / see things / care about the same things that the ‘product / design team’ does.’)

In a high-pressure, super charged start up environment, it is easy to become ‘product / vision focussed’ rather than focussed on the people who are ultimately going to use the product.

Usability Testing puts start up teams in touch with their end users and their reactions to the product that is being built.

And seeing people struggle with what seemed standard or obvious reinforces the fact that assumptions made about the product or its features may be very different from the way users actually perceive or experience it.


That said, traditional Usability Testing can be difficult to incorporate into tight budgets and product timelines. However, several specific elements add to the cost, duration and complexity of testing, and can be substituted with lightweight alternatives that help make ‘Usability Testing’ leaner.

Lean Usability Testing is easier to fit in because it is cheaper and can be done more quickly than traditional testing. And more so in context to Agile Software Development – where a key practice is quick and incremental development.

For example, did you know that testing in a professional facility can add to the cost, but is usually not a ‘must have’?
At a basic level, a test can be conducted very effectively in any room that is quiet and available for use without interruption.

Other (cost effective) alternatives to a professional / formal testing space include:

  1. Remote (Moderated) Usability Testing
    Remote Testing follows the same objectives and a similar process to traditional ‘lab’ usability testing. The obvious difference is that the moderator and the user are in two different locations. (e.g. The moderator in his office / the user in his office or home)
    However, with good screen sharing and screen recording software, usability testing can be conducted easily and effectively with a remote participant. Besides saving costs related to renting or setting up a formal testing space, remote testing reduces the costs of accessing geographically dispersed target users.

    screen sharing software

    Recommended screen sharing software – WebEx, Adobe Connect, Skype, GoToMeeting

    screen recording software

    Tech Smith’s Camtasia Recorder is an easy-to-use tool that can be used to capture remote testing sessions for later reference and analysis.

  2. Guerrilla Testing: This is an impromptu method and therefore should not be tightly scripted or planned. The distinguishing characteristic of this method is its spontaneity.

    The method essentially involves:
    … taking your product to a public space
    … identifying and recruiting people who are interested / fit a broad profile from among a pool of strangers
    … conducting the test right after

    If your product is generic or targeting a wide audience, you can conduct guerrilla testing on the street / in a coffee shop / at a conference;
    For niche or specifically targeted products, a more specific space that is likely to be populated by your target users would work best. (Like outside a college for an educational product, or inside a mall for a product related to shopping.)

    Besides cost and time saving, Remote Testing and Guerrilla Testing are good DIY research options for start-ups who want to get end user feedback.
    They are easier to plan and organize than traditional usability tests. Several of the challenges related to scheduling and set up in traditional testing are no longer applicable here.

    Remote Testing

    Find out more about how you can set up and conduct a Remote Test at, Quick and Dirty Remote User Testing (A List Apart)More about Guerrilla Testing at – UX Booth

  3. In-Context Testing
    In this case, the researcher pre-recruits participants, and then schedules and conducts tests in the context they would typically use the product – rather than having participants come in to a formal testing venue.Testing in the participants natural context of product usage not only cuts costs associated with a formal facility, but adds richness to the test. Contextual influencers that would otherwise be invisible to the researcher now become added inputs to the research.

Coming up soon – How to be leaner in participant recruiting, selection of testing equipment / software, reporting and more…

Post 4 will discuss multiple additional ways in which start up’s can conduct a Usability Test at leaner costs and timelines.

Are you a design thinker evangelizing or facilitating user research and usability methods within your start-up?
We would love to hear about your experience / answer any questions that you have about the research and usability methods you use.

We invite members of the start-up community to volunteer their screens / functions for use as examples in upcoming posts showcasing additional research techniques.
Email me at devika(at) to check whether your screen is eligible for selection. 

Data and User Experience: Two ends of the spectrum

Every product that you build has to be used by people.

This is irrespective of “who may pay for the product“. This is an often brought up topic of “User vs Customer“. And if the product is used only by machines and not by real people, then it’s perhaps best to call it “technology”.

As far as technology products are concerned, a significant factor of differentiation they claim and deliver on is by leveraging data about usage and user behavior. And in a product team, the cycle goes this way:

  • Product Manager thinks up the product (you can assume that in all these steps, others also contribute meaningfully, as product creation is both an intensely cerebral and collaborative exercise)
  • Designer helps visualize the user experience
  • Engineers code it and get it ready for prime time

The plot:

1. Roll out the current version of your product
2. Get users to use your product, engage with it and contribute inputs (read Data)
3. Collect usage and behavior data, analyze it and generate ideas for the future features
4. Design & develop the new features
5. Start from Step 1 again

If you notice, in this iterative and cyclical process, the two constants are Design new features (UX) and Collect more data. While this cycle goes on, imagine the various changes that happen to your company:

• People added/removed
• Infrastructure modified (change offices/locations etc)
• Technologies changed/added
• Investors changed/added
• Markets discovered/validated
• Pivots created/executed/dropped
• And the list can continue

But the core 2 tasks remain: Design UX for your user, Collect Data from your user, both of them aimed to improve their value proposition. This prompts me to call Data & UX as the two ends of the spectrum of building a tech company. It’s very interesting to note that if Data connotes Scale, UX connotes Empathy. To build a successful company, I imagine that one needs both Scale and Empathy and not just one of them.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Quick Research / Usability Methods: Heuristic Evaluation

(Post 2 of a series on quick research and usability techniques. Start-up’s can use these techniques fairly easily to connect to and understand their end users better, as well as maintain usability standards on their products.)

In my last post, I introduced a discount usability engineering method called the ‘Expert Usability Review’ – A method best suited to start-up’s who have access to skilled and experienced usability / design professionals who can conduct a Usability Review.

Post 2 introduces a related technique called the ‘Heuristic Evaluation’.
Start up’s that don’t have a usability / design team in place, can start focusing on usability and ease of use, using the ‘Heuristic Evaluation’ method – A method with similar goals to the Expert Usability Review, but a relatively easier starting point for novice researchers.

In a Heuristic Evaluation (or Heuristic Review), the reviewers identify issues by looking at an interface in context to a pre-decided set of heuristics. Violations to any of the heuristics indicate non-compliance / potential usability issues.

‘Heuristics’ are rules of thumb – Broader than design guidelines, typically available as self-sufficient ‘sets’ (e.g. Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics / Gerhardt-Powals’ cognitive engineering principles) that can be used standalone / along with other sets.

Popular examples:

Visibility of system status: The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time. (Jakob Nielsen)

Reduce uncertainty: Display data in a manner that is clear and obvious. (Gerhardt-Powals)

The set of heuristics used act as a guideline – making this method more of a check list based audit rather than requiring reviewers to intuitively identify issues by drawing upon a deep knowledge of usability and UI in general.

(More about the technique and how to conduct Heuristic Evaluations at, Smashing Magazine and the NN Group)

One of the drawbacks of the Heuristic Evaluation method, is that the issues identified are dependent on the list of heuristics used. So if the set of heuristics is too narrow, there is a chance of some issues going unidentified. On the other hand, if the list of heuristics is very large, the review would take a very long time to do.

The most popular set of Heuristics are Jakob Nielson’s 10 Heuristics. However, these are broad guidelines – and may be too abstract for a lay person to interpret and apply.

10 Usability HeuristicsThe 275 Web Usability Guidelines from User Focus are more literal and therefore much easier to understand for the lay person. Moreover, these guidelines are available in a neat Excel spread sheet format that includes instructions on how to use them and an auto-calculated numeric rating for guidelines compliance.

275 Web Usability Guidelines


To end, here are a few tips you can keep in mind while attempting to do a Heuristic Evaluation:

Start with a Knowledge Transfer
Before critiquing a product, it is important to understand its context and usage.
The knowledge transfer must enable a good understanding of the product strategy and goals, target audience, known trouble points, constraints and design centres. The KT must include a walkthrough of all features, screens and task flows that are critical to the product.

Define the scope of the review
While this is not necessary for a simple product or a product with a manageable number of screens, in a complex or large product, defining the key task flows and screens to be reviewed is important to keep the review manageable.
With some exceptions, the 80 /20 rule is a good way to do this – Attempt to review 20% of the product features that are used 80% of the time.

Select the set of heuristics that are right for your product
There are plenty of heuristics available online.
Keeping n mind the product you plan to review, it is important to decide whether to use a generic set of heuristics (Like Jacob Nielson’s 10 Heuristics / User Focus guidelines) or whether domain specific / niche heuristics would be more effective. In niche or highly targeted products (products for senior citizens, children, disabled users, mobile phone hardware etc.) generic heuristics may be ineffective for unearthing all issues.

Select a set of heuristics that are right for the reviewer
The reviewers who are going to be using the heuristics, need to be comfortable / familiar with the heuristics in order to interpret and apply them effectively.

Focus on issue identification vs. recommendation
A common tendency among newbie reviewers is to jump right into fixing the problem / wording the issue as a recommendation. It is important to keep the Heuristic Review focused on issue identification, in context to a given set of heuristics. In fact, an issue may / may not be accompanied by a corresponding recommendation – Issues are sometimes too complex to be tackled by a quick written recommendation and need a larger, more focused redesign effort.

Rate issues to help prioritize
Doing this helps focus the post review effort of addressing the issues identified through Heuristic Review.

Are you a design thinker evangelizing or facilitating user research and usability methods within your start-up?
We would love to hear about your experience / answer any questions that you have about the methods that you used.

Post 3 coming up soon, will showcase a Guerrilla Research techniqueRemote Usability Testing. Look out for this post to learn more about the method and to compare the issues found through Usability Testing, against issues identified through the Expert Usability Review.

We invite members of the start-up community to volunteer their screens / functions for use as examples in upcoming posts showcasing additional research techniques. Email me  at devika(at) to check whether your screen is eligible for selection.  

Quick Research / Usability Methods: Expert Usability Review

(Post 1 of a series on quick research and usability techniques. Start-up’s can use these techniques fairly easily to connect to and understand their end users better, as well as maintain usability standards on their products.)

ProductNation in collaboration with a few like-minded design professionals, recently put together an informal forum for designers, engineers, product managers & entrepreneurs in the Delhi NCR region. The objective of this forum was to evangelize and encourage a dialog around Design Thinking among the start-up community.

I conducted a short workshop on this topic at the forum’s launch event – a day long interactive meet up – hosted at the MakeMyTrip office in Gurgaon.

During the workshop, I introduced participants to the concept of Design Thinking and touched upon a few design research and usability methods that they could use to support design thinking within their organizations. A brief recap:

Design Thinking is an approach to design rather than a specific technique or method.
A core principle central to supporting design thinking is iteration. A ‘prototype and test’ focused approach fuelled by empathy for the people who will ultimately use the product, is recommended to be followed throughout the product development lifecycle.
There are several user research methods that can help companies connect to and understand their end users better. Guerrilla Research techniques in particular, are especially useful  in context to the start-up environment – Where time is of essence, budget is limited, teams are small, people are typically multitasking and playing multiple roles.
Guerrilla Research includes research techniques that can be done more quickly, with less effort and budget, as compared to formal or traditional user research techniques. Remote  / Informal Usability Testing, Man on the Street Interviews, Micro-surveys, Fake Doors, ‘Design the Box’ and Personal Inventory are a few examples of quick research techniques that can be learnt and implemented fairly well by a newbie researcher / anyone on a start-up team doubling up as a researcher.

In this first post, I want to introduce a discount usability engineering method called the ‘Expert Usability Review.’

Like Guerrilla Research methods, a Usability Review is an effective way to quickly identify usability and ease-of-use issues on a product. However, unlike user research, this method does not involve talking to end users at all.

What it involves is ‘expert evaluators’ reviewing a product, to identify usability and ease of use issues across different UI areas like Navigation and Structure, Layout, Visual Design, Interaction, Error Handling, Content etc. The experts are able to identify issues by drawing on their own experience in the areas of design and usability.

Subjectivity is minimized and issue validity maximized (or attempted to!) by ensuring that issues identified map onto existing and recognized design guidelines / principles / best practices or heuristics.

The issues identified through review, can then be fixed as part of an iterative design process. The kinds of issues that a Usability Review typically identifies are the ‘low hanging fruit’ or obvious usability problems.

Doing a review helps to highlight any aspect of an interface that violates usability and design principles.

The issues that surface through a review are different from the type of issues that come up while using user based methods like Usability Testing. So a review is a good complement to other user research techniques that may also be employed.

(More on typical issues found through Heuristic Evaluation and Usability Testing vs. Expert Reviews)

To demonstrate the type of issues typically found through a Usability Review, I evaluated the ‘Submit Ticket’ function on Freshdesk. Freshdesk is an online customer support software, targeted at small and medium sized businesses looking for a cloud based solution.

Here are some of the issues that I found:

Note: This is not an exhaustive review of the ‘Submit Ticket’ page, but a few example issues that help illustrate the type of issues that may be found through a usability review.
The products selected to be used as examples in this series of posts are products that are well designed in general. This highlights the importance of iterative design / the type of issues that can be unearthed even in well-designed products, by using various usability and research techniques.

issue observation 1issue observation 2issue observation 3issue observation 4issue observation 5issue observation 6The examples shown above are just a fraction of the issues that a Usability Review could highlight.
The success and effectiveness of this technique is dependent on the experience and skill of the reviewer. A review is typically done by three or four experts in the field of usability and design.

This method is best suited for start-up’s who have access to skilled and experienced usability / design professionals who can conduct a Usability Review.

Post 2 coming up soon, will introduce a related technique called ‘Heuristic Evaluation’.
With similar goals to an Expert Usability Review, a Heuristic Evaluation is a relatively easier starting point for novice researchers – Ideal for start-ups who don’t have a formal design / usability team in place, but want to try their hand at usability evaluation.

Are you a design thinker evangelizing or facilitating user research and usability methods within your start-up?

We would love to hear about your experience / answer any questions that you have about the methods that you used.

We also invite members of the start-up community to volunteer their screens / functions for use as examples in upcoming posts showcasing additional research techniques. Email me  at devika(at) to check whether your screen is eligible for selection. 

Product Manager, or Product Experience Manager?

In my last post Experiencing the product, or productizing the experience?, I talked about my experience with SiteZ and how their overall experience left much to be desired even though the core product was good enough. In this post, I will try to analyze things that went wrong which shouldn’t have.

Here are 5 things that went wrong for SiteZ if I look from a customer’s perspective:

  1. They misled the user about the time it takes to register. 
  2. They didn’t allow the user to abort the registration attempt gracefully (which left the email address behind and created rest of the mess). 
  3. They were not forthcoming about who is sending me these spam emails (the email address was hidden with a display name that was the advertiser’s). 
  4. They exposed a feature to me (unsubscribe) which didn’t work
  5. They didn’t give me an easy way to delete my account – emails bounced, UI didn’t have a button to delete, etc. 

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that the feature designers have a malicious intention: somehow get people’s email id and keep spamming them. However, let’s assume that is not the case, and that this is a case of incremental features ruining a product. With this assumption in mind, let’s proceed to analyze how each of these situations came to be:

  1. Misleading ad – Assuming it was not intentional, there are 2 possibilities:
    1. Marketing person would have asked someone in products about whether it can be done in 30 seconds, and someone said yes.
    2. Marketing person asked to tweak the flow to make it finish (with basic details) in 30 seconds, but the development team didn’t do the work and instead reused the longer flow.
  2. No graceful registration abort – This is purely a feature design or prioritization issue, probably they didn’t think abort is an important use case.
  3. Spam mail identity – I think the assumption would be that these mails go out after user has agreed to be spammed, so they would know (this information is anyway mentioned at the bottom of the mail in small fonts.
  4. Unsubscribe not working – Again, feature prioritization issue. Not having unsubscribe button is probably illegal in such spams, so the next best thing was to not code the functionality.
  5. Can’t delete account – A feature prioritization issue. Account deletion is usually an expensive operation (complicated to implement and get it right, and heavy on processing) and so someone somewhere decided it was not important.

A question that comes up: are we talking about one feature, one product, or one experience? Should the feature designer of registration flow worry about spam mail identity? Aren’t these very distinct features?

Yes, they are indeed distinct features. At the same time, they need to co-exist peacefully, without causing troubles for each other. SiteZ is one big product, which has multiple features in it which need to plug into each other, and play well with each other. However, if we say SiteZ is a product, it becomes hard to explain #1 above: who should be responsible for advertiser misleading the user. This is the reason why I would like to think of SiteZ as one big experience. Advertising is just augmenting the experience, or in some cases act as the invitation to try the experience. If a restaurant’s brochure misleads the customer and entices him with a 30% discount, which turns out to be only 10%, it is still a problem for the restaurant.

So who is responsible for SiteZ product experience? Enter Product Management team (see this discussion thread too). I would like to think it will be Chief Product Officer or VP – Product Management who has ultimate responsibility for the experience. Is it fair to product management team to have such a broad charter? I think it is fair, because the organization needs it and there is no group better positioned to do this.

To recap, here is what we have established so far:

  1. SiteZ had multiple features and services dysfunctional which combined to give a terrible overall experience.
  2. Even though they are diverse features and services, in the interest of the customer, overall SiteZ experience needs to be treated as one big product experience.
  3. The group that owns this one big product experience is Product Management team. They are in the best position to do so

In the next post, we will see how a product management team should have operated so that such issues can be minimized/avoided. Stay tuned!

#DesignThinking: Desirable. Feasible. Viable

We all know quite well the value of Design to business, and Design Thinking to problem solving. But what remains a bit fuzzy for many start-ups, organizations & individuals is the gap between thinking and doing or making it happen.

In this time of volatility and complexity, the role of design to drive meaningful innovation and change is growing and while there are multitude of factors that need to be taken into consideration for a product design that is desirable, feasible & viable the design thinking process can help overcome these product characteristics. 

Yes, great design starts with design thinking! Reminds me of David Kelly from IDEO who puts this together as empathy or being empathetic. In other words focusing on what users value the most and building on top of the ideas they share with every incremental value we deliver to make designs better.

In an effort to bring all designers, engineers, product managers & entrepreneurs together via an informal coalition of like minded design thinkers community to help promote the how-to’s of design thinking, MakeMyTrip in co-ordination with #PNMeetup hosted a day long #DesignThinking event in its premises inviting them to discover the stories, solutions and tools that design thinkers are putting to work, from start ups to multinationals helping them find inspiration and learn how real world solutions are provided using innovation & technology to work to solve complex global challenges. 

This event was a first step in NCR UX community with series in pipeline with start of an exciting thought-leadership plank in the UX ecosystem in the country towards creating a platform to nurture design thinking & promoting design thinker’s community fostering an ecosystem that promotes delivering great experiential online products. Industry experts from LinkedIn, Mettl & Anagram Research supported the event with inspirational talks on subject and sharing how they practice the same in their respective job functions, startup’s & organizations thereby embracing the process in their day-to-day routine while driving the product vision at their setup. The experts also covered upon bootstrap strategies for startups who cannot afford the UX agencies or a big design team and face design challenges day in day out during their product design journey. Some even illustrated the design thinking approach to problem solving of product features design and helped them uncover the latent needs, behaviors, and desires for their users. 

Altogether,  #Design thinking event saw noteworthy achievement with 40+ design thinkers joining us from NCR and could leverage the platform listening some inspirational talks from speakers and meeting few like minded folks around. Had participant mix from passionate startup entrepreneurs to designers & dev engineers. Audience was glued to program embracing the talks & interactive workshop from functional experts in domain. 

Check out what happened at the First #DesignThinking Workshop on  

Guest Post by Dushyanth Arora, Head, User Experience & Design MakeMyTrip

How Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Kathapurushan became a Software Product Entrepreneur ?

From being the protagonist of an Adoor Gopalakrishnan national award  winning movie to a graphics trainer, from a book publisher to a printer, from services to products, our guest today has been there, done that. Meet Vish, the MD of Logical Steps.

ProductNation: Hi Vish. Welcome to Product Nation. Let us begin with your story.

Vish: I was born in an entrepreneurial family. My family ran a printing press in Kerala. So I grew up living entrepreneurship and also picking up skills to run a printing press. Childhood was exciting, as we were always creating something. As far as my education is concerned, I enrolled for an undergraduate Physics program at the Moscow State University. University had some of the finest minds in Physics teaching the subject. But, the 1991 coup cut short all this excitement. This brief stint while I was in Moscow, made me realize that college education does not prepare you for life. Though, I was not keen to go back to college, it was family pressure that saw me write three years physics papers in one shot. All this for a degree from the University of Kerala, Trivandrum. Isn’t degree everything?

It was around the same time that I got introduced to computers. My father had made investments into offset printing and desktop publishing. I soon found an entire computer science department to myself, right from laser printers to 486 machines. I learnt everything from scratch. It was time for my first fling with entrepreneurship. It was an MS-DOS pocket reference manual. Using a microsoft reference manual as the guide, I printed out some MS-DOS reference manual copies and handed it over to a local bookshop for sale. Surprisingly, the book shop came back for more. Simultaneously, I also ventured into Desktop publishing training, as the printing industry was moving in that direction. These experiments gave me the confidence that I could do something on my own

ProductNation: When did you get the time to do the Adoor Gopalakrishnan movie? And why do you consider it your first product experience?

Vish: Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a family friend and I had done a small role in one of his earlier films. He talked me into playing the lead role in a film called Kathapurushan. It went on to win the National Award in 1996. He knew about my background in printing. So, during the film, I got involved into many aspects of the movie production – recording audio, printing of collateral and special books. And working with Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who cared about every little detail and to experience his passion and leadership. I consider that experience extremely precious and a sort of first in making a product.

ProductNation: Which were the other movies you did?

Vish: No, I went back into computer training with a company called Tandem. Tandem, which was based in Trivandrum, sent me to CDAC Pune for a course called DACA – Diploma in Advanced Computer Arts. As a trainer, I was to learn this course and come back to Trivandrum to teach. At this course, I was the only one from a non-arts background, as the others were all from JJ and similar schools. But, I topped the class and got a break into advertising with a Kirloskar group company – Pratibha Advertising. One of the noteworthy projects that I did while at Pratibha was a digital kiosk that was showcased at the first Auto Expo in New Delhi. I quickly realised that digital advertising in India at that time was still very early. So I packed up my bags and went to Singapore for a teaching assignment with a University. But, I ended up joining a digital marketing company there. It was here that I spent close to five years till the dot com bust in 2000 consumed it. During my stint here, I got in depth experience into e-learning.

ProductNation: Is that when you started your current company, logical steps ?

Vish: Yes. I came back to India, after the dotcom bust. And that is when we started Logical Steps. We began by supplying learning content for television. We were paid 10% of the contracted amount. That is when I understood the trouble of doing business in India. So, I went back to Singapore to source business and keep the business running. It was challenging. I was using my salary to finance the business. I was not keen to close down and let go of my staff who had picked up extremely useful skills. So, we kept going. It was during this that we got a chance to service AIG for one of their projects. So that is how our services business started.

ProductNation: What happened to e-learning, then? And the platform? How did you start silver bullet?

Vish: An opportunity came up to create an e-learning engine for the US Market in the area of Medical Entrance exam called MCAT. A doctor who was considered the guru of MCAT had already created a large amount of content plus created analytics metrics to appraise students. We were given the project to create a platform that could provide all of this. This project gave us tremendous exposure to learning frameworks and gave us the idea to create a product on our own. That is how the idea of SilverBullet came up.By that time, I had also realised the limitations of a services business. So, we were all set for a product pitch in late 2010. While we built the platform quickly, content became a challenge. So we had to invest resources in training teachers to address this issue of content. This consumed our resources and it was our services business that was feeding silverbullet. It took us some time to adjust to this new reality, as we were dealing with an individual customer, unlike a corporate entity as in our services business.

ProductNation: Let us talk about silver bullet? Any learnings that you would like to share.

Vish: Silver Bullet is an online learning system for engineering and medical entrance examinations in India. There have been tremendous learnings. Unlike servicing a business, in this case, it was a B2C online product. It took us some time to figure out our Go-To-Market approach. We felt schools were the touch point, but it wasn’t so. Then we tried facebook, and it wasn’t the touch point. The most profound insight came from my 10 year old daughter, who frankly said that students are not interested in adding more studies to their daily work. She went ahead and said that no one would like to put themselves into trouble by opting for a Free Trial. How true? Students are already overworked. In all this, we figured out that it is the parent who is the touch point. And the parent was in a totally different world and a world that wasn’t online. The only way to reach them was through traditional media. It was then, that we checked out the media budgets of other online learning companies and found that they spend 19% to 20% of their revenue on ad budgets that run into crores, it is a totally different league. And that is how these companies are reaching out to parents. Parents are more than happy to add to the kid’s collection of material to consume.

ProductNation: Interesting, allow us to end this interview, with a difficult question. Looking back on your career, it is easy to see that you have been all over the place. How has it helped you in approaching your product business?

Vish: [Laughs] The product business is much like the movie business. If you see, my experience in diverse areas has given me ideas and the aptitude to create a wonderful product. Whether it is design or delivery, content or its packaging, all my earlier experience have served me well in developing Silver Bullet.

ProductNation: Wearing two hats at the same time i.e. services and products. What would you prefer? And what challenges do you face, while doing so?

Vish: Product without a doubt. It is something that you can own. But, when working on a product, especially when you are just starting off, managing the internal aspirations of the team becomes difficult.

ProductNation: Thank you, Vish for talking to ProductNation. We wish you all the very best in living up to these challenges.

“Great Designers Steal”

Picasso Cubism

Picasso is purported to have remarked, “good artists borrow, but great artists steal.” He probably did not mean it in a literal sense. He wanted to inspire us from great works of arts and re-interpret or re-imagine them in a different way. Here are some references that have inspired us to become better designers.


Balsamiq Screenshot







1. Balsamiq: Its simple sketchy interface evokes a sense of nostalgia of our playing with crayons as children. The clients don’t get distracted by little details allowing us to focus on important things such as navigation, content prioritization, quantity of content, and what a screen does. You should definitely use this to visualize and share your vision before writing a single line of code. This is also a great tool to communicate user stories within the agile framework.

PatternTap Screenshot







2. Pattern Tap: Its a collection of crowd-sourced design inspirations for all page types and devices. The designs are categorized by facets, so search for “login” to be wowed by how a simple screen can be so beautiful. 

TheNounProject Screenshot







3. The Noun Project: “The mission of The Noun Project is to collect, organize and add to the highly recognizable symbols that form the world’s visual language so they can be shared in a fun and meaningful way.” The symbols are free and delightful. You have see them to believe.

Smashing Magazine Screenshot







4. Smashing Magazine: An online magazine for designers and front end developers, to stay current with the ever evolving tools and techniques. It also has a great compilation of books and ebooks that could be references on your next project.

365psd Screenshot







5. 365psd: 365 psd, needless to say, means one high quality psd file a day. A great resource for free UI kits, page templates, and icons to get you started or help get over the creative block. And do sign up for a freebie everyday.

Google Web Fonts Screenshot







6. Google Web Fonts: Are you still married to times, arial, and helvetica? Here are hundreds of open source free fonts to help design great looking yet highly readable sites.  Don’t forget to look at the “pairings” feature. It recommends best complementary font pairs to add that extra zing to the design.

So go forth and steal, and please keep adding to this list.

Usability Review of @Bubbles – A new kind of mail service

In a startup, the design is usually an afterthought after the more important challenges of business and technology are solved. Which means by then the design is more like a band aid or a lipstick on the proverbial pig. Probably the main reason why products here still lack that world-class feel, even though they are better in terms of features and performance.

A successful product usually has the right blend of usefulness, ease-of-use and engagement or emotional connect through aesthetics. For example, Facebook might score high on each of the three attribute, while a game like Grand Theft Auto may deliberately keep the ease-of-use difficult. Each of these attributes should be part of the product roadmap at the onset. By how much should you dial up or down each attribute or in other words what is the overall design vision? And who will be responsible to achieve this vision?

We feature the first of several quick audits to get a conversation started around the importance of design when you are a startup. We did a quick review of @Bubbles, a six month old startup trying to re-imagine email by bringing it closer to the art of letter writing from the good old days. It enables tools for your creative expressions, allowing you to scribble your thoughts, stick photos, sketch cartoons, draw diagrams, and attach sticky notes to your email as you would do on a physical letter.

We evaluated it on 4 key user experience parameters.

How well does it COMMUNICATE to users?




To reduce user’s memory load, it is important to use terms & language that connects to their existing mental model. Once you have adopted a mental model or a metaphor, then try to be consistent.

  1. Terms like “Open Letter”, “Direct letters” are not commonly used in context of letter or email writing and hence can lead to different interpretation. It also adds to the learning time for the user.
  2. Similarly, “No Posts” and “100% Spam free inbox” violate the mental model of letter writing. Either use a “letter” or “email” metaphor but use it consistently.

How easy is it to NAVIGATE?

  Ease of use is vital. The user should always be in control and take the intended direction to perform a particular task. To be able to do this, it is essential that the user understands the flow of screens or sequence of actions.

  1. The incoming and the outgoing mails have the same look and feel, which leads to some confusion. The status of the site or where you are at a given point is not well communicated.
  2. Same page for public & personal letters – The sending route should be selected after the letter has been written. There could be multiple paths to doing this too.

How easy is it to INTERACT?

The information structure should make relevant connections between different pieces information and tools (features) to enable user to achieve desired goals.

  1. Editing tools for the letter are scattered all over the page. A fixed layout for the toolbar would make it easy to use. Some drawing tools like – copy, paste, resize, rotate, etc could be integrated at one place to create a seamless experience.
  2. Every selection or user action should be followed by an appropriate feedback. For example, when a user selects a Pen tools, there is no feedback that it has been selected.

Does it create the right EXPERIENCE?

Overall, it is about experience.

  1. Sent mail is a personal letter as well as a promotional letter for Bubbles, so it should be designed so as to attract more customers, who are not currently on Bubbles.
  2. Keyless Login creates a good experience but the learning curve should not be high.

Undoubtedly, Bubbles is a much better designed product than most. There is a design sensibility with some effort and thought behind each screen, icon and color palette. However, it seems that though there was an emphasis on graphic design (engagement or aesthetics), it could still be improved significantly with some thought on interaction design (usability).