Category Archives: Research

Talk at MindTree: “Understanding Your Users”

Was invited for a talk at MindTree, at their fancy “Global Village” campus in Bangalore, to talk about “Understanding Your Users“.

Heavily loaded topic, of course. I decided to focus on 1 possible way of understanding users — using photo documentation techniques to uncover unmet & unarticulated needs. Walked through some examples of photo documentation based user research, using a recent informal study we conducted on the topic, ‘Car Storage Behaviour & Needs’. And, at the end, I also shared some “best practices” from my personal experience of having used this technique over the years.

The audience consisted of people from varied disciplines – Engineering, User Experience/Usability, Product Management and Business Analysts…so, decided to keep the content relevant for audiences that are completely new to user research, as well as those who have basic awareness and minimal practical experience in field techniques.

The complete presentation can be downloaded here.

Interestingly, the crowd was very enthusiastic and inquisitive. Unlike similar sessions I’ve conducted before, the audience here warmed up very quickly and were full of questions in the very first few minutes. Was quite impressed with the level of enthusiasm and “aliveness” in the group. It made the whole effort very fulfilling!

And, here’s what it looked like…

Param\'s talk at MindTree

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Facebook and pedigree

The Nielsen Company has published this report (via Plugged.in) on the usage patterns of online social networking trends in India. Excerpts:

The Nielsen Company recently conducted a survey in India using its online research panel “Your Voice” on the usage patterns of Social Networking websites and found keeping in touch with people they know to be the strongest reason for joining a social networking site for the vast majority of Indian respondents (82%). The Nielsen survey also found over half (58%) joined a social networking site to reconnect with old acquaintances they have lost touch with, and to make new friends (53%). Professional networking was a strong fourth for 43%.

And…

Security reasons were cited by 68 percent of the respondents for using alternate identities on sites. They prefer not to reveal their personal details. 35 percent chose to use an alternate identity “Just for fun”.

What (especially) didn’t work for me about this study…

The survey was conducted amongst 301 people across various age groups starting from 15 years onwards.

When one is drawing usage patterns in online social networking in India, would a sample size of 301 suffice? Sounds rather strange.

Anyways, here’s another interesting observation (about the competition in the social networking space in India) from a cover story about Facebook (registered users only) in India’s leading weekly magazine, Outlook:

Facebook, on the other hand, has a whiff of pedigree, privilege and exclusivity about it, since it was founded by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and was originally restricted to students of Harvard and other Ivy League colleges; an impression strongly reinforced when a study last year concluded that Facebook users tended to be better-educated and wealthier than those on other networking sites. That Facebook comprises a well-heeled crowd that freely shares its consumer tastes means that even if its numbers don’t quite match Orkut’s, it’s by far the most sought-after hunting ground for market researchers and targeted advertising.

Experientially, I’d agree with this strong generalization (about “whiff of pedigree, privilege and exclusivity”). But, I wonder if the origins of Facebook really have much to do with the kind of people who populate the site? I can understand that being an influencer in the US, where it all started, but would that trend spread to far flung countries like India as well?

Event report (Understanding the Logic of Consumer India)

Here’s my post-event summarization & ramblings on last week’s TiE event, Understanding the Logic of Consumer India:

But, before that, a random observation during tea-break: Majority of the glasses that were used for drinking water, had around 20% of drinking water remaining in each of the glasses (sorry, wasn’t carrying my camera with me that day)! On the sustainability side, that’s around 20% of the drinking water that the five-star hotel buys going to a waste. And on the business side, the hotel is spending 20% more than they should be!

Anyways, onto the event notes:

  • Thankfully it wasn’t a powerpoint-presentation oriented event. It was an informal, open discussion facilitated by Vinita Bali. The topics that were discussed ranged from…predictable questions like, why she wrote the book, “We’re like that only!”…to interesting debates around…do businesses (especially entrepreneurs, given the fact it was a TiE event) really need to understand what their consumers’ needs are before going-to-market (this question did become a strong point of discussion among several in the audience)…to how do you know whether “that” is really the consumer’s need…to how one should spend time observing consumers at the point-of-sale/usage…to whether Reliance has got their retail business model correct or not (?), etc.
  • Scarcity & Abundance: I forget whether it was Vinita or Rama who made a very subtle, yet powerful & interesting point about how Indians are fundamentally oriented towards (or come from) scarcity rather than abundance. The context to this discussion was around the need for competition in the market, without which a business can pretty much do whatever it wishes (without taking into account consumers’ needs) and many times, get away with it.
    Vinita/Rama made the point that Indians have traditionally been shy of competition because there is a tendency to believe that, if there is competition, then one’s share of the pie is at stake. And that comes from the cultural background where Indians are so oriented towards scarcity rather than abundance…meaning, there’s this nagging worry/feeling that…what’s there, isn’t enough for everyone.
  • Do businesses really need to understand consumer’s needs: A question was put forth about why businesses don’t want to, don’t like to spend too much time/effort/money on understanding the consumer’s needs. Several people had varied (also, weird) responses to that.
    My take (or hypothesis):

    1. Most of the folks who run businesses are usually the left-brain-thinking, logic-oriented folks. That doesn’t mean they don’t use their right-side at all…it’s probably relatively underutilized when it comes to making business decisions.
      And, why that’s significant is…understanding & decoding consumer’s needs, I think, requires a considerable amount of right-brain-thinking (in addition to the left-brain as well)….which they would much rather not deal with, because it seems to be so “hard to get”.
      And that’s probably why the general attitude towards end-user research has been of “Let’s-do-it-when-we-have-the-time-and-money”. Thankfully, not all clients think that way and people like me do end up putting our right-brain-thinking to good use.
    2. The other side of the coin: Researchers haven’t done a good (enough) job of translating research findings into tangible/measurable business recommendations or solutions. World-over, there seems to be (in my experience) an innate skepticism that research just ends up in a report that one files away, hardly ever to use one’s business decisions. So, researchers need to start talking business and the language of business to be able to really deliver the value that research often promises.
  • While making a point during the discussion, one of the women in the audience talked about a conversation she once had with the store manager of one of the large (departmental/lifestyle) stores in Bangalore. The store manager said that only 40% of the store was allocated to women’s products and almost 60% was for men! The logic being that, women don’t actually buy as much as they spend so much time at the store!!!
  • On a related note…and this I don’t recall so clearly…there was also a point about how some (traditional) business practices & approaches are so different in different parts of the world. In India, the conventional approach to pricing coffee would be to charge more for coffee with sugar (‘coz you’re having to spend on more sugar). But in the west, the practice is to charge more for diet drinks!
  • Unlike most other TiE events (in Bangalore) that I’ve attended, this seemed to have the least participation from the techie crowd. There seemed to be several CEOs and heads of small-medium-enterprises in the crowd. Does it indicate the lack of interest among the techies about creating user-centered products & services? I guess that’s too harsh a conclusion to draw, but this phenomena didn’t seem like something to not make note of.
  • The discussion (especially between the audience and the panelists) kept going back to the unresolved issue about connectivity to the new Bangalore airport that’s coming up in March 2008. One had to be there to experience the irritation, anger, frustration and complete resignation about the state of (infrastructure) affairs, surrounding the connectivity to the new airport.
    Of course, Rama did touch upon the fact that there are people who actually get to benefit from such poor connectivity or infrastructure, the cellphone companies to start with. If you aren’t getting to the airport on time or are even avoiding the travel, chances are you’re using the good ol’ phone to communicate with your business associates or your near & dear ones! Interesting.

Events on Feb 23

Couple of interesting events on Saturday, Feb 23:

  1. TiE hosts a discussion on ‘Understanding the Logic of Consumer India’ between Rama Bijapurkar and Vinita Bali | Venue: Taj Residency, Bangalore | Date: Feb 23, 2008 | Time: 10:00am to 12:30pm
    Rama Bijapurkar, has of course been in the news recently for her book, “We’re like that only” (interestingly, I read somewhere that the title of the book outside India is different…and that did seem like a wise move, considering those not from India wouldn’t get the concept of “We’re like that only!”).
    I bought Rama’s book a month ago but haven’t got around to reading it yet. Given we’re in a similar profession of understanding consumers’ needs in India, I’m really looking forward to this event.
  2. iCamp (the BarCamp for Innovation) | Venue: MindTree campus (Bangalore) | Date: Feb 23, 2008 | Time: 10am
    After the huge success of BarCamps in Bangalore, now it’s the turn of ‘Innovation Camps’. Interesting idea. Looking forward to an ‘unconference’ concept being extended to Innovation.

Research preview: Business related usage of mobiles by Bottom of the Pyramid users

At last, here’s a research preview (.PPS file | 2MB) of something we’ve been working on lately. In the spirit of ‘open source’, we are keen on sharing some of the work we do (with commissioned research, we don’t have that luxury of course). The idea is to create a dialogue, share ideas, thoughts among fellow practitioners in the research space, and with non-researchers from any discipline/background.

Here’s a brief introduction…

In addition to commissioned research projects, we, at Onward, also conduct on-going research across a variety of topics that may impact Technology, Mobile and Retail industries in emerging markets like India.

This presentation is a preview of a study that we are currently engaged in. The study is aimed at identifying the usage of mobile phones among the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ (BoP) users, especially those who use mobile phones as a way to sustain/grow their livelihood. We intend to document the users’ key behaviour patterns, trends and needs with respect to communication devices.

We would love to hear your thoughts/feedback/questions/comments. Your inputs will be really useful as we continue to dive deeper into this topic.

Design Summit in Bangalore: Day 1 update

This year the CII-NID Design Summit‘s in Bangalore. Just got back from Day 1.

Met with several interesting people (some for the first time)…Kevin Schmidt & Uday Dandavate from SonicRim, Tom Burchard from Continuum, Sudhir Sharma from Elephant (who announced their 6-week old partnership with RKS, which is an interesting development for the design industry in India to keep an eye on).

Other notes:

  • Ravi Sawhney spoke about his trademark ‘Psycho-Aesthetics‘ approach to product design. And what’s even more interesting, Psycho-Aesthetics is being taught at Harvard Business School. Very cool.
  • RKS Guitars…an interesting coming together of design & music.
  • For the umpteenth conference in the recent past, a ‘panel discussion’ ends up being a session where half a dozen ‘panelists’ are sitting up there on the stage and one of them go upto the podium and deliver a 15-20 minute presentation, most often a blatant pitch about their design firm…and worse, a presentation that has zero correlation with the one who presented earlier. So, where’s the “panel discussion” then? (Only Dilip Chabria seemed to be peeved about this phenomena…my sympathies with him…he actually didn’t have a PPT ‘coz he actually thought it was going to be a “panel discsussion”)! 😉

Looking forward to the break-out sessions and few interesting discussions tomorrow, like Fitch’s presentation…(Fitch has started up in Bombay and one of their first projects for the Aditya Birla Group is already Live in the stores) and the panel discussion about “Thriving in the competitive marketplace with design” with the big names, Kishore Biyani and Bruce Nussbaum. More updates by Friday….

Not just an Ad

A (chronic) asthmatic senior citizen puts up a full-page Ad by a pharmaceutical company for “World Asthma Day” on her bedroom wall.

world-asthma-day

Here’s what it reads…

“One Indian company has been
committed to a cause for 30 long years.

Through untiring research.

With the world’s widest range
of inhaled medicines and devices.

And making these available to all
across 78 countries.

The cause is asthma management.
The company, Cipla.

World Asthma Day, May 3.”