UX + Product Ownership: The Rare Phenomenon In Indian It Industry
UX or User Experience Design is a loosely used term as far as Indian software industry is concerned. Though the industry has been around for decades, UX as a need has made its way only a few years ago within India. Yes of course there are MNCs that always had a Design team, but very few had design functions based out of India. The demand for UX in software companies has recently soared, creating abundance of UX-jobs(apparently).
Internationally the expert debates on dignifying UX and appropriate usage of the term have been in work much longer. Roles involving Visual Design, Interaction(UI) design, User Research & Front-end development are well-defined in their differences by now. In short, designing digital interfaces is just a subset of designing for User Experience.
In India, however, those very differences are a bit hazy, not because one person is doing all of the activities, but is probably just doing one of them and still passing off as a UX-guy. This may be unintentional. It is because most employers are still discovering these needs. Aspiring to be a UX-er is not the problem, it is misinterpreting what UX is. UX is supposed to be an umbrella term for the entire spectrum of responsibilities from inception of the requirements to final delivery of a product or service. Some seasoned companies do choose to hire designers who can handle it all end-to-end, a product or service design.
There are 3 broad contexts for UX positions in Indian market
Indian MNCs, the software giants that at the core are Services-based companies. With clients, to impress and keep, often calling the shots. Life here is long calls with clients, some-times business analysts as mediators, all wanting you to provide a beautiful GUI, without ever giving an opportunity to dig deep into user needs or interacting with an actual user. It can be frustrating for a designer if they never find out who they are de-signing for and why. Enterprise soft-ware, are developed to cater to client needs, often with lowest budgets for R&D, only limited to maintenance and support, with no room for experimentation.
But Enterprise software development is a far more complex business area, and often only built by MNCs who have massive set of re-sources to support it. As a potential design problem, enterprise software provides the perfect grounds for de-signing for complex scenarios. Multinationals, like Microsoft, Google, Cisco etc. own some of the most widely used enterprise software products, they've set benchmarks in design practices, have coined popular design terminologies. But the design decisions take place only in the Sili-con Valley. Indian counterparts only being assigned piecemeals, subject to following existing guidelines, with lesser context of Business, and at best access to secondary customer data. Design ownership is a rare attribute to find within India-based companies. Though it is changing slowly, in the first few years of my career I realised I was hunting for a rare phenomenon. To be able to research requirements, talk to users, provide solutions and design experiences that simplify life of people interacting with the software.
A Product leadership team of a leading Indian MNC was looking to change the scenario, and I was lucky to be part of that team. Biggest challenges of dealing with long existing technology teams are the rigid methods of functioning, closed mindsets, minimum access to users, hotbed for bureaucratic practices. With those hurdles, to say the least all we were able to achieve was to introduce design thinking and user-centric approach. Solutions provided by us however got stuck under managerial politics and general pile of approvals. I moved next to a start-up that was building a customer facing commercial software, for Indian market.
Design ownership is a rare attribute to find within India-based companies. Though it is changing slowly, in the first few years of my career I realised I was hunting for a rare phenomenon
Start-ups provide a more open environment for design & experimentation, but few venture into enterprise software products. My engagement with a start-up made it possible to meet customers and every `persona' that was using the software, test with them and record feedback. The solutions came out in the form of UI revamps, interaction modifications as well as backend data structure changes to improve platform performance and interaction experience across the range of users, from internal users like content & inventory managers to end-users. Rise in revenues were also achieved. That was the brief. Business goals defined the product vision, making it very fluid in terms of design strategy, the ultimate goal was to get more customers to use our services via the software interface.
Product-based companies, here the designers stand a chance at finding more influence. These are often smaller set-ups and work on niche software solutions, for specialised markets and specific set of users. In my current engagement, the company owns few enterprise applications. Product is not just developed in India, but also designed here, with product owners and domain experts based in India, users spread across continents. Recently a handful of companies have chosen to set up their product R&D in India, having user-base across the world.
These contexts mentioned have their own offerings and deterrents. While it's always a dream scenario for every designer to be able to witness their designs translating to the customer and gather reactions at grass-root levels, a large enterprise may not facilitate that luxury. But it does give a good peep into business processes and improve domain knowledge.
The sheer expanse of stakeholders involved with every solution, a designer's voice can be easily stifled and is at risk of going unheard. On the contrary, start-ups quench the thirst for first-hand involvement with the business stakeholders and customers, ease of implementing solutions and testing them, but they also come with the risk of failure, without cushion. All small set-ups balance between open-ground for exploration and the job security. It is for the designers to choose their aspirations accordingly.
As far as Product ownership is concerned, it is essential to showcase the true potential India has, we are not just Programmers or `beauticians' of the GUI.