Category: Uncategorized

How is Design Impacting your User Experience?

Juice Dispenser

I have been fortunate to have worked closely with graphic designers during the course of my Digital Marketing career. I am primarily a data-driven performance oriented marketer, but I do have a keen interest in art and design. I might not be able to draw to save my life, but I can appreciate aesthetics and good design.

But this post is not about web design or UX Design. It is, unfortunately, a bit of a rant triggered by a few observations of items that I use daily.

The first exhibit I would like to present is the image above. I am sure you will agree that it’s a very aesthetically pleasing design. I was observing people consuming juice from this dispenser at my co-working place. I guess it must be very obvious what the design flaw is about this dispenser. Yes, the tap is placed not at the very bottom, but a few centimetres above. And, as you might have guessed, it means that a good amount of juice at the bottom of the dispenser cannot be extracted easily. Surely, the better design would have been to move the tap closer to the bottom. Yes, it might not be as aesthetically pleasing as the current design, but, surely, far more practical and useful?

Mobile Phone

The second exhibit is my mobile phone. Without revealing the brand, it is a standard design for a smartphone with a relatively large screen. No physical buttons anywhere on the front, but it has a power button on the right towards the top and volume levers across this on the left. These are both fairly well designed ergonomically. Except for one irritating flaw. If I am holding the phone with both hands, as one does fairly regularly, then I have discovered that there is no way I can switch off the display without pressing the volume lever on the opposite side. And pressing both these switches simultaneously triggers the screenshot capture. I have lost count of the screenshots I have taken when I meant to switch off the display. Again, I am sure there must be a way I can programme it such that pressing the two switches together does not trigger a screenshot capture. But it is too much effort to research and act on. So I just grumble whenever this happens, delete the image and move on.

Laptop

The third exhibit is another device that I use almost daily – my laptop. And the irritating piece of design is very similar to my mobile phone. The power charging socket of the laptop is on the right, at the very top of the keyboard close to the screen hinge. And on the left hand side of the keyboard, towards the middle is the power button. Every time I use my left hand to firmly hold the laptop as I insert the charging socket using my right hand, my fingers on the left hand brush against the power button, putting the laptop to sleep. Which means that I have to remember to pay close attention when I am doing a mundane activity such as connecting the power charger to my laptop. Something that I will be happy to do without really thinking about it.

For sure, these are not critical flaws affecting the usability of the products (except the first one). But when one is a regular user of these products, these flaws can prove to be a cause of irritation. I might not change these products due to this flaw, but I will definitely consider other brands when I am purchasing my next phone or laptop.

This leads me to wonder – why is it that such large and leading brands have such basic design flaws? Is it that they are not aware of the existence of these flaws? I am sure they must be doing User Experience Testing as part of the Product Design process. Is it that they have not tested for these use cases? Or is it that they are aware of it but decide to let it slide as there is no simple solution for it? Irrespective of the real reason, it feels like they could probably do with being more ‘customer obsessed‘.

 

Monday morning reads

A few interesting articles I came across this Monday morning:

  1. How to Use Occam’s Razor Without Getting Cut – I had only heard of the term ‘Occam’s Razor’ so far in the context of the popular blog on Digital Marketing and Analytics by Avinash Kaushik (by the way, if there is one blog on Digital Marketing and Analytics that you should follow, it is Avinash’s). This article helped me understand the true meaning behind this term. And it is a very interesting theory.
  2. What the success of rock climbing tells us about economic growth – My daughter is learning rock climbing and I must admit that this is one of the reasons I read through this article. Very interesting thoughts on what this sport tells us about our potential for future economic growth.
  3. USAID, Monsanto and the real reason behind Delhi’s horrific smoke season – The terrible air pollution in Delhi is all over the news (and social media). This article tells us the sad story of how ‘Big Food’ and ‘greedy MNCs’ in collusion with politicians are contributing to this ecological and health disaster.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

The Northeast Monsoon (or Longing for the Sun)

Rainy days

People who know me well know about my indifferent attitude to rain. I believe this is in no small part due to having grown up in Mumbai. The tribulations of going to school (and later, office) in a torrential downpour, leading to spending the day in wet clothes and shoes have possibly scarred me for life! Of late, though, I have gone from a dislike of rains to indifference. What else could explain the fact that I spent 5 years in UK and Ireland and actually enjoyed it (including the notorious weather)!

The reason for this post today is to rant a bit about the weather in Bangalore over the past few months. The rainy season in Bangalore typically starts in May, with the onset of pre-monsoon rains (they are definitely more than showers). It then continues through the normal monsoon period, though being in the rain shadow zone of the Western Ghats, it does not see the torrential rains of the West Coast. However, unlike in most parts of India, the rains do not stop in late September, early October, but continues intermittently well into winter. This is the effect of the second rainy weather system in India, the Northeast Monsoon.

This feature of our annual weather patterns is not very well known in most parts of India, who typically experience the rains only from June / July to September / October. However, the Northeast monsoon is the primary monsoonal system in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, as opposed to the Southwest monsoon, which is the primary rain giver to most other parts of India. The Northeast monsoon’s impact also extends to parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

What this is all means is that it is still raining regularly in Bangalore, and might continue to do so for the next couple of months as well. This means that we would end up experiencing regular, if not particularly heavy, rains for almost 8 months of the year! I thought I had left this pattern of almost year-long rains when I moved back to India, but it seems that the weather I left behind has decided to follow me to India! In fact, I woke up this morning to scenes that reminded me a lot of Dublin, albeit with much more pleasant temperatures! And while I enjoyed this weather in UK and Ireland, I am longing for the brightness and warmth of the sun now!

As I write this, the sun has decided to peek out from between the grey clouds. But it’s a weak, watery sunshine that is almost mocking in nature! The months from November to early March is usually the best weather in India, with (typically) plenty of sunshine and pleasant temperatures. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case in Bangalore this year 😦

Chaos on Indian Roads

Image of Indian roads at night
Image of Indian roads at night

The Indian government has recently significantly increased the fines levied for driving offences. It’s still early to judge the effectiveness of this, but there is no doubt that it’s a step in the right direction, even if very delayed.

I have been fortunate to have lived abroad and, as much as I love my country, the one thing that almost always gets me angry and upset is the absolutely appalling attitude of drivers on Indian roads.

People say that the two things that unite our vast and diverse country are Bollywood and Cricket. I would add, to those two, our road sense, or lack of it. Even a casual observer of Indian driving would observe that the only rule of driving on Indian roads is to break all rules! Breaking a traffic signal, who doesn’t do it? Going down the wrong way on a one-way street, everyone does it. Parking at No Parking zones or blocking other traffic, sorry, what’s that? Wearing of seat belts, only when a policeman is ahead! The latest – driving a bike on a footpath and having the temerity to ask people to step aside!

What is it that makes us such poor and inconsiderate drivers? Manu Pillai in his recent article on Livemint suggests two possible reasons:

  1. The poor state of Indian roads means that we do not respect them
  2. Indians love chaos

The second is a very interesting observation and I am beginning to realise that it’s probably right. However, I disagree with him on the first point. I have seen, and I am sure that I am not the only one, people not heeding rules even on the best Indian roads. How many of us have not seen vehicles being driven down the opposite side of the road on the best of Indian highways? Or heavily overloaded trucks trundling on the fast lane? Overtaking on the left, that’s par for the course! Forget adhering to speed limits!

No, I do not believe that we will change our behaviour even if we have world class road infrastructure. There is just something in our nature that believe rules are meant to be bent, if not broken outright.

I am very positive, in general, of the future of our country and its citizens. However, the one aspect that I am afraid might take a long time to change, if ever, is our road sense. I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong.

Palakkad (or Palghat) Gap

Palakkad (or to call it by it’s previous name, Palghat) is a small (by Indian standards!) town in Kerala, close to the state’s border with Tamil Nadu. This town, famous for its banana chips, also gives its name to one of the more curious features of India’s geographical landscape.

The Western Ghats is a mountain chain that runs for 1,600 kilometres in an almost unbroken line all along the west coast of India. I say, almost, because just outside Palakkad, this range suddenly disappears, to be replaced by what is called the Palakkad gap. At an average elevation of just 140 metres, this gap with a width of around 25 kilometres is really not high enough to be called a pass.

And it’s not that this is pretty much the only such gap in the Western Ghats that makes it a curiosity. It’s also the fact that the gap appears at the very place where this 1,000 mile long chain has its highest peaks. About 80 kilometres to the north of the gap is the 2,637 metre (8,652 feet) high Doddabetta peak. And roughly a similar distance to the south is Annamudi peak. At 2,695 metres (8,842 feet) above sea level, this is the highest peak in India outside of the mighty Himalaya range in the north.

For a very long time, this gap was almost the only way in and out of the state of Kerala by land for the majority of the country. People in the extreme south of the state could travel to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu around the beginning (or end) of the ghats. While people towards the north could travel onwards to Mangalore and Mumbai along the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the Arabian Sea.

The opening up of the Konkan railway in the 1990s has opened up another rail link to the state, but the Palakkad gap continues to be the main channel for the majority of road and rail traffic to enter and exit the state.

I have crossed this gap numerous times (by rail and road), but always in the middle of the night. However, a change in circumstances during my most recent trip to Kerala meant that I had to reschedule my train journey out of Kerala from the original night train to a day train. And this meant that I was finally able to see this curious (and magnificient) sight by the light of day.

A few pictures below. Not the best as these were taken from a moving train, but hopefully it gives a sense of the landscape.

Palakkad Gap 1
Palakkad Gap – looking north
Palakkad Gap 2
The lush landscape of Palakkad Gap