September 26, 2003

I’d give an arm for something original

What frustrates me most about internet is the lack of original thought that goes behind an interface, a software, a business model, a design pattern or what have you. Why's there just one Amazon and one Google? Why don't we innovate more often? Where are original ideas?

I have no doubt that overall interface design has improved across the web these past few years but looked individually, the changes appear mostly incremental that take a product from worse to not bad. It's very rare to come across examples that radically improve an interface by solving a need not identified or addressed before. It's more common to see potential of a product being bogged down under the weight of status quo – those invisible conventions that we so heartily embrace without ever questioning them.

In the early days of the internet "making it run" was enough accomplishment, now we're satisfied merely by making it usable

It’s everywhere - the curse of mediocrity. On shopping sites, news sites, travel sites and even e-mail. Everything is the same as everywhere else. No one seems to the aiming for the next plane. While in the early days of the internet "making it run" was enough accomplishment, now we're satisfied merely by making it usable or designing it around a “best practice.” User Experience professionals, get ambitious! Of course usability is essential to success and conventions can be helpful but how about solving your customers' real needs? There are a plethora of critical user experience problems out there that aren't being addressed.

Let’s take e-mail for example. Two facts stand out. One, its overwhelming use in communication and two, the unsolved problem of managing our overflowing mailboxes. There has been no change in how we are made to organise our mails. E-mail interfaces are at the same level where they were half a decade ago.

We simply get too much e-mail and don’t know how to stay on top

Corporations are struggling to reduce the deluge of e-mails in the mailboxes of their employees. The more mails we get the more the less time we have to do productive work. You may have already heard of the recent story that a telecom chain in UK had to ban internal e-mail due to productivity losses. Even Nielsen’s third annual intranet design report confirms that one of the common themes across several of the intranets was email reduction. Spam is just a part of the picture. The underlying problem is that users everywhere are struggling to manage their e-mails. We simply get too much of it and don’t know how to stay on top.

Mark Hurst of Creative Good says that the answer is not design, it is us. In his report on managing e-mails he encourages us to take control of our inboxes. His answer:
...clear out incoming e-mails before they pile up too high in the inbox. Delete most of them, file some of them (in mail folders or elsewhere), but most importantly, get them all out of the inbox before they really begin to pile up. Keep the inbox empty.
And once again at another place under “how often to empty” he suggests this as the first occasion:
As e-mails arrive. As soon as a batch of new e-mails arrives, engage and delete the new messages, thereby bringing the inbox back to a count of zero. [his italics]

I don’t know whether to call this naivete or stupidity. Delete your mails? You don’t delete your official mails. They’re records! You don’t burn your letters at home either, so why delete e-mails from your loved ones?

If saving or moving them in different folders is a solution, it is not a solution at all. It might give me an illusion that I have an empty inbox but it doesn’t help me when I want to access it again. Consider the following scenario.

I have received an e-mail from my boss telling me the details of a meeting scheduled a month from now. It has an attachment of a document that lists names of managers [don’t ask me why he didn’t just paste it in the mail] to be informed a week before the meeting. Now, where do I store this e-mail – in the boss’s folder, the calander folder, the to do folder, the attachment folder or all of them? No, I get it – I should just get rid of the-mail and celebrate my empty inbox for the rest of the day!

The business opportunity of coming up with an e-mail software that allows superior organising capabilities is staggering.

This is so a design problem. Surprisingly, no one seems to be coming up with a solution for it. The business opportunity of coming up with an e-mail software that allows superior organising capabilities is staggering. It is incredible why this simple fact isn’t well understood.

So why are we stuck here? What stops us from entering the next level in evolution of an interface that doesn’t answer all our needs? Why almost every web-based e-mail site - with only a few notable exceptions - is essentially a copy and paste of the other?

I think one explanation to all those questions lies in our blind acceptance of design conventions. When something is so widespread and used by such large numbers, designers just don’t ask tough questions like: “does it really address the needs of its users”. Copy and paste is easier.

If you are involved in a design project and wish to evaluate your product, its interface, or even a small feature of the interface; it helps to understand the context in which it exists. This is actually the first step. Folks at Adaptive Path call it the ‘discovery’ process. It involves asking yourself questions that go something like:

Why does it exist?
What are its origins?
What needs does it serve?
What problems does it solve?

To truly innovate, we must transcend the boundaries that hold us.

Answering the above questions will widen your understanding of what your product can achieve. But to truly innovate, to come up with out-of-the-box solutions that address needs of users never identified before, you must look at it beyond the product or its current capabilities. What are the fundamental needs of the users. Not in terms of your product/interface, but beyond that. What do they really want to do - beyond what is currently offered to them.

Pardon me if that sounds rather melodramatic but I really believe in design innovation. I’ve put it to work in the past and it has delivered great results.

Opera’s best kept secret
M2 is the e-mail client that comes bundled with Opera 7 browser. I downloaded version 7.11 a few days ago and almost instantly recognised its great potential. It represents that leap in design I was talking about and conclusively disproves Hurst's theory that "users have to take the lead".

M2 has a truly innovative interface that has the potential to make the lives of its users radically easier.

This has already become a marathon post, let me quickly explain its three innovative features [the last two of which, I must brag, I had previously conceived myself for such a product. Honest!]. View full screenshot of M2 in a new window.

a. Access points
M2 has no folders as such but here’s the remarkable idea: all e-mails can be viewed at multiple access points [on the left] while being stored at only one place. In the previously mentioned scenario, I can get back to my boss’s e-mail at all those places I mentioned – boss’s access point featured under “contacts” - yes, the address book here also displays all mails from that person!, under “calander” not supported now but promised in next version, under “to do” access point - see labels in the screenshot and yes there’s even an “attachments” access point. Everything appears automatically under those access points, you do not need to move my mails or create a filter!

Big leap from how e-mail has so far been managed. Those are amazing people at Opera. While it has some weaknesses – it seems like a hurriedly assembled product - but the concept itself is outstanding.

b. Labelling
You can label any e-mail simply by clicking next to the e-mail under the labels column. It will show you a range of labelling options: Important, To do, Mail back, Call back, Meeting, Funny and Valuable. Labelled e-mails immediately show up under the 'Labels' access point.

c. Quick reply
Those of you who send dozens of e-mails everyday, this is invaluable. To reply to an incoming mail, you don’t need to hit reply and wait for the new msg window to open, set focus to the message area, write a message and press send. In M2, just select a message in the inbox, type out the reply in a IM type comment box and hit quick reply. All done.

M2 is truly awesome but don’t download it just yet
I struggled with it for 3-4 days and ultimately decided against its continued use because of its limitations. For one, I can’t send HTML messages. Executives from Opera say [in the support forums] that it's a security risk and will not be offered in future versions too. All this while users have been crying themselves hoarse in the forums saying that they need this feature. Responding to a post of mine, one executive finally admitted that they are now considering HTML.

It is interesting to note though that folks at Opera recognise its current limitations - there's no mention of M2 under either the product section or the download page of their website. Though I got the impression that security is perceived to be its most important strength.

Other issues: no spell check, no hotmail support [but both these can be managed with independent add on utilities], poor support for incoming HTML e-mails, no option to delete e-mail copy from the server and no "save as" option for storing e-mails on the hard disk. But the greatest threat that kept me away was a fear of crashing the browser and losing all my e-mails. I did come across a one or two horror stories.

The real advantage with M2 is not security but its capabilities as an e-mail organiser.

So my suggestion to you is, keep an eye on it. Try it when later versions come out. My suggestion to folks at Opera: realise the true strength of M2, it’s not security, it is the organising capabilities. Improve those features, introduce HTML and spell check and make it more stable. You’ll have a great product in M2.

Keep focusing too much on security and you will be chasing an impossible dream. As Andrew Odlyzko - an economist explains, there is no such thing as a perfectly secure system [pdf].

Related Links
M2 page on
M2's features [translated from German]
Story on alternative e-mail programs


September 25, 2003

New Voice

I know, I know. I haven’t been writing very frequently. I really do intend to write more often but whenever I sit down I realise that in order to do justice to the entry, I must explain the underlying assumption/s and doing that means explaining a long winded theory or a concept. So I just leave it there for later. At this moment, I have half a dozen titles of unwritten posts in my list.

And this is not counting the post I wanted to write yesterday on Joel’s new office. Rather his parade of his new office - with walls painted in such garish colors that anyone with little aesthetic sensibilities would never want to be surrounded by them. Or maybe not the parade but once again the implied statement that Joel Spolsky is the best software engineer in the world founder of the best software company in the world employing the best software programmers in the world working in the best office complex in the world producing the...well, you know.

Joel Spolsky is, what Freud would call, a Narcissistic Leader

This isn't the first time he has done it, he has been demonstrating his superiority in the past with articles that sound like "I don’t need no venture capital" and "let me tell you how to manage an online community." It's one thing to speak about oneself and one's work with modesty and quite another to claim that you know it all, you've seen it all, you've done it all. Maybe it's a pet peeve but I find it difficult to respect people beating their chests in public.

Yet I still like Joel. I’ve read his little book and I agree with a lot of what he says. What I really wanted to highlight yesterday is that Joel Spolsky is what Freud would call a Narcissistic Leader, which is actually a good thing [I’m one myself] if you’re aware of the pitfalls – grandiosity is one. There’s an excellent article on this in HBR and this is the long winded explanation that I want to avoid. I will talk about it another time, it is one of my favourite things to talk about.

But what I really wanted to say in this post is that I’ve made some changes here in this blog. I’ve tried highlighting quotations to make the posts more readable for a casual surfer. And I’m going to be more spontaneous, closer to my heart, less cautious of making mistakes and sounding ‘unsmart’ from now on. The last few posts have perhaps been a little too reflective. While that too is a reflection of who I am I don’t want just one side of me seen here. (As you can probably see... I take things here a little too seriously :)

There’s perhaps too much of ‘I’ in this post on a site which is supposed to be a team blog. But where is everybody? Of the nine other people only Navneet has jumped in. We all agree that it’s a good idea, so go log on!

The changes I’m making here are also in line with those I’m making on my website. I’ve had it up for many months now without allowing search bots to index it [using robots.txt file] as I was never completely satisfied with it. And then there was this paralysis period of indecision about how to position it, the appropriateness of the name and the approach towards the language and tone of the content. I’ve almost figured it out now and I’m changing everything.

September 17, 2003

IA Tools initiative launches

AIfIA has launched its IA Tools initiative. The Tools are a collection of model templates and deliverables that can be used by information architects and UI designers to help sell IA services to clients.

The current list includes the following:
  • Design Review Checksheets
  • Design Review Process
  • Design Scope
  • Project Overview
  • Creative Brief
  • Project Definition and Scope
  • Process Maps
originally posted by Navneet

September 16, 2003’s Brand-new Widget

C|net's has made a few changes. Among other things, they've added a little feature that lets you save stories to be read later. The idea is, if you don't have time right now put select stories in a folder so that you can read them at your leisure, without having to search for them again.

Each headline carries a small icon accompanied with ‘save’ next to it. What’s intriguing is that they have not used the standard floppy disk icon for save but a ‘my documents’ kind of icon, perhaps to denote that you’re adding it to a folder. The saved stories appear in this thing at top that looks like a button but works like a pull down menu. The button/pull down menu also has a numerical indicator that tells you how many stories you’ve added. You can save up to 10 stories.

It doesn’t work so well right now. For example, the apostrophe[‘] character in headlines appears in Unicode when displayed in the menu. So Editor’s Note in the headline becomes Editor's Note once inside the menu. In Mozilla, such headlines can not be added at all. There are other problems with the site when viewed with Mozilla but I don’t want to get into that.

Identifying the need

What interests me more is how strong was the need for such a feature when the design team took a decision to include it. What factors were considered? How did the idea really originate? Did someone notice this feature on another site or was it because they identified a need?

More questions come up in mind. If they identified the feature first, how did they go about researching whether a need for such a feature existed or not? If they identified the need first, what kind of user research would have helped identify it? How frequently will it be used? Given that the saved stories disappear when browser is closed and then reopened, is the said reasoning for the feature really credible?

Attention grabber

The design assigns a prominent place to the menu right under the tabs for different sections. This has more than one explanation. One, they want the first time users to notice it and click it to understand what it does. Two, if a user misses it at the first go, and gets puzzled at the ‘save’ icon next to headlines, the menu – only a few pixels away - comes to the rescue as a way of explanation since it is titled as ‘saved stories.’

But there are problems with this approach. The biggest one is, it gets too much attention. Seasoned interface designers understand that users come with a limited attention span. You can give too much attention to something but only at the expense of taking it away from other objects. On this page it has two consequences:

One – it is disruptive. You’re on the site looking for something and here this neat little thing that catches your eye. You lose your focus. It makes you think. You lose time.
Two – the attention it gets is at the expense of tabs and search, both of which are in its close proximity. People looking for search and those looking to go to the ‘enterprise hardware’ section [the tab right at top of this menu] are likely to be most distracted by the menu.

Engagement - not a good idea

Just a couple of days back, the Interaction Architects group on Yahoo! was discussing the merits of engagement and concluded that it is not always a good thing. I completely agree. Movies should be engaging not web pages. I have an interesting analogy in this context.

On a past visit to Google I was so captivated by its new holiday logo – must have looked at it for half a minute - that I completely forgot what I came to search! What surprised me even more was that I wasn’t angry at this. On any other site, I would have been very annoyed but not on Google. Google has provided such overwhelming good experiences in the past that it was okay if it messed up once in a while :).

Anyway, my point is, engagement can be utterly distracting and that’s never a good thing unless the goal of your users is to be engaged, something extremely rare. People go to a website looking for stuff and the design should make the process as easy as possible.

So the million dollar question here is does this feature add so much value that such behaviour should be ignored? I seriously doubt that.

There are a couple of other problems. First, when you encounter the menu, the only way to find out what it does is by pressing it. But first timers will be very reluctant to do that given it doesn’t look like a menu at all, it looks like a button. People expect to go to another page when they press a button so this menu clearly violates their conceptual model.

Second, the save icon and the text does not have a ToolTip so if you have no idea what it does and you hover over it, no explanation is offered. Very surprising because most other images and buttons come with a ToolTip.

The India angle

Another reason this new feature is interesting is because it was first used on an Indian news site. was featured in Forbes as one of the best international news site for this very reason., its main rival recently picked up the feature and implemented on their site too. Both these sites are online versions of India’s largest selling English dailies.

The connection goes even further, it was actually one of the contributors to this blog - Anshuman Singh that implemented this feature on in a redesign that their firm Mindtree Consulting undertook recently.

But the feature is used in a far worse manner on both these sites. Surprisingly, the c|net version comes across as best of all three examples. Let’s take a quick look on the other two versions starting from the worst offender.

TimesOfIndia calls it ‘clip’ instead of save. Not very intuitive. There’s nothing to tell me what it means except a TootlTip that says ‘Add to Clippings’. Clippings, however are nowhere in sight. What’s worse, adding a clip requires one to log in. Apparently the design team finds the feature so valuable that users are made to register to use it.

After logging in users are redirected to the homepage and a pop up appears and says that the link to clippings is at the top of the page but the elusive clippings do not appear until one closes the pop-up window. Adding every subsequent clipping brings about a pop up that tells you that your clip has been added.

The only good functionality is that even when you return to the site after closing and reopening the browser, your clippings are still saved at the top of the page. has a tiny plus[+] sign next to headlines which on clicking adds the headline to ‘My Links,’ something that is hidden in a corner. ‘My Links’ when clicked, appear in a pop-up window.

Unlike, this site suffers from the other extreme of the attention problem. While was creating trouble by making the feature too pronounced, here it’s the obscurity of the feature that makes it unusable. The [+] sign is too small and doesn’t explain what it does and ‘My Links’ are hidden in a corner.

Then, with so many ads flashing around one is already suffering from a severe attention deficit disorder to notice a co-relation between the two!

Related Links homepage
C|net editor talks about the redesign and
Mindtree consulting
Forbes listing of HindustanTimes

September 08, 2003

The Customer Experience Makeover

Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good consulting firm that gave us the customer experience approach to design – a more holistic method with strong focus on business needs - has for the first time documented what he calls the ‘Customer Experience Methodology’.

Mark has been writing on customer experience since 1998 in his newsletter and white papers. Although he has been talking about why customer experience is important and what it can do, until now he never attempted to define what precisely the term means.

It took six years for Mark to come forward with a methodology. Why now?

The trouble with customer experience

Customer experience is an ambiguous and problematic term. Unlike user centered design, user experience or Interaction Design, customer experience is used in a lot of different contexts with slightly different meaning each time.

I could find seven books on Amazon that use the phrase customer experience/s in their titles. None of them however, speak anything about a design methodology that Creative Good specialises in.

Six of the books are on strategy and marketing and one each on customer service and ‘web-based self service’ management. The only similarity these books have with the Creative Good approach is that each advocate a focus on the customer.

Then there are other problems. Creative Good doesn’t own the domain And there are individuals like Patricia Seybold who have been talking about customer experience for a long time. A couple of quick searches on Google show that Mark Hurst and the term customer experience appear together on about as many pages as Patricia Seybold and the term.

Adoption of a brand

Information Architecture – to take an example - on the other hand has been wildly successful in promoting itself. Both these disciplines originated about the same time in late 90’s. Today one finds close to 80,000 mentions on Google for the term “Information Architect” compared to about 10,000 mentions for "Customer Experience Analyst. "

IA had clear and strong advantages from the beginning. It has a single meaning and is used in the same context. There are many books on IA - some of which have been hugely successful - that tell you what it is even though the community may argue about it. Which brings up the next point - it is a strong and thriving community with its own associations, conferences, mailing lists and an active web magazine.

Last month, in his Good Experience Newsletter Mark Hurst ridiculed the user experience community for coming together to discuss the proposed label of Interaction Architecture. In an uncharacteristic tone he argued that labeling a discipline is a pointless exercise and it is the value that a practitioner’s work creates that really matters.

There’s little doubt that the value of a discipline will ultimately decide its survival. But a big reason for adopting a name, rather a brand is how attractive it appears. Yes, how it rolls off the tongue is an important factor. If something sounds cool, it will have be more followers. You can’t argue about it. A brand can be a very powerful thing. Any market researcher will tell you that.

Information Architecture is definitely a ‘cool’ brand which is a strong contributor to its widespread adoption just as other reasons are the value it brings and the advantages cited above.

Repositioning Customer Experience

Until last month, Creative Good's customer experience was a single term carrying two meanings a] quality attribute of a product/service/system/website and b] the creative good method to enhance that quality. By releasing the Customer Experience Methodology, Mark Hurst has given a new name to the second meaning of the term.

This latest step to reposition Creative Good's customer experience by differentiating it from the rest with a new title and an acronym [CEM] is clearly an effort to ward off some of the ills associated with the term.

Mark seems to be eating his own words. It is an inadvertent admission that the term customer experience has been diluted over the last few years and more importantly, that labels are indeed important.

We have already seen the term user experience appear on Creative Good website in its redesign. I’m certain we will now see a wider adoption of the new term Customer Experience Methodology on the site in coming days.

But don’t get me wrong

A discourse on labels, although very relevant speaks little of value of the discipline. I must admit that I was a big fan of Mark Hurst for a long time. I may have changed course after it appeared that Mark was moving beyond the digital domain but I stay convinced of the fundamentals of this approach.

Mark Hurst was perhaps one of the first persons to recognise the limitations of usability and importance of strategic thinking in design. And unlike the other popular discipline which is forever obsessed with tool-ware - methodologies, techniques and more methodologies - customer experience recognises that it is the end that matter more than the means.

Related Links
Mark’s consulting firm Creative Good and newsletter Good Experience
Customer experience white paper by Creative Good [PDF 12 kb]
View search results for customer experience. Seven books out of 28 shown here on CE.
Bio of Patricia Seybold, founder Patricia Seybold Group
Google results for “Patricia Seybold” “Customer experience” and “Mark Hurst” “Customer experience”
Google results for "Information Architect" and "Customer Experience Analyst"
Good Experience Newsletter August 2003

September 07, 2003

Eric Raymond looks at the taxonomy of cognitive stress

Eric Raymond (of the Cathedral and the Baazar fame) has come up with a classification schema for the levels at which users are willing to invest effort to build competence.
originally posted by Navneet

Google Quote: Iterative Design

"Iterations are also important. Try, try again. We tested several versions of Google News. Sixty-four iterations later, we settled on the Google News that you see on our site."
Marissa Mayer
Director of consumer products for Google, speaking at GEL conference New York, May 2003.

Related Links
Google News
Marissa Mayer 2002 Interview

September 06, 2003

The Revolution usability report

According to this report:
    Improving usability for groups with special requirements can benefit all users. And, of course, it benefits brands.

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) estimates that 10 per cent of the population of any country has some kind of disability and it promotes the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which is a set of standards for sites around the world. Making a web site accessible should not be a dreaded chore; it is in the interest of everyone, from the site owner to the user. Accessibility is simply about good design principles and it doesn't necessarily involve having to make a separate large-print version of your homepage.

All of this is fine, but personally I found the text on the Revolution site a bit difficult to read and you could not even control the font size as it was fixed using CSS. Maybe they should look into it now that they've published the report.
originally posted by Navneet

September 04, 2003

IndiaCHI Indexed

Seems like GoogleBot has been a little too generous on us. Google's spider indexed this blog for the first time yesterday and straightaway IndiaCHI appears on the very first page of its results. Rank #3 for query: usability professionals india and #9 for: usability india.

And, in the first five days we've already managed to go past 100 page views. Not a bad start :)

Related Links
Lean about GoogleBot
View current results: usability professionals india, usability india
Find out who is linking to us

September 03, 2003

Design in India

Our meeting with Rashmi Sinha went very well and lasted about three hours. She and her husband Jon offered a lot of ideas and insights into how to take the discipline forward.

Rashmi was very excited that discussions on the HCIIDC Yahoo! list have improved radically in this past year or so. Even though she lamented that since the list has private archives, people in the US and elsewhere do not have access to it. She encouraged us to submit papers to international conferences and to organise small, local events.

One of the topics that were discussed was what can India contribute to the world in design and why design here has never been in the forefront until the recent past.

I see two main reasons why design as a profession never emerged in the decades after India became an independent state in late forties.

Political reasons

There were far more critical impending problems when we got independence than design. Self-sustenance in agriculture, national security, poverty, development, education – to cite some of them. The sole aim at the time was nation–building.

Everything else took a back seat. Even in higher education, the stress was on technology and management with the establishment of IITs and IIMs across the nation. A wise move indeed. This early investment paid off rich dividends as India is now widely recognised for its high placed technology leaders in large US corporations almost all of whom can trace their roots to these institutions.

But that’s a digression and fodder for another post. With nation-building as the main goal, design – something that comes much higher in Maslow's hierarchy of needs – was relegated to a lower place. National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad [with no branches anywhere else] was the only initiative in this area for decades.

Socio-economic reasons

Two things discouraged the industry to innovate in design: India’s socialist economic structure therefore lack of a consumerist society and as a result thereof or for whatever reasons – a highly value conscious consumer.

India was a poor country for a long time – it will be inappropriate to call us one now as we pay our debts today and extend loans to the IMF itself. India is now viewed as a lucrative emerging market. The only one that can offer some competition to the economic behemoth that China is likely to become in the coming years.

But for many decades after independence with a fairly low per capita income, price and ‘durability’ were the only driver of sales. Products were created to provide maximum value. People did become quality and brand conscious but this came very late. Probably in the 80's when Bata - largest retail chain in India - became widely recognised for its well-made and affordable shoes.

In the decades ensuing independence, design never achieved prominence simply because it was never a priority for the government, the industry or the consumer.

When things changed

All this was to dramatically change in the 90's. Two things happened at once: Satellite television came into our living rooms and the government eradicated the licensing barriers and ushered in liberalisation.

People began watching the same soaps, same movies and the same videos that the west was watching. Everyone from Pepsi to McDonalds rushed to India in the next few years to capture the new market. The great Indian middle class was born.

Today, price may remain a strong driver of sales but in the new cosmopolitan and consumerist urban India that has grown up on western media, design has firmly established its roots. Even though what constitute good design may not be as widely recognised.

One only need to look at the booming automobile sector to understand how important a role design plays in a consumerist economy. Until 1996, we had just about 30-35 variants of cars with over 75% of the market share captured by Maruti Udyog Limited - a subsidiary of Suzuki motors – that manufactures India’s most affordable cars.

Today, in 2003 there are about 180-200 variants in the market, a phenomenal jump of about 500% in the past seven years. With everyone from Mercedes to Skoda entering the picture, market share of India’s low-priced car manufacturer, Maruti, has gone down to 53% from a high of 75% in 1996.

What can India contribute

Whether we have a universal ‘Indian design ethos’ that can be somehow translated into products and artifacts across industries is debatable. We certainly have a diverse and vibrant culture and values. But whether that can be incorporated into products that must answer the needs of today’s consumer is uncertain.

One place where India’s rich cultural legacy still plays an important role in everyday life is India’s rural poor. Two recent innovations have attempted to address the needs of the illiterate and semi-literate users: Hisaab software and the work of Ranjit Makkuni.

Hisaab is a micro finance software that has an innovative user interface that uses more of numbers and images rather than text. This is based on the simple fact that it is easier for the semi-illiterate to recognise and remember numbers. They are easier to type too.

The software is the brainchild of Kaushik Ghosh, Media Lab Asia and Apala Lahiri Chavan, Human Factors International. A paper on hisaab was presented in the recently held CHI 2003 conference at Florida. Apala is also one of the contributors to this blog.

Ranjit Makkuni, who was formerly a scientist at Xerox PARC involved with the design of the first Graphical User Interface in the late 70’s has attempted to demonstrate how culture can be a driver of design innovation.

Challenging the traditional modes of interaction, Ranjit has designed interactive devices and environments that use hand skills, gestural browsing and multi-dimensional displays that go beyond rectangular monitors. His work is currently being exhibited across Europe.

India is just beginning to make its mark on the world map in design. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.

Related Links
Rashmi Sinha- see previous post
HCIIDC Yahoo Group
CNN story on India’s technology institutes
Story on India’s growing economic clout [use sub.ID 5223 for India edition]
National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
Hisaab Software
Ranjit Makkuni's Crossing Project
Story on changing face of Indian software industry