Not only is user experience different all around the world, so is how to conduct research. Myself, along with Sanket, a UXer from Mumbai, set out to discover how to change our moderation style with Indians. We planned a day of getting stuck in and approaching Indian people to learn about their lives with tech.
Since the idea was to test how to do the research, the possible apps and websites to test were endless. We chose to test food and retail apps which were popular in India, like Zomato and Flipkart. For quick testing, we focused on the core journey of each website, like order food or buy an outfit. The aim was then to observe the participant rather than the usability of the app used.
There was a also a lot of planning the experience of the research. While my approach was to blend in, Sanket suggested locals were more likely to respond to a foreigner. So instead of wearing a traditional kurta, I went with an orange t-shirt. This was with the hope that wearing at least one colour of the Indian flag would be a subtle friendly cue.
For test locations, we thought it best to talk to people sitting in one place, rather than people on the move. This may have meant we had a smaller number of people to approach, but it did mean we had reliable WiFi. The ability for a foreigner to acquire a SIM card in India is difficult, so for a day of testing, I could not afford to be fussy!
Ultimately to class the day as a success, we would count how many times we were turned away. If everyone spoke to us, then we were heading in the right direction on approaching Indian people. If no one spoke to us, then we knew things had to change, or we smelled. We aimed for at least 4 people, 2 women and 2 men, with Sanket and I approaching 1 person from each gender. This way we could compare how our gender affected approaching both genders.
Another measure of success was how long we spent with each participant. Even if no one turned us away, if we were only spending 2 minutes with somone, the session wouldn’t really be a success.
One of the last measures of success was the level of details people shared with us. If people were just sharing facts, then this wouldn’t be viable insights. Instead if participants shared anecdotes, it meant we were building enough rapport to discuss personal insights. Our research was richer, and we were getting through to someone.
Using the Oneplus 1, with Lookback, we headed to StarBucks for the free WiFi and people relaxing. We then approached different people we saw around the coffee shop. The script went out of the window, as it felt unnatural to do with non-recruited participants. The core journeys were still kept the same and probed, just at a higher level. We also asked about the apps that they themselves would use. Only if they mentioned the apps we had as backups would we ask them to show us how they used that app in particular. By doing this, we learnt about the apps people were passionate about and used the most.
After about an hour and a half, we headed to Candies, a famous cafe to find students, and young professionals. Unfortunately by the time we got there, the bar proved to be WiFi-less and quite loud for a Sunday night. Perhaps we were out of luck. Most of the people we approached were old fashioned and were not power users. Additionally, after struggling to communicate with another participant due to the loud music we moved on to Mumbai’s Marine Drive. Here we could approach people who were in the street, relaxing and on the move.
It’s worth mentioning just how good the Lookback app was. All recordings of participants’ faces and the screen were recorded without a glitch. The only fault is that the camera angle it captures from the phone does not lead to flattering images, but that is not an app nor a research concern!
Overall the day was a great success, with not one person turning us away. And in the level of personal details shared in such a short amount of time. In fact, I probably could have pushed for more personal details. Instead of being too nervous and diving into the research, I should have taken longer. If I was to do this again, I would take more time on the intro and made that a focus rather than the recordings. If anything the researching about the people themselves was more important than the apps.
The first participant was a woman, at first sat on her own until a friend came over with drinks. The two girls roughly in their twenties, which made me comfortable approaching her as I felt like we were similar and I wouldn’t look too strange. She happily answered questions, used my phone and asked to show me things on her phone too. At some points after her friend had returned to the table, she asked her friend for her answers too.
I learnt that for her when shopping, she knew exactly what she wanted and was quite forthright. When shopping online the first thing she did was filter for her specific requirements and then browsed. She used a lot of apps, like Myntra, Jabong, Amazon and Flipkart. For her apps lacked inspiration for new ideas. Clothing retail sites especially, when it came to looking for special occasions.
“First of all we can filter what we want. Recently we started working so we go for the price and then the size. Best part is the filter part or we have to look through everything.”
I feel like the conversation could have gone further. But when a third friend turned up, there was no room on the table for her, and it felt like I was now intruding. So I thanked her, said I was leaving as her friend had turned up and gave her a crunchie!
The second person Sanket approached, was Mr Khalid, a 28-25 call centre operator. He was interested in public speaking and reading. The apps he used the most were WhatsApp, Amazon Reader and Amazon.
Sanket - He was sitting alone surfing through his social accounts and that’s why I thought him as a right person to tap. I started conversation by asking if he is free to give me some insights on my research project, he agreed.
Ironically, he opened up well about he being a bit shy and reserved in nature and shared his ways of shopping and likings and also few of the personal experiences he had during his public speaking event.
Mr Khalid preferred to shop in store first and then used online shopping as a means to find things he couldn’t find in store. His usual journey for buying books, was first deciding the area of interest, looks for a book in store and then chooses recommended books by the author of that book.
The second person I spoke to was a man sat on his own, with his Mac. He was the most enthusiastic person of the day, sitting with me for more than 20 minutes. He showed me 3 websites he could think of that he liked.
He was a man, who loved fashion, Godiva coffee and all things TinTin. When he needed an item he couldn’t buy in India, he often bought items abroad. He then sent them to a friend and asked them to bring him the items.
What struck me the most in this interview was his feelings around internationalisation, in retail and himself. When he was taking me through the Indian Zara website, I asked how he felt about their models (as they’re primarily white).
“I prefer international models. They carry the clothing properly and I think it’s absolutely fine.” “It doesn’t have to be an Indian. I don’t care about the ethnicity.”
“In fact I think I’d probably get a little startled if I saw Indian ethnicity suddenly depicting clothing.”
“I think it’s a good thing because they have excellent physiques so it motivates you to get into shape.”
“When you’re consuming international clothing you’re buying into an international community and you’re aspiring to that.”
“I don’t know how I would react to Zara if I started seeing Indian models. It kind of takes away the international feeling of the brand.”
In psychology and human computer interaction, experiments consistently demonstrate that people respond better to those who are similar to them. So to actually hear that someone would be startled by models from his own ethnicity is quite a surprise.
The second participant Sanket approached was a woman, in her forties named Ms. Madhulita. She was staying in South Bombay, and owned a marketing research firm. She was professional, but open about sharing insights about how she used tech.
Sanket - The moment I mentioned about research project, she curiously asked about who is it for and then asked about me and where I work. Showed her own research material to help me and also shared a very good contact with me which might help me further in continuing research in the domain that I currently work (real estate).
She was very rich and had servants doing most of the work for her. She uses only Google maps to see the traffic conditions and judge the time to reach to her clients and had no complaints about the app, whatsoever. She used WhatsApp to keep in touch but was not a power user.
The fifth participant I spoke to, was a woman at Candies. She was sat on her own, using her phone and looked quite young. She was quite curious and a little taken back about why I was asking questions, but she sat with me and talked me through a few apps that she uses.
What was similar to the first participant, was the need to filter through what she wanted. We were testing with Zomato, a food delivery service app. It turns out that even with an app, she chooses to ring a restaurant with her order, as restaurants charge different taxes. She would want to know the exact price for an order before placing one, as it’s not consistent for everywhere in India to display prices inclusive or exclusive of tax.
“So like I usually filter it like, whatever I want to order. Whether if I feel like fish or non-veg. Whatever the options list I get, I use that. I order
from that. Mostly I filter it with the ratings.”
“It makes life easier no doubt. I cannot go to every restaurant to look at how the food is like.”
“The description [is more important]. Images can be deceiving.”
“I rarely order food. I usually read the reviews and go out.”
“Is it some kind of project you’re doing?” […] “okay… interesting.”
All in all I was with her for 10 minutes, despite the venue being quite loud. I would have tried to stay longer, however she became standoffish quite quickly due to the noise. Despite being quite blunt with her words and seeming annoyed because of my voice volume, she was the happiest participant about the chocolate incentive.
The last participant Sanket approached at Candies was a man sat on his own, before his wife joined him with drinks. Both participated in the conversation, yet the woman was more open with answers. They were roughly aged 30-35, and felt like they were ‘old fashioned and prefer to do everything offline’.
They didn’t really like apps or websites, so Sanket didn’t test any apps with them. They preferred to see and feel the clothing material and quality and hence don’t go for online shopping. They had used the taxi app, Ola only a couple of times but then they bought their own vehicle, so never used the app again.
The last people we spoke to, were two women walking by on Marine Drive. They looked like they were in their early 30s. Their pace was quite slow, so despite being on the move we thought we could still give it a shot and ask them for their time.
One sister lived in the US and was home visiting family so quickly discounted herself to let her sister answer the questions. We were able to go through our intro questions on which type of apps she liked to use. Yet when it came to asking them to use a website, we had not prepared the test phone with WiFi from Sanket’s phone, nor started recording. So as we stood there discussing what we hadn’t done, they informed us that they had someone to meet and had to leave.
What was great from this experience was that we were able to approach people together. It was the first opportunity we had had that day to moderate and observe together. Unfortunately, we were not as prepared as when approaching people on our own, so we lost the conversation. But lesson learnt! Prepare and then approach people, even if they seem like the only approachable people there.
The British chocolate incentives we used went down a treat! They were well received by each participant and even the participant who seemed annoyed. However, here is a prime example of why localising the research is important. It may had been 8 degrees in London, where I decided to use chocolate as incentives, but it was not 8 degrees in Mumbai. It was 26 degrees. Needless to say, it melted. Offering British chocolate all melted and disfigured, was not as incentivising as I’d planned.
Next time I’m taking sweets, or shortbread.
Keep up to date with local news on where you’re going! This may seem strange, but you need to be prepared for if anything changes and if it’s an effect which is nation wide. Two weeks before I flew, the Indian President declared two major currency notes illegal tender. It’s hard to say if this did affect research, but the mood of the nation was definitely lower than normal. Everyone in India was affected. Reports of deaths rose as hospitals had to refuse people’s old notes. ATMs had queues day and night pouring into the streets. The situation was evident, the moment you landed.
But a learning which I only learnt during the write up, was probably one of the biggest mistakes we made. We were so caught up the research and the success on learning about Indian people and apps, that we dove in too quickly in the conversation. During the write up made me realise that we both forgot to ask basic personal details, like names and occupations. After only interviewing pre-recruited participants or pre-knowing their backgrounds, I didn’t even consider including those questions. Usually I’m speaking to someone because of their backgrounds.
The day was a success! Firstly no one turned us away and despite forgetting to ask personal details, people still shared their stories. We had still managed to build enough rapport with people for a conversation.
On a personal level, it highlighted gaps in my experience of different research situations with much less planning. I need to take learn to take a step back. Stop feeling so ‘honoured’ that this person wants to talk to me, and then rush the conversation so I can leave them alone.
Overall Indian people were approachable. Some were more inquisitive than others regarding our purpose of being there. Especially since it wasn’t for a company, and we were honest about the fact that it was a personal project. It was quite difficult also to explain what we were doing, as guerrilla or UX research isn’t commonplace. With my hoping for the best and lack of guidance, it made for a situation of short attention spans and interest. People were still grateful for the chocolate though.
But the biggest success for me was connecting with fellow UX member of the Designer Hangout community, Sanket! The ability to connect with a UX designer 5445.697 miles away, and plan a day of testing with no budget, is an incredible personal achievement! One I’ll never forget, and one I owe a huge thank you to Sanket for.
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