I am a user experience designer with experience designing, developing and leading the creation of software products. I am seeking an opportunity to work with a team that is passionate about building great technology products.

PowerPoint Illustrations #2: Fire Safety Instructions


Link to PowerPoint source file: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23114815/fire-safety-instructions.pptx

This illustration came about as part of a personal project creating visual fire safety instructions.

All the elements are created using native PowerPoint shapes except the clouds. I’m not very sure where I got those so use those at your own risk.Everything else is free for use.

PS: The crawling man was featured in an earlier post.

PowerPoint Illustrations #1: People and Hierarchy

It is well known that visually conveying ideas is extremely powerful. As a designer, it is almost mandatory.

Given my non existent sketching capabilities, I have found a survival tool in PowerPoint. I have been using simple PowerPoint drawings to quickly convey ideas and I find this very efficient and quite powerful too. 

 I am starting a series of posts sharing these simple illustrations and their source files with two objectives:
. to opensource these illustrations 
2. to act as small tutorials for the illustration technique itself.
Feel free to use them in anyway you see fit. No source acknowledgement required.

Today’s Illustration: People and hierarchy


Link to PowerPoint source file: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23114815/hierarchy.pptx

This illustration came about for a drawing in which I needed to express organizational hierarchy. 

One of the subtle techniques to note is that to show a young person, the size of head to size of body ratio is increased. This technique was taught to me by a colleague and it is actually based on observations of human anatomy.

You can also see the use of this technique in the Southpark characters.

Reporting from the Institute of Design Chicago

So here’s a big development… for the last one month I have been in Chicago at the Institute of Design.
I have had 3 weeks of classes so far and they have been absolutely great. Here are some of the highlights so far:

Diversity: I have fellow students from France, Italy, Brazil, Japan, China, South Korea, Colombia (thanks Jorge for pointing out the typo), Canada, US… pretty much all over the world. This has been for me, one of my biggest dreams come true. I had always dreamt of studying in a multi-cultural environment.

Breaking things down and building them up: This has been one important learning for me in the recent weeks. Through a series of classes on problem framing, analysis and design planning.. the school teaches us how to effectively break down problems into their component parts, ideate at that level and then synthesize new solutions.

Projects: I am working on some really interesting projects. One of them which I particularly like is a project looking at how evaluation can be built into the education system itself rather than being a separate activity. The premise is that in our learning before and after school (eg walking, cycling, our jobs), we evaluate ourselves as we learn but in school testing is separate from learning. Is there a way to integrate the two in school?

Design Research Conference: I have volunteered for the 10th edition of DRC which is between Oct 24th-26th. I am really excited about it because I will have a chance to meet people who I have previously only read about and watched on the internet. You can follow drcX at @drctweets. I will be live tweeting from the conference or you can follow the tag #drcX

I will keep posting updates on this blog and my twitter account as things progress.

The Changing Role of Teachers

Working on a project in the education space here at ID (more on that later), we were talking about learning and evaluation. A thought struck me. In today’s age where the likes of MIT Open Courseware, iTunesU and Khan Academy have made high  quality education available to everyone for free, the role of teachers should move to curators and facilitators of education rather than actual instructors.

Being a Designer

It’s been just over a year since I moved from being a software engineer to being a designer. In making the transition I have had to change a lot about how I function. This post is a small and incomplete list of things that I have had to get used to for me to function as a designer.

Getting used to Uncertainty
Working as a designer has meant getting used to a certain level of uncertainity. In the engineering world, you get a project, understand the expectations, create a plan as per the existing process and get to work. As a designer, things are not that linear and clearly laid out. I find myself a lot more unsure about how to begin, how to establish what is really required, once a direction is established, how to know whether this direction is the right one or if its missing something.

Trying new things…
To deal with this uncertainity, and lack of a defined path, I’ve had to rely on trying new approaches. I have created my own user research techniques, defined and redefined visual models to aid and validate my understanding, created new documentation formats tailored to the needs of particular projects. I have also learnt to become comfortable throwing incomplete ideas and approaches in discussion without worrying too much about them being right or wrong.

Bringing more of Me to my work…
As opposed to engineering which is precise, design is subjective and often quite personal. Different designers approach the same problem quite differently because design is not just informed by user needs, it is also informed by personal opinions and philosophical standpoints. And with good reason. When you are working on conceptualizing a system, which does not exist today, as you might be on some design projects, you have a really broad playing field. There can be hundreds of different approaches that can be taken, how do you narrow it down to just one? You rely on as much user research that the project timelines allow you to do. You try to get a lot of opinions. And importantly, you rely on your own opinions, philosophies and values to show you the way.
For me this has meant learning to trust my gut, being open to different viewpoints and being comfortable taking a stand based on what I believe in.

The Friction
As a designer you often work with multiple stakeholders with different priorities. While your priority maybe the user needs, an equally valid priority is maximizing profits or reducing development complexity. Add to that the subjective nature of our work and you have a recipe for constant friction. As a designer, I have come to accept and now even enjoy disagreements and debate. I believe as long as you remember that all the stakeholders are as commited to building a great product as you are, you actually gain a lot from the debates even along the lines of improving the user experience.

 I’d like to end with 2 lovely quotes that seem very appropiate in this context:

“ It’s about realizing that there isn’t always a right or a wrong way of doing things,
There’s not always a correct answer,
Only the answers we create.”

“…Try and drop the assumption that you know how to do things,
and already know the solution.
Stray away from the direct path.
Take risks.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,
because it’s only from the mistakes that we learn,
and it’s from the mistakes that the really interesting things happen.
We may not always create or invent,
but we always learn when we try.”

 (Source of quote: http://bit.ly/dU8SdY)

Demand, Supply and Fairness?

Off late I have become aware of gaps in capitalism, in catering to the poorest sections of our society. On the way back from office the other day, I was struck by a thought.

In the Indian construction sector, the business owners make truckloads of money and live a luxurious life, while the construction workers who actually work on the buildings, sometimes risking their lives in the process, make only a small stipulated daily wage. Many of them probably can’t even afford to send their kids to school or take care of their family’s medical needs.

The reasoning for this disparity is quite clear if you look at it from a capitalist point of view of the demand and supply for property versus the demand and supply for low skilled constructions labourers. But despite being able to explain it, I can’t help but feel disturbed by the sheer extent of this disparity.

Doesn’t it feel unfair?

My Interview on the TED Blog

In Nov 2009, I volunteered for the TED India. On the first day of volunteering, Emily from the TED blog interviewed me. I don’t know why I didn’t post this here sooner.


Onsite at TEDIndia: Q&A with TEDIndia volunteer Ishan Bhalla
Ishan Bhalla is a volunteer at TEDIndia. TEDIndia volunteers — there are about 30 of them — will be onsite throughout the conference helping with registration, special requests and generally making things run smoothly. We spoke to Bhalla after orientation on Saturday.

How did you find out about volunteering at TEDIndia?
I’d been following the TED.com website for a while, and when I saw on the website that there’s a TEDIndia coming, I knew immediately that I wanted in. I sent email to the manager here, telling him that I would be a volunteer, waiter, sweeper, anything.

What will you be doing onsite?
We haven’t had our assignments yet, but one job I’d like is, if one of the guests want something, arrange it for them. Let’s say they want something delivered to their room. Or requests for information. Just to be helpful.

Watching the volunteers this morning, I was struck by your teamwork. You’re systems thinkers. You talked together about the best way to do a particular job, then sat down and did it. So I have to ask: Is everybody on this team an engineer?
I think yes. It’s a good guess to say 90 to 95 percent are engineers.

Are you? Do you work for Infosys?
I do. I’m an engineering analyst. I work in the department of Infosys that does solutions for engineering; for example, in the auto or aero sector. Our work is basically building applications that would improve the productivity of someone doing, say, an aircraft design, by taking a portion of the design cycle and automating that process. Because some of the processes are very repetitive. What we do is take some of the rules that are in the designer’s head and write them down and build our applications to automate CAD processes, for instance.

What’s your favorite TEDTalk?
My favorite TEDTalk is Ken Robinson. Apart from the content, which is absolutely great, his presentation, the way that he puts in those little funny things in between, I thought it was brilliant. It’s a great talk. I’ve seen it like 6, 7 times.
The other one that I watch often is Yves Béhar, from fuseproject, because I’m very interested in design; that is what I want to take up as my future career. That talk really inspired me specifically, because I saw it at a point where I was trying to figure out my life, what am I going to do in my career going forward. Also the founder of IDEO, David Kelley, his talk on human-centered design. This talk is what pointed me to human-centered design.
Tim Brown‘s recent talk was interesting too, because he talks about using design to solve bigger problems, and that is something very close to my heart. I would like to explore the use of design to solve problems which are socially relevant. I’m not talking about social work specifically but problems that people have, real-life problems, especially in economically backward areas. Because that’s a huge population in India.
I believe that a lot of design is targeted at a western audience. And those products come in to India, but they’re not necessarily designed for India. And I believe there’s a huge potential for that; I also think there’s a huge need for that. As an example, a simple interaction thing: the radio button. You know where the radio button comes from — it’s a metaphor, right? It comes from car radios, where the button can be pressed only one at a time. But people over here are not familiar with that kind of a control. We don’t have those kinds of radios in our cars. If I go and ask somebody what a radio button is, they’ll say it’s an interaction mechanism, but they don’t relate to the source of that metaphor. This is just a very simple example, but let’s say if we are targeting populations in a low-literacy area, who have not had the exposure to things that we have, like technology, we might need to find metaphors from their world to explain new concepts to them. That’s very exciting.

Follow Ishan Bhalla at @lukwhostalking


Link to original post: http://blog.ted.com/2009/10/31/onsite_at_tedin/

Alertoholics Anonymous

My name is Ishan Bhalla and I’m an alertoholic.
I check Facebook almost every waking hour to see if I have any new alerts.
I feel a sort of excitement when I hear a new email alert from my mail clients which run 16/24 hours.
The first thing I do when I wake up is check Facebook and e-mail. Sometimes even when I wake up in the middle of the night.
When I run out of places to check for alerts, I check the app store if there are updates to any of my apps.
I realize now how disturbed I have been when the has been no electricity and thus no Internet for the last 5 hours and iv managed to get so much done and I feel peace….

How the failure to understand design contributed to Nokia’s downfall

A friend sent me a link to this very insightful blog post by Adam Greenfield, the former head of design direction for service and user experience design at Nokia. The post is titled (for some reason) ‘Nokia: Culture will out’  http://bit.ly/gfNIxV

I think it does a great job of articulating some of the problems that exist in many organizations today, including my own, where design is not given its due.

Quoting some particularly insightful points here, in the order that they occur in the post:

“This was that you could no longer think of mobile phones as communication devices. You had to conceive of them as interface objects through which users would experience content and command functionality that ultimately lived on the network.”

“Of course you still want to produce your offering for the lowest achievable cost — but that cost is bound up in intangible, nondeterministic dimensions of design, in ways that are only partially- at-best quantifiable.”

“It’s just not particularly wise to allow engineers to make decisions about things like product and service nomenclature, interface typography and the graphic design of icons: they’re, I daresay, not even neurocognitively equipped to do so.”

“My point is merely that, at Nokia, engineering has been allowed to displace what is properly the company’s design prerogative almost entirely.”

“It’s not that the NFC-based, phone-to-object interaction didn’t work. Of course it did: it had been engineered perfectly. But what it hadn’t been was designed.”

“A designer committed to the user and the quality of that user’s experience gets this in a way only the rarest engineer seems to.”

And this one I thought was a particularly brilliant insight for me, maybe because I am an engineer by education and a designer by passion:
“Designers are also, by training and predilection, inclined to design for the usual, where engineers are taught a kind of rigor that compels them to account for, and overweight, low-probability events.”

“I have to conclude that it’s this inability to even perceive the clear makings of an unacceptably bad user experience, let alone address them as profound obstacles to success in the marketplace, that leads to situations like this.”