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.

What are conversational interfaces good for?

(Original post on Medium)

Many businesses today are looking to build human or bot chat interfaces as new channels to engage with their customers. A key question to ask here is what are chat interfaces really good for? I spent some thinking about this question. In this post, I want to talk about 3 areas where I think conversational interfaces can really be truly better than existing solutions.

Chat as a way to help users choose

I recently had a great experience chatting with an agent at the Adidas web store through their embedded Intercom messenger. I wanted a specific kind of shoe which is usually a bit hard to find so I thought I might ask an agent for some help. I was looking for a pair of casual shoes that I could wear to work with jeans and tees. Not as casual as sneakers but still comfortable enough to wear all day at and after work. I gave a rough description of this to the agent and within a couple of minutes he gave me 3 great suggestions, one of which I actually wanted to buy.

A few years ago, at school we did a project for Facets multimedia — a non profit movie rental store in Chicago that deals primarily in independent and foreign films. Almost every customer we spoke to, spoke about getting great recommendations from the folks at the store and about relying on the board of recommendations that the staff put together each week to find the next movie to watch. I contrast this with the number of hours of my time I have spent looking for something to watch on Netflix despite the millions they have spent on their recommendations engine.

Humans are really good at understanding rough descriptions, connecting the dots and making great recommendations. Algorithms, on the other hand are terrible at this. These can be especially useful in fields that require knowledge and judgement like buying wine online, buying clothes that go well together or picking a movie to watch etc.

Chat as a way to help users get stuff done faster

I tried the Shopspring bot on Facebook messenger recently and there is one thing I came away feeling quite sure of — any scenario which requires or benefits from the user being able to browse through various product options is a terrible use case for a stand alone conversational UI. The shop spring experience on the messenger feels very restrictive and I feel like I haven’t seen enough choices to make a purchase decision.

In the demo of Viv at Tech Crunch disrupt, Dag Kittlaus showed some scenarios that are great candidates for a conversational interface. Sending money to a friend, booking a hotel that you have previously stayed at, picking flowers to send someone. He goes on to show how quick and effortless these workflows are through Viv.

One of the key components here is that the platform, Viv in this case, stores your payment information, addresses, contacts etc. Every purchase then could be as simple as finding the product, clicking ‘Buy’.

Scenarios where the user knows exactly what he or she wants or has very few choices to make before making a purchase decision can be executed an order of magnitude better through conversational UIs than the experience any app or website delivers today.

Chat as a way to make the user experience more personal

I recently reached out to United Airlines on messenger and asked them about my frequent flier number. Since I was on Facebook, the agent could trust my identity and addressed me by name. He only needed to ask me my date of birth to give me my frequent flier number. The whole interaction took less than 5 minutes.

A couple of weeks later, I messaged United again ‘Hey! Can you tell me the points balance?’. As you can see below, from the context of our previous chat history, the agent was able to answer my question right away without any further back and forth.

Interacting with businesses like this feels a lot like interacting with a person. They know who you are and remember what you have previously spoken about. Furthermore, going back to a website and finding there a history of your interactions with the business or a new message that an agent left for you after your last interaction makes the experience of visiting the website feel more unique and personal.

These are early days in the evolution of chat as a channel and we are seeing a lot of experimentation in both human and bot powered chat experiences. As an experience designer, it is exciting to experiment with and learn about what this new medium should and should not be used for. What experiences can be automated through bot chat experiences and what scenarios benefit from human agents.

I look forward to engaging in and contributing to this conversation.

What might a watch interface be good for?

AppleWatchWhat
As a little design exercise, my wife and I (Yeah, I’m married now. It has been a long time since my last blog post) spent some time thinking about the question “What are scenarios in which a user’s computing needs can be served best on a watch interface?”
Here are a few types of scenarios that we came up with:

Times when you take out your phone to quickly check a small piece of information. Apple showed cases of checking the time, weather and stocks. You can see that extending to an app to check your bank balance or a utility bill. These could be served by apps or Apple’s ‘glances’ depending on how important the information is to the user.

Times when you are regularly going back to check some information like tracking the status of an order or a flight or the score of a sporting event. These could potentially be served by temporary widgets which live on the watch face or a swipe away while the information is needed.

Times when you take out your phone to take a quick action like identifying a song on Shazam, calling an Uber, flashing your boarding pass etc. In these cases, usage could shift almost entirely to the watch from the phone.

Dynamic and super-contextual information. Like Google Now on steroids. So when you are using public transport and you reach a bus stop, the watch can have easily accessible, information about when the next bus is expected. Citymapper has a mock for a similar use case. When you are walking off a flight, it can tell you which belt your baggage is expected at.

After thinking about a lot of these use cases, I think the watch should derive context based on what you are doing in the real world or on your other devices and make easily accessible, information that might be useful to you. This might mean that you wouldn’t need to invoke an app on the watch to see that information, it should just become available to you. You could possibly just give permission to an app to use the watch as a second screen like giving an app permission to send you push notifications.

An example of this could be say you are using public transport and using Citymapper on your phone to navigate. The watch interface showing you next bus timings should automatically become available on the watch a swipe away from the watch face without you necessarily invoking the Citymapper app on the watch.

In any case, I think these are exciting times as the design and development community experiments with various ways that this new device can bring value to users’ lives.

Knowing When to Prototype

In a conversation about my English learning project one Friday morning, Patrick Whitney said something that I want to keep reminding myself of as a designer.

“As designers, we often make an informed guess at what might be a much better solution than would otherwise exist . We don’t have to know all of the reasons why it is better, just that it is likely. If we kept trying to understand all the reasons, we would never get to prototyping. We are not looking for the single right answer; rather we seek the best of many possible solutions.”

A lot of times it is easy to get lost in trying to know everything or feeling like we know too little to move forward or that we need just a little more research before we can decide what the best way to go forward is. What I have learnt through many projects at ID is that, in dealing with complex problems, you will never know everything.That does not stop you from having a hunch about what a better solution might be. Patrick calls these guesses.

It is important as a designer to take that leap of faith, at this stage, and create a prototype. Depending on where you are in the project, it can help you think better about aspects of the solution you never considered, get user feedback on the rough solution and get an early sense of what works and what doesn’t and if nothing else, it is a way to externalize your thinking- to take the load off your head and onto something physical/digital which can then free up your mind to think about the finer details.

What’s important to remember as a designer, I think, is that we are not looking for the one right answer but we are looking for better choices that those that exist. Any solution we create to a problem will always have room for improvement but to get to that, we need to prototype first.

Wicked problems did you say?- A tour of ID whiteboards

I was walking through ID today and realized looking at the whiteboards that between all of us, we have pretty much all of the world’s problems covered. Education for the underprivileged, the role of government, unemployment, privacy, violence … you name it and someone at ID is working on it. 

Ofcourse these are learning projects and we probably won’t really solve anything but I love the fact that we take up these problems in our classes with so much passion and seriousness and really believe that we can solve them. It speaks to our ambition and maybe a bit to our ignorance that we believe we can solve these huge and messy problems.

I love this foolish ambition because as Sam Pitroda says, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I work only with young people because when they are young, they are ignorant enough to believe that they can actually solve these problems” (and that belief leads them to sometimes actually solving them).

#LovinIT!

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.

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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

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

Research Report: Studying the Accessibility of the Bangalore Bus System for the Blind

I recently prepared a research report on our progress on the BMTC project so far. Sharing here.

Project Objective
To understand the accessibility issues faced by the blind while using the city bus system in Bangalore.

Research Overview 
As part of our research, we interviewed 4 blind people. We shadowed 5 blind people on different occasions. We have also interacted with the National Association for the Blind, Bangalore Office who facilitated some of these interviews. We also accompanied a group of blind people on a visit which was a part of their mobility training workshop.

Key Insights 
1.   Olfactory, Kinaesthetic and Audio Landmarks 

Image001

This reliance on other senses for landmarks came up in many interviews and observations and though not directly related to the bus system, this has been the single biggest revelation to us from this project. When we started this project we could not imagine that the blind had a concept of landmarks.

 2. Biggest Problem: Busses do not stop exactly at the bus stop 
The two most difficult parts of the bus journey, as we understand today, are getting on to the right bus and getting off from the bus. These are particularly tough because busses do not stop exactly at the bus stop.

Image002

On busy routes, there are multiple busses pulling up at the bus stop at any given time. While one bus pulls up right next to the bus stop, the others often stop short of, ahead of or away from the bus stop. For the blind this is probably the biggest pain point.
Getting On: The way blind people get onto the right bus here in Bangalore, is by waiting to hear a bus to pull up at the bus stop and then asking someone on the bus or someone at the bus stop if it will take them to their destination. When the bus pulls up ahead of or before the bus stop, the blind person, even if he/she realizes that the bus has reached, does not have enough time to reach it before it moves away. A bigger challenge is when the bus is away from the bus stop, it is not safe for them to try and reach the bus because there is often traffic in between the bus stop and the bus.
Getting off: As soon as a blind person gets off the bus, he needs to orient himself by finding a landmark whose location he is familiar with before he makes his way to the destination. If the bus does not stop at the bus stop, the blind person has a lot of trouble getting oriented to understand where he/ she is before they can move towards their destination. “Sometimes I end up spending 10-15 minutes just trying to find my orientation”. A particularly dangerous situation is when the person gets off from the bus when it has stopped away from the bus stop. An interviewee, when asked about a bad experience with the bus system, described a situation in which he unknowingly got off between two busses and they both started moving simultaneously.

 3.  Other Observations
a.  Social Reliance: There is a lot of reliance on people around them for getting around in an unfamiliar area, finding out which bus to take, on co-passengers to let them know when they have reached their destination etc.
b.  Braille signs do not work: Some cities have experimented with Braille timetables at bus stops. We found out that the blind are unwilling to touch any Braille signs at public places because they might be covered with spit stains from people who chew betel-nuts. 
c.  Low hanging branches and eye- level billboards: Since the blind use their stick to find their way around, they are unable to detect things which are at a certain height above the ground. I once saw a blind person bang his head into a low hanging tree branch at the Bangalore bus stand. 

Current Status and Future Direction
The project is still in the research phase. Based on what we know at this stage we are thinking of creating videos to sensitize bus drivers and conductors to the needs of the blind. We are also thinking about how we can use auditory, olfactory and kinaesthetic landmarks to give directions to the blind.I am using my blog to put all of the findings from our study in the open domain. (http://lukwhostalking.com/tag/blind)

[Credits: Arun Martin, Anupriya Gupta and Ishan Bhalla]

 

The Value of Design to the Software Business

Why this now?
I believe today there is significant curiosity around design in part because of the need for innovation after the economic crisis and increased focus on environmental issues and in part thanks to the work of IDEO, Frog, Stanford d School, TED in evangelizing design and design thinking as a means to achieve that innovation.

At the same time today, I believe there is a poor understanding of how design adds value to business. Though IDEO and many other design firms have done a good job of talking about the design process and the results some organizations have enjoyed as a result of this, a lot of talk today is about design thinking being the magic solution to all your problems. I think this needs to change. I think it’s important for us to talk about the specific areas in which design adds value. What specific areas of business can design add value to. Why exactly should an organization adopt design and what specific benefits it can expect to reap from it.

In part my motivation to do this has also been the fact that while I feel that I and others in my team are adding a lot of value to the products we work on, when it comes to explaining what we do, I find it hard to explain.

This post is my attempt to articulate what I have gathered as the value add we provide as UX Designers. A lot of these points are generic and are true for other fields of design as well.

What value does user experience design add to business?

I believe design delivers value to business along the following 5 dimensions:

  1. Insight
  2. Innovation
  3. Visualization
  4. Simplification
  5. Beautification

1. Insight: A deeper understanding of the customer, his/her unmet needs and desires.
How?
Design Research
One of the key values of design is human centeredness. Once designers have a problem statement for a product or interface to build, they start to understand who would be the potential users of their product, what is their level of understanding of the product and of the context in which the product exists. If similar or analogous products exist in the market (even if they exist in completely different domains), how do users use them, what are their good and bad experiences with those products.

Through such open ended and qualitative research designers try to build a mental picture of the potential users of the product. This mental picture is then converted into artefacts like personas, tasks and prioritized usage scenarios. These give the product team of designers, developers/ manufacturers and business managers insights as to who are the users that they are building this product for and what really matters to them. This allows the team to make better decisions of which features are important and which are not, how to organize content, what is the relevant content at each step of the workflow.

2. Innovation: New or significantly improved solution to a problem.
How?

  • Defining the problem right
    Given a problem to solve designers rarely take it at face value. They will keep asking ‘why?’ till they can find a way to state the core problem in its most abstract essence. They may also use their own user research to augment their understanding.

    E.g. In the documentary Objectified, a film about the industrial-design process, a group of designers charged with designing a new toothbrush asked the unobvious first question: Why does it have to be a toothbrush? With that starting point, they eventually redefined the problem as “creating the future of oral care.” Defining the problem in this way leads to a wider range of solutions, maybe an entire product line.

  • Divergence
    A prominent and unique feature of design education is that it stresses on divergence, the generation of multiple solutions to the same problem. In John Kolko’s talk at CMU, I heard him talk about assignments where they would be asked to make 50 different toasters in a short period of time, and select 3 of the best solutions and generate 50 more starting from there.

    This divergent approach is one I have seen good designers around me take for design problems that they are working on. This approach is taken for problems of all levels, starting from the overall idea of the solution down to finding the right button. No matter what the problem, after getting the problem definition right, they quickly start generating many solutions and then select the best one or create a new one integrating the best elements from the solutions generated. Not stopping at the first obvious solution is one of the main reasons that designers are so innovative.

    Tim Brown from IDEO says this often in his talks, quoting someone (I couldn’t find the original source), “The first step for having great ideas is to have a lot of ideas.”

  • Innate desire to do things differently
    Another observation I have about designers is that a lot of these folks just love doing things differently. Now just doing things differently is not innovation in itself but questioning the status quo and having the courage to try new solutions is a necessary step to innovation.

3. Visualization for Improved Communication
Businesses today rely heavily on verbal or textual communication which inherently leaves room for ambiguity. It often happens in the software services industry that what the customer tries to convey is different from what the business analyst understands, and what the business analyst tries to convey is different from what the developers understand and thus the final product often differs a lot from what the customer originally had in mind.
Designers are typically visual thinkers, they think by drawing. They continuously create visual models to aid their understanding. Bringing in designers into the team helps the team visualize and reach a common understanding at various stages in the development cycle. The use of visual models reduces the need for onerous documentation while improving clarity.

How?
In the early stage of the project, while the team is grappling with understanding the domain, the requirements and various workflows, designers might create visual representations of the domain fundamentals, representing various entities and their interrelations, the various actors on a system and their roles. These serve as a means of quick interchange between the team and validation from the subject matter experts.

As the project proceeds and the user research begins, personas, comical/ photographic scenarios and user journeys help the entire team visualize why and for whom they are developing this product. A lot of times when the team is confused about how to proceed developing a particular feature, their questions get answered by thinking “how would Smitha (a persona) use this feature?”

As the requirements get clarified, designers start building visual prototypes, typically wireframes, and start testing them with real users to see what places they get stuck, how long it takes them to figure out how to complete their task and then complete it. These prototypes are also continuously validated with technical and business teams to ensure that the proposed interface is technically feasible while meeting the business objectives. Gathering feedback, designers refine these prototypes and repeat the cycle. The approach of continuous prototyping helps reduce risk through improved communication and continuous validation.

The prototype- test-refine-iterate cycle creates visual prototypes that are extremely useful in quickly getting all stakeholders on the same page about what exactly needs to be developed even before the dev team writes the first line of code.

4. Simplification: Make things only as complex as they are, no more.
When users come to a website or an application, they are trying to achieve an objective, for example booking an air ticket or finding articles on a particular topic.

The interface is just that, an interface, between them and their goal and thus it needs to help the users achieve their objectives as fast as possible based on what they already know.

Thus some of the key objectives of usability which is a subset of UX design are:

  • Increasing Speed
  • Reducing user errors
  • Making it as easy as possible to recover from error.
  • Reducing need for learning.

How?
Aiming at the above objectives, there are many ways that designers use to achieve them. A small subset of possible ways is:

  • Understanding the capabilities, knowledge and domain specific terminologies of the target user group and aligning the interface with the same.
  • Trying to organize data the way users organize it in their head.
  • Asking for data only where and when it is necessary
  • Aligning with the established conventions in a field.
  • Use of colours, typography etc to draw the users’ attention to more important items and reduce visual distractions.

Improved usability has a strong impact in highly competitive spaces like ecommerce where if the user doesn’t find the product on your site, he will look for it somewhere else, places where safety is at stake like cockpits of aircrafts, places where speed is essential to the job at hand/ profitability like interfaces for customer support executives etc. For a more detailed analysis of where usability is important, please refer to my earlier post Who cares about Usability?

5. Beautification: All else being equal, the better looking product is a better product.
This is the most visible aspect of our work and we usually get requests where the customer already has the product ready but they need to make the interface more ‘jazzy’. Designers rebel against this image of mere stylists, because it devalues our thought process, our intellect and I agree with that view. But I would still say that making things look better is still a key value add that we provide, because of the sheer impact of this step.

How?
So how do designers manage to make things look great? You might be tempted to say its talent, creativity, artistic ability etc. While all of those are quite true, there is a lot more science to it that you would imagine. Alignment, symmetry, visual hierarchy, proportion, proximity and many other such logical factors add up to basic visual hygiene. Then comes the layer of appeal, though it is more intuitive, there too there are patterns which can contribute to appeal. Designers know these rules and patterns, either explicitly or implicitly, and understand how and in which contexts to apply these.

The impact this makes on users is quite profound, purchase/ usage decisions of users are often quite subjective. Sensory appeal often plays a key role in these decisions. Thus and importantly, all else being equal, the better looking product is the better product.

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This is a summarization of my evolving understanding of design and its implications on business. Over time this understanding has been aided and questioned by many of you and I thank you for that. With this post, I would love to hear feedback from both the business and design angles. Do let me know what you think, either through comments or on my email address lukwhostalking@gmail.com
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As a personal aside though, I feel that I am spending too much time thinking about the value of the work I do and not enough doing it. Though this framework will help articulate the value of design but while designing, it’s probably best to just forget all frameworks and thoughts about value and just lose yourself in the work.

Bridging the gap between Design and Business

I have, for a while, been thinking about the value that design adds to a product/ service and how to articulate that value to the decision makers so we, designers, can get a chance to play a bigger role in the development cycle. I have come to realize that there are 2 ways to approach the problem.

1.      Designers talking the business language: As designers in the work we do, our processes, our reasoning etc is all quite qualitative and implicit. And this qualitative approach allows us to observe and value individual users, their experiences, their motivations, their ‘a-ha’ moments instead of relying on broad (and boring) statistics alone. This empathy is what drives our creative process.
But this puts us at a disadvantage while dealing with the decision makers because more often than not, they’re more interested in statistics and (to borrow from Roger Martin) reliability. I believe if we have to increase our impact in an organizational environment, we need to be able to articulate the value that we add in a language they are familiar with. This means measuring the impact of our work not just qualitatively, but with numbers and not just stopping at task completion times and error rates but articulating how improving these numbers impacts the bottom-line of the business. How many dollars of revenue did we add? How much did we reduce the support costs by? I dream of a day when we can base our fees on the impact of our work instead of an hourly rate.

2.      Exposing the decision makers to our style of work: This is an approach that firms like IDEO and Frog are propounding today. Bring in the managers, the engineers and involve them in our brainstorms, our prototyping. Do not restrict deliverables to just the end design but deliver the insights, the user stories, the personas etc.
Involving them in our processes helps in 2 ways:

a.       Demystifies our work: It helps them understand what we do, why we need the extra one week to observe shoppers in the supermarket, why we have all the post-its on the walls and how each of these things adds value to their end product.

b.       Improves buy-in on the final solution: If the key decision makers have been involved in conceptualizing the solution we are proposing, they will be much more inclined to go that extra mile to ensure it is executed the way we, together, envisioned it.

I think this is a really exciting time to be a designer because today we are at a point where a lot of people are beginning to look at us for innovation but to achieve that critical mass will take us that much more effort. And we have the responsibility to bring about this change because at the end of the day, we will gain the most out of it.

How good UX Design can reduce your Carbon Footprint

I am constantly in search for ways to articulate the value that design and more specifically UX design adds to an organisation. While discussing this with a product manager of a banking product, he explained this to me. This banking product is deployed in banks across the world with millions of transactions taking place through it daily. Consider one transaction which is repeated about 200,000 times every day. Now this transaction requires the teller to fill out a form. The average field filling time in this industry is 30s to 1 min. Considering even 30s… that means every field we reduce on a form improves productivity by 100,000 minutes and thus reduces energy usage. Every field we fail to reduce costs 100,000 more minutes of energy consumption. That’s a big responsiblitly!
It was an interesting perspective and one I’d never thought about.

BMTC Bus Usage by the Blind: Mapping the User Journey

So there’s been quite a bit of development on the BMTC (Bangalore’s Intracity Bus System) project we’re doing for the improving accessibility for the visually challenged. First up we have been joined by a colleague and a friend, Anupriya. Another colleague has shown interest in the work and might start working with us soon. We spent some time observing, interviewing and interacting with people at the National Association for the Blind at Bangalore. We had a few discussions about the project at the (famous CDG) coffee table and came up with some very interesting ideas. I’ll share all of these in due course of time.

Today we had a meta level discussion about where this project was headed and decided on a way to prioritize our learnings and ideas. We started with discussing what our aim was with this project.

Aim:

To improve the accessibility of the BMTC system for the visually challenged.
Next we mapped the user journey in using a BMTC bus and the various problems that might come up at each stage.

User Journey

1.      Reaching the Bus Stop

a.       If he knows where the bus stop is, how does he find his way to the place?

b.       If he doesn’t, ie if he is travelling from an unfamiliar location in the city, how does he find out where the appropriate bus stop is?

2.      Route Number

a.       Now having reached the stop, what if the user doesn’t know the route number of the bus that’ll take him to a particular location, how does he find it out?

b.       What if he knows only one of more than one route numbers that go to his desired destination? How does he find out? (also how can we help him find out)

3.      Bus Arrival

a.       How does he know that the bus he is waiting for has come?

b.       How does he know where the bus is with reference to his present location?

c.       Another point here is that the blind have free travel on all busses except Volvos, so how does he know if the bus that has stopped in front of him is a Volvo or some other bus?

4.      Getting on the Bus

a.       Locating the Door: There are various bus types in Bangalore. All of them don’t have the doors in the same place. How does a visually challenged user find the door?

b.       Locating the rails

c.       Finding a place to stand/sit

5.      Buying a Ticket

a.       Might happen on a Volvo

b.       On other busses it might be showing the conductor a pass or a certificate of some sort.

6.      Getting a Seat

a.       How does he know which seat is free?

b.       What if a seat becomes empty after a while, how does he find out?

7.      Bus Journey

a.       Sudden Braking: My brother and I had this experience recently, that we were stand up front and the guy jammed the break suddenly. We were both hurled forward suddenly but managed to grab onto a support bar and avoid banging straight into the windshield. What happens for a blind person? They probably won’t even be able to make out where the support bars are. This is a problem particularly with the new Volvo and Marcopolo busses because they travel at high speeds and have very powerful brakes.

b.       Closing a window if it starts to rain.

8.      Preparing to get down

a.       How does he know that he is close to his destination?

b.       How does he find the door?

c.       How does he navigate in case the bus is crowded?

9.      Getting Down

a.       How does he know where he has got down with respect to the bus stop? A lot of times the busses stop ahead or short of the bus stop.

b.       What happens when the driver stops in the middle of the road instead of at the edge near the stop? How does he navigate? This was a problem that was pointed out by one of our interview subjects. He spoke of a time when he disembarked and suddenly found that traffic on both sides of him was moving.

c.       What if he gets down at the wrong stop? How does he reach the right place? We imagine this would be especially difficult when he gets off ahead of his destination and then has to catch a bus backward. In this case he would have to cross the road and find a bus stop on the other side.

10. Reaching destination from stop

a.       How does the he get to his destination from the bus stop?

We understand that today a lot of these steps are carried out with the help of the general public. The point of mapping out this user journey is to get a holistic understanding of the users’ present way of navigating and the pain points. We wish to understand the difficulty and criticality of each step so we can focus our ideation effort at the right places.

That’s all for now. I will be posting an update on our research findings soon.