Posts tagged “bangalore”

Emily’s War Story: Getting To The Point

Emily Mayfield (Twitter, LinkedIn) is a User Experience Researcher at The Kroger Co. in Cincinnati, OH.

Before my current job, I spent six months in Bangalore, India, doing research for a lab that was part of a design school in the northern part of the city. I did not drive while I was in India – I took public transportation and little “autos,” which resemble a golf cart in terms of size and a lawnmower in terms of sound. At that time Uber was barred from India. The driving style in Bangalore struck me as very different from the States: sometimes the traffic lights/stop signs are ignored, sometimes drivers go well beyond oncoming traffic lanes, sometimes when a freeway exit is missed drivers throw their cars into reverse on the freeway. I saw enough daily to get my heart pumping.

I was doing research to understand what the notion of “smart city” might mean in India? As part of the research, I made cold calls to different innovation centers and companies, setting up expert interviews that would inform the research. I learned a lot about how companies had explored the concept of “smartness” in cities. In retrospect, the interview part was easy. Finding the location of the interviews was the challenge.

I had a smart phone. I had a camera. I took photos of the locations on Google maps on my computer or on my phone in case the connection on my phone was lost or hiccuping. One time, I got on the bus headed south and rode it two hours deep into the city to a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with. I hopped off when it seemed like I was close to where I needed to be. There was a queue of auto drivers at the bus stop. I showed my phone and camera screens, with their neat pin-point of my destination on the digital map, to the first driver in the queue. I showed him the address: a building number and street name. The driver waved me in. “No problem!” I thought to myself. I smiled and held on tight to my bag and the rail of the auto. We were off! Turning and bending through little streets and big ones, weaving in between cars and buses. We flew past people crossing the street, animals doing the same, and carts selling food and tea. We drove and drove and drove some more. Minutes led to double-digits. The driver was flying…in what felt like circles. Checking the time, I thought “Oh boy…”

Eventually the driver pulled over to ask other auto drivers for help finding the location. Local folks came to help. A cop or some kind of military person joined in the effort. The mass of people tried to help, pointing around like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz guessing all directions to try next. They discussed, pointed, checked and double-checked the address and the maps. At last I got a solid idea: I called my interviewee and he chatted with the driver. We met in a place that the driver could find and then I walked with the interviewee to the building together.

Afterwards, a colleague let me know that the European conventions of maps as we know them don’t make sense to some people in India who have never seen a map in that form. Also, Bangalore is constantly changing, adding streets and changing names of streets. Later on I learned that landmarks are the way to go, as well as calling people sooner rather than later. Still, the worst case scenario was handing my phone to friendly-looking strangers to communicate with a driver when I’m really lost and it worked. A quick shout out to the kind and patient people of Bangalore: Thank you for your constant help getting me to and fro!

Side note: It’s possible my geographical difficulty is just a me thing. More than once I’ve gone to conduct research at the wrong Kroger store on the same street here in Cincinnati!

Leo’s War Story: No, We Really Meant the User

Product Design Manager Leo Frishberg underscores the effort required to ensure you’re seeing the right user in the right context.

Our team was embarking on an ambitious, multi-country Contextual Inquiry effort. We had created our sample cells, identified the right industries, established a great relationship with our sales team and done All The Right Things Up Front to make the effort a success.

Working from Oregon with prospective participants in Bangalore is never an easy prospect; introducing a new research technique at the same time raised the stakes.

Several weeks in advance of the interviews we had contacted our sales team in-country explaining the process: we needed individuals who were currently working with our equipment and willing let us observe them working in their labs, in situ.

Everyone claimed to understand. We arrived in-country and I confirmed the arrangements, on the telephone, with the sales team. “Yes,” they confirmed, “we’ve found exactly who you are looking for…”

We arrived at our first interview in a gorgeous sparkling new office building and were led to an upstairs glass-enclosed conference room. Presently, a manager-type entered, clearly expecting to hold court with us.

I began the discussion with a recap of our expectations and a quick sanity check with the individual.

“So,” I began, “we are looking forward to working with an actual user in the lab. Are you going to work with us today?”

“No,” he said, dismissively. “I’m the team manager. I can tell you everything that’s wrong with your equipment. I’ve polled the team and have collected answers from all of them.”

It’s at times like this, having flown 10,000 miles, having spent as much time as I had setting things up, that I lose a part of my conscious brain. I could feel the anger rising, but I knew that couldn’t help improve the situation.

Instead, I signaled to the sales guy sitting next to me that as far as I was concerned, the interview was over and we could pack up to go to our next meeting. Here’s where the details get sketchy, but I know he said something, in English, to the manager, and whatever magic words he uttered, the manager smiled and nodded, suggesting he could definitely get the lead engineer to help us. He left to find the guy.

A few minutes later, the engineer entered the room, curious as to what the group was doing there. We began the front part of the interview, and it was clear he was the right guy. After explaining what we were planning to do, we asked if he had any questions or needed any further explanation.

‘No,” he said, “you want to see me work with the equipment. I don’t have anything to do today, but I could show you what I was doing last week.”

That was fine, we agreed.

“Okay. Just give me a few minutes and I’ll bring you back…”

Imagining what he might be doing in those few minutes I stopped him. “Uhhh, what would you be doing between now and then?”

“Oh,” he assured us, “I’m just going to get the equipment all set up.”

“Great!” We practically shouted. “That would be great! We’d be happy to watch you do that!”

He smiled as if hoping we had taken our medication and led us to his lab. “I’m not sure what you’ll find so interesting about my pulling the machines off the shelf, but come on along…”

The take-aways remain the same:

  • Persistence and staying on track no matter what the situation throws you
  • No matter how much you prepare, nothing will go as planned

London Bananas

In our recent AIGA Gain article about noticing, we relate how the process of noticing once and then noticing again is a way to find patterns and uncover themes.

During my recent trip to the UK, I took this picture of a discarded banana peel.

I didn’t notice other bananas, but someone else did and they’ve started the London Bananas Project, a fantastic archive of banana peels in the London public space.

When I arrived I noticed something straight away: there’s a lot of banana skins around.

I see them everywhere. They’re languishing on doorsteps, hanging out in the middle of the road, dangling off street signs, peeking out of piles of garbage, reclining in the middle of the sidewalk, riding the bus for free. A great number of them are bright yellow as if they’re fresh and have just been dropped, although they appear in all states of decay. I don’t know how or why they caught my attention, but within a week of being in London I couldn’t get my mind off these banana skins. Where were they coming from? Who was eating all these bananas and leaving the skins around? Why was it always bananas I was seeing, and not, say, oranges? Was it a sign? Was there something sinister going on? Apparently these little hazards were a covert operation going completely unnoticed; everyone I asked about it said that they had never noticed anything of the sort and looked at me as if I was nuts.

That’s a great description of the power of noticing (even if it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s still a great set of muscles to keep flexing).

Here’s bananas in Bangalore:

See also: Street Mattress

30 Days in Bangalore

Truck o’ bikes

Browsing Cow

Yesterday’s episode of 30 days was pretty interesting. The show is hosted (and presumably created) by Morgan Spurlock and is inspired by his Super Size Me (where he ate only McDonald’s for 30 days). In each episode, someone tries something different for 30 days, with some Reality TV flavoring (i.e., next week, an athiest lives with a family of fundamentalists). The better episodes are more documentary in nature and less sensastionalist. Last season, Morgan and his girlfriend moved from NYC to another town for 30 days and tried to live on minimum wage. It was one of the most moving and disturbing things I’d seen on TV (it’s a failure, and we learn pretty directly about enormous problems faced by our society; especially the poor).

Last night’s episode featured a recently laid off software engineer from New York State moving to Bangalore for 30 days, living with a family and working in a call center. The previews were funny and wacky, a big doughy white guy sitting in a room full of brown people taking lessons in pronunciation – but the episode itself was very emotional on many levels.

My chest tightened as I watched our guy, Chris, struggle with the basic Maslow stuff that India makes challenging – his middle-class family hosts had a hornet’s nest in the bathroom. How could Chris get a job and adapt to this new culture if he couldn’t even clean himself safely? We see broken sidewalks and dirty signs and crowds and crazy traffic.

But Chris goes deeper and develops (what we are told are) deep relationships with his host family, with some touching departure stuff by the end of the episode. He’s an interesting guy, and I was reminded at times of the Michael Moore from TV Nation (or maybe a bit of Louis Theroux [deep aside: I see that Theroux had an early gig on TV Nation – small world]), where Chris was participating in the experience (say, going shopping in a fancy Bangalore mall, or attending a festival, or taking a test to qualify for a call center job, or visiting a placement agency), but also observing the experience (some tightly written and insightful voice-overs suggested that Chris was spontaneously uttering brilliant insights but I imagine it was written by others and added much later) and also provoking the experience by asking questions, persistently. When the city is exploding in riots over the death of a legendary actor and the call center is being evacuated, Chris stops to ask questions about what is happening, and why. I imagined myself taking immediate action but not spending a single second to inquire if it would delay my passage to safety (in an environment where feeling safe is obviously rare).

Chris (and we, the audience) leave Bangalore with some powerful perspective shifts. He’s seen how hard the Indians are trying to succeed, how little so many of them have, the challenges and changes between traditional and modern (“American” and “Indian”), and between men and women. And then casting all that back into the frame of his own situation – a newborn baby and being out of work.

The show runs Wednesday at 10 and again at 11, on FX. It looks like this episode (“Outsourcing”) will be rerun on Morning morning just after midnight and at 11:30 PM. Check it out!

India pics posted to flickr

I have completed the mammoth task of editing and posting all my Asia pictures to flickr, with the completion today of the set from India (Mumbai and Bangalore). Previously: Bangkok and Hong Kong. All told, about 650 pictures.


I’ve written two long pieces (and many smaller pieces on this blog) about our trip. An article for Core77 here and a more personal assessment here.

The process of taking time and reviewing the pictures with increasing distance from the event is pretty interesting, giving me a chance to reflect and revisit, to see things that I certainly didn’t see at the time I opened the shutter, and through the interactions on flickr, to gain insight and clarifications about things I observed but did not understand, especially with the pictures from India, where a pretty good dialogue has emerged (seen in the comments posted on the various pictures in that set Oops, not any more). The document of the experience is scattered, the interactions are scattered, but as the publisher of this content, I’m personally at the hub of all of it, so I’m taking full advantage. But clearly technology (even the ability to take several hundred pictures on a two week trip) is enabling some powerful behaviors; we know this, of course, but stepping back and noticing it is always pretty cool.


Is the Next Silicon Valley Taking Root in Bangalore?

When I spoke at Easy6 earlier this year, some of the speakers reminded their audience that companies were doing business in India becaus of the innovation spirit, not because it was cheaper. There is some evidence that it’s actually cheaper elsewhere, even. I wondered at the time how much of that was just blowing smoke; a big lie that people have bought into so they can have pride and work hard and not be seen as America’s Call Center, etc. So it was cool to see an American perspective supporting that supposition in the New York Times.

Read-Ink, one of the self-financed operations, is developing an advanced handwriting recognition software that can read scanned forms, claim forms, medical records and even digital tablets.

Its founders, Thomas O. Binford, a retired computer science professor from Stanford University, and his wife, Ione, a former manager at Hewlett-Packard, arrived here four years ago with five suitcases. They say they are now close to signing up their first business customer.

The signs of this shift toward high-value work are becoming more visible. Executives at Silicon Valley Bank, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., and provides consulting services to technology and venture capital firms, said they were seeing twice as many Indian start-ups looking for capital investment than even a few months ago.

Asia trip

Excited to see a bit about Hong Kong in the travel section of today’s New York Times. Since we started planning our trip, there hasn’t been much coverage or advice of the places we’ll be going in January, as we travel to Bangalore where I’ll be speaking at the Easy6 conference. There are books and lots of web resources, but still always cool to see something in the Sunday paper as you plan a trip.

We’ll be going to
Hong Kong (obviously) for about 4 days
Bangkok very briefly
Bangalore for about 4 days
Mumbai for about 4 days

and then an unbelievable journey home – it’s just travel all the way back, we won’t be chunking it up as with the outbound portion. I can’t imagine how destroyed we will be upon our return!


About Steve