Institutionalizing Good Design in a Flat World

The main reason I am here visiting my team in Bangalore India is to review a major new release of our product in which we have placed a significant emphasis on enhancing user experience. Till now the product – which is 10 years old, evolved with an emphasis on just adding new functionality to releases without trying to stray too far from its original and now inarguably dated user experience.

For any company, a user experience redo would be a major undertaking requiring tight coordination between the teams responsible for product definition, design and development.  The effort required and complexity become amplified when you are dealing with a company such as ours with the teams spread between India and the US. I am sure this situation is not too uncommon these days and worth exchanging some notes about.

The biggest challenge I see is in getting the offshore teams to appreciate the desired level of user experience, quality and attention to detail that is requisite for a world-class product. It is not competence that is behind this issue. Rather the problem tends to be one of a lack of context and exposure. I find that people in our remote teams have not had the opportunity to experience and use things or services we take for granted elsewhere. Consequently they cannot relate to the desired user experience or quality.

For example, I can pretty much assume that everyone in my US team has bought something online e.g. from a service like Amazon. In India where credit cards are not really as ubiquitous as in the US it is still likely that many have not purchased something online or at least not done it as often as someone in the US team. Given that, it would be unreasonable to expect that all members of my offshore team appreciate and understand what constitutes a good online shopping experience.

Similarly in the US, products like the iPhone or iPad have elevated peoples awareness of what constitutes good design and user experience. However, these products are not as ubiquitous here. So while the US team may expect a certain design aesthetic or user interaction paradigm to be basic, the offshore team may not be able to relate.

So how do you bridge the gap if you are trying to institutionalize good design and user experience practices into your products? The first step is to hire people with the right exposure – not just technical or functional expertise. Beyond that I found that it helps to jointly walk through and discuss typical consumer experiences which many of us on the other side of the world may take for granted – even simple things like shopping online or purchasing songs, apps for an iPhone are a start.

It may sound too simplistic but the fact is the world is not that flat yet – at least as far as design and user experience go. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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