Researching diverse users in India - In conversation with Swathy G

In anticipation of our newly launched User Research Fellowship, we hosted Swathy G (Senior UX Researcher, Meta) for an Open House about researching diverse users in India.

From working around language barriers to aligning research plans with stakeholders, Swathy uncovered several profound insights from her 10 years of experience in research with companies such as Amazon, Cure Fit, Nielsen, and Vox Populi Research.

Here are some key highlights from the Open House:

Q: What are some important aspects to keep in mind while designing for diverse audiences in India (with a focus on audiences from tier 2 & 3 cities)?

Swathy: Linguistic barriers are one of the biggest challenges to navigate. Despite high smartphone adoption rates (~52% of Indian households have access to a smartphone), English is not the ideal choice of language to ensure great experiences for most users in India.

Several apps & products borrow structures from global products to use as a reference or starting point - this has caused several companies’ offerings to fail tremendously in India. For example: a few years ago, one particular international e-commerce company observed thousands of Indian users adding products to their cart - but never checking out.

Upon intervening and performing close research to understand the issue, it was observed that users were hesitant to click on the “Proceed to checkout” button, fearing that doing so would make them exit or check out from the app/website. The company eventually altered this button to say “Proceed to buy”, an option now observed only in their Indian platform. This example is an important reminder about the need for performing user research particular to the Indian context, tailored to diverse audiences and their needs.


Q: How does one go about recruiting participants in a place as diverse as India?

Swathy: Based on the scope of your product, participant recruitment needs to be very diverse. It can be quite beneficial to hire moderators to work around language barriers, which is a highly common challenge. Doing so also ensures that more concrete insights are derived from our research. While this might be resource-consuming, it is a highly valuable investment for researching diverse target groups.

It also isn’t just about working around language barriers, but working with it. Translations from English to Indian languages in most products are usually not perfect - this can cause several obstructions to the flow of a user’s experience with the product. This is particularly difficult in fintech and e-commerce, areas where building trust with Indian users is already a challenge. Credibility and trust building becomes critically important here - further reinforcing the need for solutions to be based on actual user behaviour. Video demos of product features and online checkout processes have proven to be highly beneficial in building trust with users in India.


Q: Can you tell us about the importance and potential of qualitative research?

Swathy: As important as quantitative research is in deriving solid and actionable insights from our research findings, qualitative research lays the groundwork for the right kind of insights to be derived in the first place. Qualitative pathfinding is incomplete without asking the right questions - making this one of the most important aspects of user research.

However, a few aspects that could be detrimental to your research are:

  • Ambiguity in the questions we ask - this can be of high risk to your research findings. For example: the word “best”, when used in a question, could mean something to the researcher, and something different to the participant. It is important to pay attention to these tiny yet significant details and ask questions with little to no ambiguity.
  • Leading respondents towards favourable answers can be highly detrimental to your research, producing misleading or untrue results. Some examples of this are:

    • Questions that are framed in a particular way to elicit responses that confirm preconceived notions. You might not learn anything new (which can be a highly valuable outcome of research) if questions are drafted to confirm a preconceived notion.
    • Having participants choose between two products or services, instead of having the option to not choose something at all.
    • Assumption-based questions that assume something about the respondents beforehand. E.g. How great is your recent purchase? (It is believed that the respondent appreciates their purchase in this case.)
    • Coercive leading questions. E.g. Our customer service team catered to your requests, didn’t they?

By avoiding leading questions and asking questions that evade biases, we can gather more honest and useful data that can help drive better experiences for our customers, and better outcomes for the business.


Q: What are some important questions to ask our stakeholders before initiating research?

Swathy: The single most important question I would suggest asking stakeholders, is “how are you going to use the research insights?”

Gaining stakeholders’ context is extremely important to set the tone for the type of research we will need to perform, for research has to be performed in accordance with the kind of outcomes the company is doing research for.

If you find yourself presented with too many huge expectations - too broad a scope, too many goals, etc. - another important question would be, “if we could only learn about one thing with this research project, what would you want that to be?”


Other important insights:

  • Research can have both short-term and long-term value. It is important to document all research findings, irrespective of how immediately applicable they can be - for some findings might also help generate ample consumer value several years down the line.
  • While performing research that may require dealing with cultural nuances, maintaining a clear objective is of utmost importance.
  • Behavioural science and psychology in design are valuable skills that act as catalysts in generating insights from user research.

We’re so glad to have had Swathy on board for such an interactive and valuable discussion! As Program Partner, Swathy has helped craft the User Research Fellowship curriculum, and will be facilitating a majority of the course modules through hands-on workshops, real case studies, and applied research training.

Applications are open for cohort 1 of the User Research Fellowship!

To know more about the program, view the full curriculum, or apply, visit: https://ownpath.com/user-research-fellowship/

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