#3 – Amazon's Sr. UX Designer, Ankur Sardana, on Research, MVPs & Design Students

July 27, 2019 posted by



So later you went on and worked with Samsung and first year of your tenure at Samsung was about working on a Samsung Chat model. – Yeah. ChatOn. – Chat messenger, ChatOn. And your major focus was to Indian-ize that product. Now my question is how do you "Indianize" a
product, like what elements you add to a product so it becomes more Indian friendly?
Because India is a very… like not India, Like Asia and other side of the world
are like too different… like East and West in terms of education, the
way they interact with a product, the way they accept digital technology is also different. So
how do you Indianize a product? So, I would say that there are some things
which are common across the world and there's some things are not common
across the world and, for example food is not common. For example dressing is not
common. But the need to go from one place to the other is common. The need for
health care is common. How we perceive health care might be different, but again
hearts function in pretty much the same way. So the device which will work here
might work there as well. Again the use cases might differ. So I would say some
things are entirely for a region some things are you know same, so Uber is a
case in point Airbnb is a case in point where
everything would work everywhere but when McDonald's comes here they
have to change their menu and stuff like that. So now this is an app which is a
chat chat messenger and not doing so well actually at that time and finally
Samsung closed it because it did not get the worldwide attention it should
have got and whatsapp killed it basically and WeChat in China so
WeChat is a huge platform in China and whatsapp is too big
so so yeah but we can as you said customize it for a particular audience
in India also there is so much of diversity that is very difficult to be customized for
a particular audience but but saying that what what our initial thought was
that okay fine if we have been given this task of Indianizing this in a way
we need to bring in some features and reduce some features so that it doesn't
become too heavy but it starts looking that we understand your context
we understand the context that we stay in and how do we understand that the
easy thing about chat is that all of us are users of it so you and me are users
of it so okay we understand it very well we only understand very well so that's a
good starting point we really do not need to understand it again so for
example if you go for an ultrasound machine you will have to understand it you'll
have to go deep and understand how camp workers work how much time would they
have the answer dirty slimy greasy okay then you need a different screen
then it means that the force will be even harder so that becomes a different
problem altogether you have to first understand the subject
very well here the subject matter is understood very well but we need to
verify it so the way we started was using our own internal Samsung resources
in the way of people and conducting brainstorming sessions into
understanding other trends just understanding common trends because this
is something it is so viral messaging is so viral that everybody is doing it so
we need to understand so we had market data telling us who all are buying our
phones we know that data we have this segmentation done so you already
have the segment's done youth… women… so we started doing
focus group discussions within the company first just to save money going out would
charge more and before we had concepts nobody would invest in us as well so
we were just doing that and coming out with trends saying for this segment for women safety becomes topic it becomes very
important topic and if you look at news trends if you look at the focus group
discussions that we had the interviews that we had everything is pointing
towards women safety as being the most glaring topic
and so yes that became for us okay fine we have to do something about that
similarly here we realized we talked to recent joiners which were like parents
and Families realize that family groups becomes extremely important as well so
will you do something about that as well family okay and this is a lot of noise
in family is very fine so family we will take family as an
important topic similarly for the young group which is buying our phones we
realize that… this was the time of Anna Hazzare movement exactly that time when
did that happen and everybody was going berserk with you
know forwarding messages about revolution and stuff like that so that
became very important again okay igniting passion igniting social causes
social causes became a very important topic for us so we said okay fine let's
take these three topics to our research we said that these are the topics
it in again in usual design process we started brainstorming and we realized
and women safety you know this is these are the ideas that we can bring in so we
had an idea around fake calls we had an idea around giving areas the woman do
get into an area which has reported anything or you go into an auto which we
can whose number we have it sector so we we had this danger zones marked we had
these stuff marked finally only the idea around fake calls
was brought in but that also was pretty good at that time for the first of its
kind fake calls basically there is a call by itself on that number you can
also create fake calls by saying at this time there will be a fake call and there
can be voice recorded in that which can again say something to you
so it became a part of the application for revolution what we started was
templates based causes so you want to start a cause and you want to get people
together so the whole feature became like a cause feature so how do you add
people how do you add photograph how do you put your logo your templates for logos you know
those kind of things which looked revolutionary and stuff like that so
pretty exciting project the designers had a ball doing it and then for family
this was the smallest feature but somehow it got the most response
this was the biggest investment creating a full template library this one also
was very difficult was technically recording the voice playing at the right
time big challenge but this one was simplest this was if there's anybody in the
family who's talking more you just long press it and say shut up and it
shuts up in your view of things – So you're like muting them – Yeah kind of like muting them but we called it shut up or you know… and the other
person can also hear it if you want him to hear the shut up
so as simple as that and this though it's so simple to implement this was the
one which was kind of which went first which got us the most recognition in
terms of such a small feature but still works other than that we did a lot of
visual design changes so how it looks wallpapers we we made a lot of sticker
sets so shadi sticker said we had so you know Chumbak so I wouldn't say we
were completely inspired from Chumbak but Chumbak we had say a Chumbak
flavour in our you know… what we gave so we had like seven visual designers
and we gave them a challenge go ahead and you know make your set sticker set
and then we did an open design voting and then we refined it the refinement takes
time but at least the first set is like Bollywood… our sets: cricket and then
we put them together. Okay so, in the healthcare domain, how do you conduct research and feedback processes because
it's health and the margin of going wrong in that domain in pretty thin. How do you go about the research and you know feedback processes I would generalize it to a larger level
and say how how do we do the right way how do we do research the right way because I have this very firm belief that because some people are not doing it the
right way the general thought is the design research is wasteful at least in
India that's a general thought how many startups can say that they have done research user research they would be very few and there's a
reason for it because people are not doing it the right way research doesn't mean
that it'll happen in like four months there'll be a lot of churning happening
not necessarily we can make the design research phase a little shorter
sharper from our point of view for example if you are doing research what
we should keep in mind is that this research itself is a design artefact. The report extracted from this research The presentation, the movie or the animation obtained from this research What is the deliverable of this
report is by itself a design product so let's treat it like that that I am not
just doing research for designing a product this this search is
much more valuable than just one product this research might bring me much
more products and much more insights and will help the product team or the
leadership or management to open their eyes towards a lot of things which the might not
even know and you are going there in the fields it's an opportunity please don't
treat it as a travel break it is a very important opportunity it is a
lifetime opportunity to understand that kind of people do capture the interviews
in one way or the other and then when you come back please digitize them if
you don't realize them you're thinking that you will remember everything yes
you might for like 15-20 minutes but after that you don't remember everything
it's short-term memory we will need to digitize it to make it forever so think
of research results as forever documentation and that will make you
feel better so do it like that and then put it in Excel sheets or wherever you feel
comfortable with and then make it ready for people to consume it fundamentally
go with this thought that every person that you're going to interview is a
great person I need to understand this person okay if you go with this thought
you will definitely get some good insights if you go with the thought that
I have an interview to do you know I have 14 interviews this week and and
we'll wrap this up and get down to some sketching and ideation we've already
failed because this in itself is a product so this
something I would like to highlight about and this becomes very important
in healthcare where the person is sick you talking about patients
talking about nurses they don't have time doctors have no time at all getting
time out of doctors so we use strategies we used to meet them only when
they're on leave or at night at homes so traveling to their
homes at night 9:30 10:00 you know then having a cup of tea with
them at that time opened them up much more then if you go and sit like a
patient waiting for the doctor that is also important to observe how doctor
behaves during the day but he behaves very differently after a drink and so one needs to understand again nurses if you want to talk to them if you're
talking to nurses while they are working it's stupid because they are always
on an alert patients we need to interview them while they're sick and
when they are well so that they can be objective and non objective about it so
I think this is something they're going to understand depending on the category
of people that we are going to interview but the essentials remain the same about
research. – So what percentage of time should be given to research and what percentage for sitting in sketching and putting it in pixels – Good question I
think the complexity of the project will define it for example if you are doing a machine which you have for example that shock
machine you might need to do research for a year you need to know it so well
because it's a life-threatening situation if you're doing an ad campaign
you might not research at all or you know you're just publishing a poster you
might go with your gut feeling at that time so it depends on the complexity of
the project if we're designing a physical object then definitely when you
make the prototypes then there'll be a lot of ideation at that time sorry a lot of
studies at that time as well so do you want to do it before or you want to do
it later with some mock-ups that's up to you again but at some point of time you'll have to do it with physical is very important will you will check the
ergonomics you've got it right the weights the texture the paint's which
come later so I think that's it, it will vary – So from what I can
understand it depends on the percentage of error and the percentage of going
wrong – Yes that's a good point yeah how much do we as designers already
know about it how much are we very you know passionate about this thing. I think following your gut feeling is alright sometimes It's not wrong at no point will I say that there shouldn't be any project where you did
not do what you felt was right and with your knowledge and whatever you had
that's also sometimes fine but yes as you said moving towards health care that
is a riskier business you can't you can't do that there moving towards
entertainment a little more easy that ways and you can do that – So next you went on and worked for Zomato and you worked on the first b2b product that Zomato launched – Zomato base – Which was for restaurants it was for the management of the restaurants. So my question is when you're working on a product from scratch how do you decide upon the MVP
of the product like what point do you decide this is the Minimal Viable
Product that can go to the market. If a company says that they want to do MVP you should not join. – Why so? – For the simple reason that they are already saying that you
know we we don't want to make a good product we just want to make a Minimum
Viable Product so again the the whole thing that we talked about earlier good
design storytelling all that goes for a toss here so I think MVP should be done
it should be done I am not against it it should be done but for a technological
proof of concept yeah from that point of view MVP makes a lot of sense that's okay that's like innovation you make it you
have to prove it so for that point of view okay for example if you are talking
about Zomato base and if we have like 20 restaurants in a particular area does
this work if you have 40 does it work if that no technology you want to test and
that's your aim then fine do it you don't even need a designer on top of it at that point of time so so yeah so I think it's fine for
startups when they want to get investments and they don't have money to
pay for designers not saying that it's a good trend you know in fact I would like
to say more and more designers should be startup owners or founders and that will
change a lot of things because then from the start there is a story you start
there is heart so but yeah if you don't have that it's fine
as a technical proof of concept but then it's not a product for me I am not in
for MVPs – Yeah so it's not a process that a company should have? Launching a product phase-wise is not how it should be? – No phase-wise is fine. The problem is: with MVP the definition says Minimum Viable Product whereas phase is something else. Phase is saying that I'll have 10 features now, I'll have 20 features later I'm fine with a phased approach but the phase one itself should not be minimum viable the phase one should be lovable minimum lovable product not Minimum
Viable Product so I think that will be better so while making "viable" the
compromise is too much and then you don't need a designer. – There're sales constraints… – One shouldn't join in the first place. If you're only looking at making a MVP please do not hire a
designer and don't make his life miserable for the next four months. – So next you went on and worked at RoundGlass And you were back to health care now you have been
significant amount of work in health care. – Yes. – And both your parents are
doctors so I see a connection there though is it that your parents have
actually influenced the way you design particularly health care. – Interesting. So
I don't know that yeah I don't think I have a relationship with design as such
but you know so when I used to come back from school at when I was at Merut and
I used to a lot of time go to my father's clinic and he usually have
these patients waiting outside and inside so I should sit inside and he used
to meet patients and I was at that time only wishing that why does this guy need
to talk so much to these patients and he used to give 15-20 minutes to patients sometimes
they would not pay also and I was like this is really foolish stuff and I am
compromising on my playing time with him and I used to really dislike the fact
that he used to spend so much time in his clinic but as I grew up and now
that I see back and look back at all my research and I understand so the typical
government doctor who spend two minutes and here was that guy spending 20-15
minutes per patient so it does make me realize that how important our
relationships in healthcare how important is it to talk to provide that
empathy to provide that you know care and it goes just beyond giving medicines
a lot of placebo which happens when and when we design the patient bedside
device I am sure that could have crept in and keep coming back when I talk to
patients and I think yes in that ways in a way yes also the fact that not cutting
corners so if he had a patient for example even for my mother if they had
patients if they had people waiting on them they would not cut corners they
would not say my job is done and then you kind of you know leave that thing and
leave a patient hanging you cannot do that similarly I think it's for every
professional ethic that are we cutting corners or not so I think these two
qualities do come in from there though they from a design point of view design
sense point of view I don't think so. – Alright! Now you are a visiting faculty at many design institutes in India. These all are premier institutes Now if you had to hire a student from these institutes like these all are premiere and these all the students are very brilliant. – They Are. – And you
have to select one from them for your company or to work with you. How do you select how you recognize the talent or that person so from these people who are all so talented?
– I make mistakes and I made like drastic mistakes at times and I have
been wrong with judging people but I do go mostly on my gut feeling it's a
lot of portfolio as well it's not that I don't see the portfolio but I feel that
if portfolio is not enough so you have a good portfolio and then you can and a
conversation has been very good so I don't I cannot just talk on the phone
and somebody I need to meet that person I've never hired anybody just my
talking on the phone we have rejected we have never hired on phone because you
need that personal connection. This guy's good to work with me for the next
three four years maybe more… so there are people who have worked with me for
almost eight years now so in fact the first person that I hired has traveled
with me to all the companies except Amazon the second person I hired has
also traveled with me to all the companies that I've been to so wherever
I am going you know these people are coming with me and that gives me a lot
of heart because whenever I call them and I tell them you know there is good work
here there's good thing happening come join they come and this is trust
factor so I so that's how I look at somebody that I'm going to work with
them for a long period of my life and we're going to meet every day in so it's
like almost you know trying to find a girlfriend in that way so yeah
so you need to have that connect you need to understand if they like me I like
them and it's mutual yeah and you can understand other people also who don't
like this kind of people they will show that it's just like in the conversation
and then it's like see you then so it's portfolio it's a lot of gut feeling and
talking I think which helps and this is also one in which I do i always give
feedback like it or not not like blatant saying that you are an arrogant ass but
things like this is what you can do to your portfolio and I generally am frank
that I think this might not work. – So now, these designers like they're going to graduate and go into the industries what are the basic things or basic but very important points that you
would suggest to these designers so they can cope up with the industry. – So I would
say don't compromise first of all don't compromise don't lose heart if this
company doesn't work the right way don't change your way forever
the things haven't welcomed me as well there have been an instance where I went
into a wrong place and I realized very quickly and I left it very quickly so
quickly leave it thankfully there are enough design jobs right now for you to
experiment and that's okay your resume might look jittery but
that's okay that's okay I think right now there's… and that's good so you have
journeyed from one company to the another company it's like you know
walking into another world this company very different from the other companies so
try it it's okay I would say don't compromise on your ethics don't
compromise on your design processes yes you can adjust you can be smart but
compromise is a different thing so don't compromise on that keep moving
if you have to move that's okay secondly don't stop working on your skills
even today I am learning new skills every day and I feel scared sometimes about new softwares coming up and how can I understand them first because if I don't
know it and if you know other people in the company coming and telling me that's
not the right way I should be on top of the software and the moment you get to
know for new software try exploring it try exploring it at least you should know about it
if you like example sketch and it started it was like I was just looking
at it because everybody's saying sketch sketch sketch sketch
okay fine bring it on, let's download it I'm like what the hell is this? Leave everything else! That happens right and then the industry changes completely and
drastically in the next two years I saw that the industry has
changed everybody has to move on to you're talking about the combinations of
sketch, Zeplin and marvel and plugins are coming in and you know Adobe
has been shot completely so yeah so keep exploring have another talent or
have another thing that you love which is which is not saying that you know I don't like my day job and that's why I do this
no it's not like that it's like I love this I love this as well
again like having two girlfriends maybe it's not bad and you can in this case
because you have the weekends to you have after work hours that you have
with you and we are seeing you know maybe the company is not able to absorb
all your creativity maybe the company is not able to give you everything and it
will not be because they're paying you at the end all day you will have to
deliver on some fronts there will be some constraints so accept those
constraints as you grow up and also do something is that you and I realized
that most people do have these passions and they love music or they love singing
acting dance whatever whatever you like and pursue that also very seriously
why not and so I think that gives a good mix of things and gives you a
good avenue to release that anger if at times you have it so that's very
important yeah I think those those of – Okay so, it was great talking to you, too much of insights and it was amazing to know your journey Thank you – Welcome I was very happy to be here and thank you so much.

1 Comment

One Reply to “#3 – Amazon's Sr. UX Designer, Ankur Sardana, on Research, MVPs & Design Students”

  1. Manav Madaan says:

    Amazing Insights. I love the fact that someone believes that there should be no compromises while executing the design.

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