products with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions. Established in 2004, the company provides design services focused on industrial design (provide concept enclosure designs), user experience design (experiential aspects of human-computer interaction), and user interface design (designing human-machine interaction). Its services are aimed at first conceptualising and then improving usability for clients.
Hari Kishan Nallan, CEO, Think Design spoke to Ashwin Gopinath of EFY about the latest in the burgeoning field of design houses.
Q: For the benefit of our readers, could you elaborate on what Think Design (TD) does?
A: We are primarily an experience design company. TD started in 2004 offering services in two verticals viz industrial design and user experience design. However, currently we are also focusing on user interface design for software apps. TD doesn’t make products. We are a design services company. Hence, we help in improving/conceptualising products for our clients. As of now, the company is solely focused on R&D.
Q: This is the first time we are interviewing a user experience company. Could you give us an idea about how a user experience project is implemented from end to end?
A: Every project handled has five layers to it.
1. Backend: The R&D team of the client develops the backend, which is basically just a template of what the system must do.
2. Information and Navigation Architecture: This layer deals with sorting out the menu items and navigation structure of the system. The design team also decides on the algorithm for how information grouping is done to facilitate easy and seamless use of the data.
3. Framework: This layer, based on the above layers, decides the look and feel of the system-human interface. The salient points would be to determine if it’s a 3-column or a 4-column layout and what the desktop size is and other such details which are purely aesthetic.
4. Interactivity: This layer decides how the app will work when it is being used by the client. For e.g. If the device is a touch-screen phone, then is it a resistive touch or a capacitive touch phone, how will it navigate and how will it react to multiple touches and other concerns like that.
5. Visual: The final layer which encompasses all the above layers into it. This is worked upon solely with regard to what the client has in mind.
When we design a system, we work on all but the first layer.
Q: What are some of the software design tools used for UI design?
A: There are no specific tools for UI design but there are tools which are helpful for the processes in between. If we take wire-framing, there is a tool “Balsamiq” used to create sketches on screen. It is preferred because it is very quick and all the major components are built into it. Plus you can collaborate easily with others and work on large projects by breaking it down into smaller ones. Rather unconventionally, people use PowerPoint for wire-framing too.
As far as visual design goes, the industry default is Adobe Photoshop, but we recommend using Adobe Fireworks. Fireworks lets you slice sections on the screen and see how the front end looks. Hence the interactivity is increased and that’s a very interesting aspect of Fireworks.
Q: TD has been working on ‘Usability Testing’ (UT). Could you elaborate on that?
A: The field of UT is very deep and vast. It is usually used for systems which have reached a certain level of maturity and when we don’t know how to improve it any further. So what we do is install cameras at certain points in a room. The user sits and uses the product. There’s a one-way mirror and an analyst and/or a designer sits and track the user interaction. The user is given tasks and the staff finds out how much time he takes to perform the tasks and other miscellaneous details. A detailed analysis is conducted and based on the results, adjustments are made to the system to further improve its working. When there are mission critical tasks to be performed or you just want to know if the changes to the design work as they were supposed to, that’s when the function of UT is on full display.
Q: What trends do you see in user interface design for electronic systems?
A: Electronic firms in India typically have been focusing on “Device” whereas the global trend is towards its “User Interface”. As an example, see how Samsung, essentially an electronics company, has moved from component manufacturer to a Global brand by constantly focusing on User more than Device.
User Interface is a vague term and can mean interface of a software product (which runs inside a screen) or it could be the physical interface of the product itself. For example, you will not like to buy a fully automatic washer that has ugly and un-intuitive user interface.
In one of the projects we did, Whirlpool’s home inverter, the focus was on user interface and it was really successful after the design revamp.
Q: Overall, what types of electronic products need to focus on this aspect? We have seen Apple User Interface as a key differentiator. Do you think that if other electronics products focused on this aspect they could create a strategic advantage?
A: Usability focus should be there for all electronic products, except if the product is not being used at all (pun intended). Products that can benefit (and are currently benefiting) from physical interface are:
1. Fully automatic washers
2. Microwave ovens
3. Payment/ Transaction terminals
Many more products like this where there are multiple functions to be performed using a single shell (product).
Q: Can you share examples of products that could benefit from both–software and hardware user interface designs?
A. Products that can benefit from both physical as well as software UI:
1. Transaction/ Payment terminals
2. Deskphones (FWPs, Cordless phones etc., where there are challenges in showing call history, phone book, speed dial etc., using single color LCD… these are very interesting challenges)
3. Digital cameras (intuitive UI both on the buttons as well as in the screen are equally critical)
4. Consoles (typically b2b products, consoles used in Defense or special purpose monitoring consoles used in security etc.,). Here too, both hardware as well as software UI are equally important
5. Medical equipment (products such as Ultra sound monitor)
6. Engineering equipment (products such as CNC moulding machines) where computer interface is as important as the buttons on the equipment