Blog Archives

  1. Discovery lost: What ails (most) Indian ecommerce startups?

    Apparatus team have been working on a few online store projects. Most of these are at a prelaunch stage and that makes it easy for user experience design teams to partake in product definition and extend further into product design.

    However there are a few who have been in business and need a substantial design overhaul. These ecommerce properties ail from a few maladies that needs attention.

    Discovery that matches user intent leads to conversion
    Users who approach online stores come with a definite intent to find a suitable product. The user experience should be designed for users with specific needs and users who want to explore and discover. The design should set a strong context for them to arrive at a product or move about and find.

    Fixes versus refurbishment
    These stores are ongoing businesses backed by investor firms. They cannot suspend operations for an overhaul. We understand this. But the management typically sees the solution as a series of small fixes that will lead to betterment. It will not. The synthesis of web analytics and user research should lead to larger incremental phases of change that can better the brand experience in a short period of time. Bite the bullet!

    Knowing the domain does not make you a UX expert
    It is a great additive that can be learned. Good design is about creating cohesive, compelling and usable experiences through framework, structure and content. It involves information design, graphic design and meticulous production. You need help. Hire us!

    Curated content emotes and converts
    Do the thing that offline stores do as ‘we suggest’. Do collections that are thematic and write about them. Do collections that go well together and publish them as trends or what people like. Help users choose if they are exploring through supportive house-styled images of products and well written textual content. Add on contextual user generated content and create digestible nuggets of content to consume. And lead all these to appropriate stock keep units.

    To know more about these write to me. If you want to get this done call Apparatus. Have a good day!

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  2. Window shopping: Is there a re-commerce in India?

    As Apparatus engages in new projects that involve catalogs, payment gateways and retail concepts I am starting a series of posts focussing on ecommerce in India. This is the first of the lot.

    Indian railways is probably responsible for making online users ready to pay and buy things on the web. With their devastatingly ugly website they could generate substantial revenue with payment modes that were compelling – cash on delivery for instance. The air carriers, travel and ticketing websites followed suit. And now this is the sole vertical that generates B2C revenue online. However fashion retailers and bookstores never took to selling online like they did in the west. The users were still wary of identity theft and misuse to swipe their cards online. There were a few retail platforms like rediff or indiatimes that stocked fashion, had their own logistics partners and private labeled shops for big brands. However this was restricted to the privileged credit card holders.

    Sometime early last year with the sweep of social shopping websites in the US and the death of local social networks in India online startups considered commerce again. Venture capital firms were ready to look at this new found interest. Even the new fangled security measure of validating personal credit cards at the über secure bank website did not deter them. Myntra, Flipkart, Bigshoebazaar and more such names appeared and today they are growing or consolidating.

    I personally think there are flaws in these properties and more payment methods do not necessarily make better user experience or more business. The things that ail Indian ecommerce are:

    • The business is not a brand: The principals are from a technology pedigree and they make functionally strong websites. But they do not consider the value proposition, persona or the tone/voice of these brand expressions. They do not engage the users like a brand does. Examples are Myntra’s inconsistent promotionals, human models without a specific statement and a packaging that does not communicate.
    • Product discovery is about an intuitive information model, focussed promotions and an agile search: Category trees can be misleading if they are not thought through. Consolidating categories for more real estate can be detrimental to a seamless ‘buy experience’. Flipkart’s ‘Art, Photography and Design’ as a category has about 100000 books in it and filters like hardcover/paperback or delivery time does not help me narrow down to what I need.
    • Focus the homepage: Why do we all like the Apple homepage? It is an intelligent solution with a single product/promotion occupying over 50% of above-the-fold real estate. The rest can really be interactive stamp size pictures. Cluttered home pages with too many portlets like in or can intimidate a new user. Also the brand gets a boost with a visually lightweight homepage.
    • Fulfill smoothly without much ado: Myntra messaged me twice, called me more than six times before they hand delivered a pair of shoes that I bought. I would have preferred it less intrusive and efficient. So it is important to engage a smart logistics partner to get wares without a hitch.
    • Play the brand always: Engage the users like offline brands engage consumers. Remember amazon’s bookmarks, expedia’s smart guides and goodies from Target to create a brand asset biosystem that goes beyond the online shopping experience.

    Follow our blog for more posts on online shopping user experiences.

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  3. Inspiration series: 50 years of design education in India

    Recently I attended a meeting at Idiom campus in Bangalore. The agenda was to define a structure to celebrate half a century of formal design pedagogy in India. There were a few ideas floated. I came out of the group with a specific mission.

    How many times have you met a fellow designer one-on-one and talked about how they evolved, present day design business, expectations and future? I decided to do this with my friends and document it as a personal note – an inspirational capsule for creative professionals. I want to meet designers with varied objective and write a series of articles. And why?

    1. Seek Inspiration: We are constantly looking at the next best thing to do. We are seeking a spark that will stimulate us for a while and then we can seek the next one. I probably will find a few in this journey to keep me running for a longer spell. Be inspired!
    2. Show and Tell: With my association with publications and Mario I have acquired skills in representational techniques for narratives. The truth in editorial design is about creating compelling narratives through written word, images and typography. I want to do this myself and see it working.
    3. Dry Design Writing: I am not a great writer. Yet I have an opinion. Other than large documentation projects that culminate in exquisite books, Indian design writing lacks personality or emotion. They read like industry journals on commodities or aluminum scrap forcibly written by clerks in dungeons. My articles are going to be personal accounts on people I know, with a hope that it will make these a good read. Keeping it honest.
    4. Exercise Humility: There are a few of us who can listen, enjoy, appreciate and assimilate good work by other designers. Over the years it has bothered me a lot. Visits to seminars and Designyatra has strengthened this belief further. I take this as a personal cleansing, getting off the proverbial ivory tower to look around and feel humble.
    5. People: Finally it is all about human beings, friends and fellow professionals. There is a lot that we can share and everybody has a story. I like that thought!

    There are more reasons not articulated yet. If you are somebody that I contact to do an interview or a profile I will promptly point you to this post. This is an easy way to understand the ‘why’.

    As of now this series of articles are going to be published right here in Apparatus blog. If you are interested in publishing, sponsoring or helping with this exercise please do leave a note here. You can mail or call me too. My contact details are at here.

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