How designers make digital life more ‘livable’

Designers take something which is meant to be simply functional and make it more human- friendly.

Almost every weekend I travel by train on the Indian Railways network, so I tend to book a lot of tickets online. Over the last ten years, I’ve been doing this weekly travel. With times the online booking process has undoubtedly gotten better. Digitalization has not only made the process easier but has also reduced the unnecessary wastage of paper. In the past few years, the government has taken several potent initiatives that make online applications and booking a lot easier. From introducing POS machines for cashless transactions to the use of Artificial Intelligence for most of the tasks, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has taken several steps to modernize the Indian Railways.

But there’s still one thing that bothers me about it, even more so because I am a designer. Let me explain. When you go to cancel a booking online, you find the ticket you want to cancel, you select it, and you click the “Cancel” button. So far so good, right? A pop-up message then comes onscreen that says something like “Are you sure you want to cancel this booking”? Beneath this are two options to click. One says “Cancel” and the other says “Yes”.

Do you see the problem here? Most people who have the word cancel on their brain will click on the “cancel” button first, without thinking. But that just cancels the action, not the booking. It just goes back to the previous screen. If someone had thought about this properly, the two options would say “No, take me back” and “Yes, cancel my booking”.

This is what designers do.

Designers take something which is meant to be simply functional and make it more human- friendly. They observe how humans behave and think, and design the world accordingly. And when designers are not involved in the process, then one can clearly see the gaps. Maybe cancelling a booking is just a small thing in the larger scheme of the world, but there are many big gaps that we witness on a daily basis.

For instance, a large number of people who watch television these days consume most of the entertainment on streaming services like Netflix or Amazon. It’s easier and more convenient to watch the shows or movies of your choice at the time you decide to, not when someone else decides. But if the menus and screens that you use to navigate the vast collection of shows on Netflix were confusing to use, then very few people would be using it. You can bet a lot of money that entertainment platforms like Netflix spend to employ a large team of designers and make sure their interface works well. It has to look nice; has to be easy to navigate, and has to make sure that new shows are prominently promoted. For sure, there are lots of technical experts – engineers, software programmers, coders, etc. – who make that happen, but there are also designers who make sure that it’s all human.

Companies all over the world, and especially in India, are putting lots of emphasis on making sure their products and services not only function well but feel good, too. Tech companies that used to hire mostly IT and Business graduates are now opening up new avenues for design graduates because they know that if they want to succeed in a competitive marketplace, they have to make it an easier, convenient, and pleasant experience for users to use their products.

The more we become part of this digital world, the more such efforts will be necessary. In the physical world, we generally appreciate good design. Although we surely don’t always get it, we’ve still become better at recognizing when something is designed well or not. We can recognize good architecture and interior spaces when we walk into them. When we cook, we can appreciate a well-balanced knife that fits nicely in our hand. And when we interface with the digital domain – which we do almost every second - we appreciate it if it is proficient enough to be accessed smoothly.

Even my parents who are in their early 70s do not utilize their smartphones as much as I do. Neither have they recognized the potential of a smartphone in today’s high-tech world. But they do have the capability to easily recognize anything visible on the mobile screen. My parents and my brother’s family live on the other side of the planet, and the fact that I can interact with them through a video call and chat with them any time of day, is a miracle indeed.

Indians today are making full use of digital technologies that make them connect better to the outside world. Digitalization has made everything accessible just with the tap of a button. But do we recognize and appreciate the role of designers who play a vital role in making this technology easily accessible for us?

I think we’re starting to. More importantly, I think young people all over India are realizing how they can be part of this trend and start to harness their creative talents to become designers themselves and make this new world a better one, a more human one. Every day when I come to the college where I teach, I see young designers doing their best to fit into this new creative-led economy. They work hard for sure, but they know the payoff is there because they see the impact of what they do every day, directly and immediately. They know they’ve made the right choice to follow a creative career because they see how their work translates into good design, good products, and a good environment for people.

For them, the future is bright indeed.

-- Nidhip Mehta, Dean, School of Design at Pearl Academy

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