UX research-only project
4 years since their last major redesign, MagicBricks were planning to revamp their entire platform. With this revamp, senior management hoped to achieve a radical improvement in their user experience, as opposed to the incremental refinements they had been working on in recent times. Therefore, they wanted us to conduct extensive user research aimed at understanding the main problems their users were currently facing.
In order to get the full picture, we had to test the website, mobile app and mobile site, and find the main pain points for 4 different segments or types of users: buyers, tenants, owners, and agents.
Furthermore, they wanted to launch a few additional services and asked us to validate the need for these services, as well as to explore different ways in which these services could be offered.
How 2 UX researchers collaborated with 4 different UX teams
As a part of The Times Group of India, a large media conglomerate, MagicBricks operates in a rather corporate environment, with an established hierarchy and 4 different UX teams, each working on the product from the perspective of a specific segment.
On our side, we were a team of 2 UX researchers from UX studio. Our main contact person was the Lead Designer, but we also worked closely with different members of each team, as well as 3 Project Managers, who facilitated the available quantitative data and gave us an overview of their goals for the product.
Understanding the cultural context and UX research challenges
The main challenges of this project included getting a good understanding of a market that was unfamiliar to us in a short amount of time, as well as adapting to significant cultural differences that impacted, not only our communication and collaboration with the client sometimes, but also the user tests and interviews. Additionally, the complexity of their multi-platform product, as well as the variety of user roles added a level of difficulty to the project.
Finally, the nature of the Indian market and Magicbrick’s business model sometimes opposed the user experience to the business goals, as some of the main obstacles in the way of an optimal user experience happened to be some of the company’s major sources of revenue.
Understanding the product
After the initial kick-off meeting, which served to establish the scope and general objective of the project, we had a series of stakeholder interviews to better understand the context of the project. Moreover, these interviews provided us different perspectives on the product and the market.
In order to get the full picture, we talked to different members of the management board, for example, the CEO, the Head of Marketing, and the Head of Product. These people provided us with their understanding of the market and the medium to long term vision of the company. Additionally, the CTO gave us information on the technical limitations. Last but not least, people from sales and customer support brought in the knowledge they had accumulated from the direct communication with the end-users.
We also collected existing materials from previous user research, such as personas, tasks to be done, as well as usability tests. We also did our own competitor analysis, identifying differentiating features and services
In order to have a better understanding of where potential pain points could likely arise, we ran a workshop for each segment or user role with the team that works on it, mapping out the user journey.
Then we discussed the data provided by analytics with different PMs to understand how users behave on the platform, which are the most popular features, and to identify major drop-offs in the important funnels.
Last but not least, before going to India, we let a couple of our designers at UX Studio review the platform and share their thoughts with us. These expert reviews cannot replace proper usability testing, but it helped us to spot some weaknesses in the current UI. With this, we could pay special attention to those parts when testing them.
Conducting the research: user interviews and usability tests
The research plan and major pain points
Based on the information we had previously collected, we put together a research plan with the objectives of the UX research and the questions we wanted to answer. We then wrote scripts for each segment, aiming to answer these research questions.
We conducted a total of 40 on-site interviews and usability tests, combining both research methods in 1 hour-long sessions. In the first part of our sessions, we focused on understanding the challenges that users were facing, many of which were specific to the local context. For example, a major pain point for people who were trying to buy or rent a property in India was the high presence on the different property sites of brokers. These brokers usually charge an extra commission and have a reputation for being very pushy and not trustworthy.However, as we dug deeper, we found out that these brokers are still useful in many cases. The real issue for the users was the following: they were afraid that their contact details would be shared with brokers without their consent.
Local problems and solutions
Another good example of a problem, that is specific to the local context is that some cities are so big that many people don’t even know the different districts by name. Therefore they prefer to see the distance from a reference point (e.g. their workplace or their parents’ residence) to quickly understand if a specific location suits their needs.
Besides, users typically don’t know much about the different districts (even in their home city), they required more detailed information about the surroundings of the properties they were planning to visit.
Usability testing and design-related problems
In the second part of our sessions, we gave our participants a few tasks to test the usability of the product. By this point, we uncovered the problems that were mostly design-related. Although the general usability guidelines and best practices to find usability issues are essentially the same anywhere in the world, we had to emphasize the fact that the negative and constructive feedback was more than welcome. Locals were naturally more inclined to share positive feedback.
We also iterated on the tests every 2-3 days, removing the questions and tasks that did not provide useful insights or that provided insights that we had already validated. We had to replace them with other questions and tasks that helped us validate new hypothesis we were coming up with during the research.
The following are some of the cultural differences we had to take into account when collaborating with a team in India:
- Indians value personal contact very much, which is why they tend to invite many people to meetings. For a European, it can be surprising (and challenging) to walk into a meeting with over 20 people, especially if you have to lead the conversation. At first, it might even seem unproductive, but you have to understand that it matters to them. The purpose of this is to get everyone to know each other and gain a sense of trust. Declining such a meeting would be inappropriate.
- They are very talkative and might ask personal questions. Once again, this is related to the importance of bonding in Indian culture. Although this can be intimidating for more introverted people, the truth is that everyone we worked with proved to be very friendly and welcoming. In the end, we ended up having a great time with our Indian colleagues.
How did we communicate with the locals and learned to be flexible?
- You need to be flexible about your schedule, because things might happen later than expected. This is especially true when it comes to user tests and interviews. First of all, cities are big and traffic is so unpredictable, it can be hard for participants to estimate the time that it will take them to make it to your office. Additionally, they understand that if they are making the effort to come to where you are, you should be indulgent if they happen to be late.
- When working remotely, although emails are generally the go-to communications channel at first, we found out more direct channels such as Whatsapp were more convenient. If you want to learn more about the challenges of working remotely and how to overcome them, check our article with tips on how to build a happy remote team.
- If you’re in a big city, it’s a good idea to book a cab for your test participants, since it can easily take them 2 hours to get to your office, and the least you can do is pay for the trip and spare them the hassle.
Key takeaways from conducting user research in India
- As Jacob Nielsen had already pointed out, general usability guidelines remain the same across cultures but the local context it’s a bit different, so usability tests will be the same but spending more time on discovery is a good idea
- Indians value personal relationships very much, and there’s no reason to avoid the bonding since they’re super friendly
- Some things may not happen on time, so plan accordingly and deal with it
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