Design Research in India: A Report

When we helped our client, an established global brand, explore the home appliances category for the rapidly growing Indian market, we didn’t simply adapt models from their existing product line. We took a long-term approach by immersing ourselves in the region to understand the unique behaviors and needs of the consumers, and produced original concepts for the client that are specific to the Indian culture and way of life.

India's wildly diverse culture makes it a demanding design research challenge.

The toughest appliance market in the world
Challenging environmental conditions in India put incredible strain on whitegoods. Unreliable water and electricity, extreme temperatures, pollution, humidity and monsoon rains all contribute to heavy wear and tear for appliances. A few more things that set India apart from other markets: there are 500 million vegetarians, more than 30 official languages spoken, 50 cultural holidays in the calendar year and one of the fastest growing middle classes in the world.

Rapid learning from deep immersion
The goals of our research were to understand this new consumer and define clear and actionable insights that would provide both near- and long-term value for our client. During the six-month project, the Smart team spent five weeks undertaking in-field research in Delhi and Chennai, living for four days at a time with eight women and their families. Spending that much time allowed us to learn about all aspects of their lives and their environment. We studied the way they shopped, cooked and ate meals as a family. We also observed their laundry methods, where centuries of traditions were being redefined by access to washing machines in everyday life.

Concepts for a culture, not just a consumer
Still in India, we translated notepads of cultural observations into product and service ideas we could apply to refrigerator and washing machine concepts. We knew there would be some considerations that wouldn’t cross the cultural divide, so we conducted extensive in-country prototyping to make sure our ideas made sense and resonated with locals.

For instance, the new iconography we developed for user interface needed to act as a common denominator for the 30 languages spoken throughout the country. This required a lot user sessions to ensure we got it right.

By the end of project, our team had presented a variety of concepts for different appliances specifically designed for the Indian market. The focus was on easy-to-understand, high-value solutions that addressed the challenging environment and answered the diverse needs of the Indian culture and lifestyle.

This experience in India reaffirmed our belief that purposeful design comes from a deep understanding of people, their motivations and their aspirations. For multinational companies seeking to enter emerging markets, this type of project can go a long way to establishing brand presence and loyalty, as well as carving a roadmap for business growth in the region.