Chai Break with Nakul Shenoy, User Experience Consultant, RoofandFloor

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We caught up with Nakul Shenoy, UX consultant for a quick chat about what 2018 looks like in the designing world.

1. What excites you right now in your personal or professional life?

Today, more than ever, technological innovations are moving along at their fastest. Most of what was seen as fantasy or science fiction is a reality today, and this has an unparalleled impact on interfaces. Text, voice, gesture are all here and AI is bringing in predictive interfaces in a real way. These have a direct and exciting impact in both my fields — design and magic. We have to keep reminding ourselves that technology is not the magic bullet, but only a means to a perfect solution. And dealing with this day in and day out is rather exciting.

2. What are you looking forward to this year in terms of career/personal growth?

After a few years of focusing more on my stage performances, I have recently taken on a challenging role heading the UX initiatives at RoofandFloor.com, the realty portal by The Hindu Group. I believe this is a sector that has much need for user-centric design and can make a sizeable impression with the focus shifting to the user/buyer’s needs rather than that of the sellers. I am excited at the challenges that role brings and the opportunity to make an impact on the sector.

On the magical side, I have been shifting over to delivering talks — motivational, if you please — on a variety of topics, including the interplay of design and magic. This is a rather new idea and holds much fascination for me, after about two decades of performing as a corporate entertainer. In addition, I have been working on a rather unique stage show: ‘Shadows Of the Mind’, along with my friend and international shadow-player Prahlad Acharya. We are looking forward to taking this magical show to theatres across the country this year. So yes! A lot of things wonderful planned and aimed for.

3. What’s your professional story?

My UX story can basically be summed up as learning on the job and pushing my boundaries to the next levels, always. Post my Masters in Communication from Manipal in 2000, I joined Planetasia as a web writer and evolved to be the second Information Architect in the company. Post a couple of years of working in that wonderful company, I worked with Yantra Solutions, SAP Labs, before co-founding PeepalDesign, a UX design, and research firm. During these 10-odd years, I had the opportunity to hone my skills in interaction & interface design, specialize in user research, and gain first-hand domain knowledge in all things SCM/logistics. Over the last eight years, I have had the opportunity to consult for some of the world’s leading tech and product companies, especially for user research. It has really been a wonderful two decades. I only hope the next two are as exciting and impactful.

4. What is one of your defining moments in your career/personal space?

In design, the defining moments are definitely some of the learnings gained and impact made via the user research I conducted for the top tech companies. There are many designs that emerged from the research we conducted, that can be seen in most smartphones and applications today: camera, map, messaging, screen locks, even the way we control our set-top boxes! You tend to look at some of these features and interfaces that are second-nature today and feel happy knowing that you made a small change to the user’s life.

On stage, there are many defining moments, especially since I am blessed with the opportunity to perform at Fortune 500 events. Still, the opportunities to perform for Mr. Azim Premji at one of the Wipro events, and entertain Mr. Tony Buzan (the creator of Mind Maps and co-founder of World Memory Championships) with my memory act, holds a special place in my heart.

5. What advise would you give to young people just starting out their careers in your field?

My advice to youngsters is always the same: READ. Read Books. Read anything; read everything. You can gain immense actionable knowledge with all that you read, even when that reading may not have direct relation to what you do in your professional life.

And yes! Dream. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. With specificity to design (or magic!) this applies very much. Much of what we do with design thinking or the larger user-centric design approach is the application of logic and knowledge; provided we know, internalize, and live the process. Nothing is impossible. Give it a try and then improve on it. Again and again. That is the crux of design: iterative improvements to go the next level. Repeatedly.

6. A brand you think has aced in terms of design and why?

There are many, but despite the risk of sounding like a cliché, I will say Apple. If there is one brand that has understood design and continues to understand design, it is Apple. Yes, they too have got enough things and more wrong, but to get so many things right and to push both product and technology into unchartered territory, incessantly, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. They are masters at re-thinking design and crafting solutions that are the most effortless for the users.

7. What is a challenge when one thinks of superlative design and Indian brands?

We in India have been making huge leaps in terms of design and user-centric approaches, but the primary challenge remains the difference between talking design and doing design. Take the case of Design Thinking that has been taking the industry by storm, these few years. Everybody that is somebody is attending — or conducting — design thinking workshops. Yet, it clearly remains a checkmark on the excel sheet, that you tick during a project. Design may not be the last thought nowadays, yet it remains the third thought at the best. We still look to Technology as a solution in itself, and not a mere means to an end. This is then followed by developing the product, as we have the most brilliant techies anywhere. And then, after the technology has been chosen, and the basic product developed, we look to design the solution. At this stage, design can mostly only improve what is there, rather than dream and define a usable, user-friendly solution.

Profile:

Acknowledged by his peers as a natural and discerning user researcher, Nakul Shenoy has been crafting usable, user-friendly and accessible experiences for top enterprise & consumer solutions since 2000. With hands-on experience in managing multi-city user research projects and with numerous full-design cycles to his belt, he is one of the few who have lived the talk with design thinking. Nakul holds two UX patents, is a HarperCollins author, and a leading corporate speaker & mystery entertainer. He tweets as @NakulShenoy.

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