13 Mar 2019
ACM SIGCHIs 1st Bangalore Chapter User Research In Action
Noorul Ameen
#Business | 5 min read
ACM SIGCHIs 1st Bangalore Chapter User Research In Action
Noorul Ameen

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), founded in 1947, is the world’s largest scientific and educational computing society with nearly 100,000 members as of date.


ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer–Human Interaction (SIGCHI) hosts annual international conference on Human Computer Interaction (HCI). ACM SIGCHI’s First Bangalore Chapter was convened yesterday (Mar 12, 2019) at National Institute of Design, Bangalore Campus.


Close to 35 people attended this event. Companies participated include Microsoft Research, VMware, HashedIn Technologies, Capgemini, Design Boat, etc. The lead speaker at the event Jacki O’ Neill from Microsoft Research India, delivered a scintillating speech on a “less-talked-about” subject “Technology to improve lives of people with low socio-economic backgrounds”.


Jacki and Me


Jacki is an Ethnography Competency Champion and Senior Researcher, Technology for Emerging Markets, Microsoft Research India. Her current research projects include:


The future of work and workplaces – Ethnographic research into “crowd-work” and the peer economy, as well as more traditional workplaces inform a critical perspective on changes in modern work.


Financial capability and financial inclusion – This research spans cash, mobile money, digital payment infrastructures, critical perspectives on techno-centric approaches of financial inclusion of low socio-economic groups like auto-rickshaw drivers.


Accessible technologies for visually impaired people – A short ethnographic study of differently-abled people with regular transportation means (Ola/Uber, buses and rickshaws) in Bangalore and possible areas of intervention.


Microsoft Technology for Emerging Markets (TEM)

Microsoft Technology for Emerging Markets strives to develop tech for underprivileged communities, primarily in Global South to attain Societal & Academic Impact. Their process starts with understanding the local population, design and build technology solutions for them, evaluate with few and scale-up with government intervention, NGOs and social enterprises.

Microsoft Research TEM Process

User Research

While understanding the local population, Jacki’s team employ a well-known User Research method called Ethnography. This method is deep-rooted in User Centered Design (UCD) principles. Ethnography literally means ‘a portrait of people.’ When used as a research method, ethnography typically refers to participant-observation conducted by researcher who ‘lives with and lives like’ those who are studied. The primary focus of this study is to document social interactions, behaviours, and societal perceptions.



Designing for financial inclusion in India

Mainstream banks typically exclude low income communities due to the following reasons:

  1. Unpredictable and low cash income
  2. Lack of credit rating
  3. Monthly payment schedule
  4. High default rates on loans


Recently many Small-Scale Financial organizations or Micro-Finance Institutions (MFI) have come up to target this problem. Such a company called Three Wheels United (TWU) have started lending cash to auto-rickshaw drivers in rural Karnataka to purchase a green auto-rickshaw, manage their debts, lead a respectable life and help the environment with less polluting vehicles on the road.



Jacki conducted an ethnographic study on the TWU ecosystem which includes

  1. Borrowers – 47 sessions with auto-drivers and 25 repeat sessions with 5 auto-drivers over 3 months
  2. Lenders – Observation of collection process and back-office operations

TWU Ecosystem


The following are the key insights during the ethnographic study on “drivers”

  1. 15% of auto-drivers had no schooling
  2. Almost 60% of drivers used low-end smartphone with very limited access to data
  3. Daily due collection was a major issue owing to low cash income and mounting daily expenses
  4. No progress tracking of the loans


The following are the key insights during the ethnographic study on “TWU Lenders and Operations”

  1. Ad-hoc process with a mixture of paperwork and technology (SMS)
  2. Huge number of excel sheets making it time consuming and error prone


From the study, it was found that this type of loan management is a collaborative achievement with “paying” side striving to put money aside and “collecting” side counselling and instilling trust on the system.


The Solution

Microsoft TEM created a mobile application Prayana to help drivers and field agents to manage the loans and a cloud-based operations-friendly admin console to help TWU Back Office.


Based on the ethnographic study, the following are factored into while crafting the user experience

Borrower App UX:

  1. Motivators & nudging – The auto-rickshaw drivers needed this since it was difficult for them to save to pay off their dues on a daily basis.
    1. If you pay Rs 4700/- per month, the loan will be completed by Jun 2019.
    2. If you don’t pay your due today, you will lose Rs 1200/- on your savings for the whole of this week.
  2. Meaningful visualizations – The drivers need to track their payments versus loan amortization. This view helps them find errors in the system data and report to Field Agents. This view will also help them to plan their future.


Field Agents UX:

  1. List of drivers to be called today on loan payments.
  2. Month view to know the collection schedule so they can better plan their visit.
  3. Color coding of currency values to indicate the health status of a driver.
  4. Larger Call-To-Actions to help the users perform most frequent actions easily.
  5. Ability to capture driver interactions which helps increasing driver’s trust on the system.
  6. Creating social proof with the help of leaderboards.
  7. Rewarding the agent when payments are collected on time.


TWU Back Office (Lender):

  1. Streamlined, cloud-based and intuitive user experience.
  2. Generalised loan allocation algorithm removing the user’s bias and makes the system do the heavy-lifting.


Lending to marginal population is challenging but Prayana is an accessible loan management solution. Based on the actual needs of the local population, the app is designed for low print and financial literacy, it streamlines high touch workflow and addresses low resource settings for lenders and borrowers.


Jacki concluded that it is through extensive user research programs like Ethnography, such high entry barrier yet high-touch user experiences can be created in real world.




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