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The Three Laws of UX – Interview with Apala Lahiri Chavan

HFI Connect caught up with HFI’s Chief Oracle and Innovator, Apala Lahiri Chavan, while she was in transit in London.


HFI Connect: You recently spoke at a TEDx conference in Bangalore. Can you tell us about the conference and how you became involved?

Apala: TEDx Golflinks is the TED licensed conference held in Bangalore, India. This is the 2nd year that they’ve organized this event. I received an invite from the TEDx Golflinks organizers who were aware of the work I've done in Africa, especially with the “bottom of the pyramid.” They had also attended a session where I had spoken about women entrepreneurs and the empowerment of women. Hence, they felt that it would be interesting for the audience (and also in keeping with the theme of this years event "how technology impacts change") if I shared my insights from the “bottom of the pyramid” work done in Africa.


HFI Connect: What did you speak about at the conference? What are the main take aways from your presentation?

Apala: My presentation was titled The Three Laws of UX. For a very long time, I've been concerned about the way the very powerful paradigm of 'Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid' has been put into action in reality. The emergence of the trend to 'lust' after the large market volumes represented by populations who inhabit the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid by simply 'poorifying' existing products and services is appalling. Instead of 'fighting poverty with profitability', it has become mostly about selling poor products to poor people with no desire to necessarily fight poverty or even to treat the users with the dignity they deserve. 

As a UX professional, I realized when working on these projects, that we as a profession could make a measurable difference if and when we are involved in researching, innovating and designing for the "bottom of the pyramid" population across the world. We are trained to deeply understand our users, their motivations, goals, barriers...their entire ecosystem, in fact. It is from this deep understanding that the concepts for innovation and design spring. Indeed, it is this ability to connect with our users and their ecosystems that is very special; it can be used to ensure that products and services created for users do not treat them with indignity and lack of respect. No other profession is as well equipped to ensure this improvement as we UX professionals.

In my TEDx presentation I wanted to communicate that:

  1. As UX professionals we have the responsibility and duty to safeguard the values that our users hold dear, when we innovate and design for them.
  2. We also need to, as UX professionals, apply our research, innovation, persuasion and design skills for causes that are larger than just the commercial products we are designing. We need to be in the forefront of creating a better world by becoming UX activists where the ability to create 'experiences' is our main weapon.
  3. Each one of us needs to be a UX activist in our own individual manner...there is room for many different shades of UX activism...instead of just one formula that is dictated by someone.


HFI Connect: You could have chosen to speak on a variety of topics. Why this one?

Apala: I chose to speak on this topic because I feel very strongly that no time and age has empowered individual agency and collective intent in bringing about change in the world as much as today. Technology is playing a critical role in this empowerment. Since UX professionals are often called upon to become the interpreters and persuaders, as far as adoption and use of technology is concerned, this then is that window of time when UX can bring about fundamental and positive change for a better world.


HFI Connect: Thank you Apala for taking the time to share your profound insights with us.


Watch the Presentation:


White papers by Apala:


About Apala Lahiri Chavan

Apala is HFI's Chief Oracle and Innovator. Apala and her Contextual Innovation team have helped designers, marketers, product managers, and ethnographers in Fortune 500 companies apply her innovative techniques to develop exciting new concepts and products.

She systematically guides the ideation process to uncover subtle patterns in ethnographic and market data to reveal the exciting breakthrough ideas that can drive business and generate more revenue and profit on the one hand, and improve quality of life for users on the other hand. Recently, her focus has been on the emerging markets. She has co-edited a book on this subject, Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know For Today's Emerging Markets.

Apala is an award winning designer (International Audi Design Award) and specializes in the area of Cross Cultural Innovation and Design. She can be found on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/FuturistApala

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Comment by Human Factors International on April 25, 2013 at 12:56pm

Wonderful talk Apala.


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