design, digital, india, industry, ux

What I’ve Learned About Digital Design In 2015


won’t bore you with a deep introduction talking about how technology is shaping an emerging India. We’re all familiar with the startup explosion, the firestorm that is social media and the inexorable rise of digital marketing. We’ve all been part of the smartphone revolution and the emergence of the app economy. So I’m not going to bore you with details of those.

Instead, I’m going to try and articulate some key principles that could help you while designing for Indian audiences. Principles that could help shape the next website or app you design.

And, just because Star Wars — The Force Awakens is out in theatres, I’m going to do this in the key of R2.

Come back to the Light Side, father!

Functionality is a great thing. But more functionality means a heavier app. Not the greatest idea for a country where a majority of smartphones offer between 4 and 16GB of internal storage. And what’s the first casualty when users run out of space? Apps! The same holds true of heavy websites that invade and occupy users’ caches faster than Darth Vader could occupy Cloud City. So, put your code on a crash diet and build light.

Corollary: To do…or to do not? (There is no try!)

Sometimes, the best way to make sure users don’t uninstall your app when they run out of space is to…not build an app at all! Not every app can fulfill needs that are daily or monthly needs. A beautiful, feature-rich mobile website (like the one Flipkart just built with Google, #shamelessplug) will often serve you better.

Take their hyperdrive offline, Commander!

India’s mobile infrastructure is like a Stormtrooper’s aim — kinda spotty. In an environment of fluctuating mobile connectivity, it’s increasingly critical that some core aspects of your app work offline. And reconnect automatically upon detecting a connection.

Leave the feasting to the Sarlacc

You know what users hate more than smugglers who drop their shipments at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser? Apps and sites that feast on data. Just yesterday, I counted 4 rich ad units above the fold on a news site (which serves as many as 11 units on its desktop home page). Not to mention the horde of images that slow down loading time and swallow data packs whole. This in a country with some of the highest Internet costs. Enough said, I think.

Chewbacca had the right idea

Technology is changing rapidly. It’s critical you keep up. Keep tinkering. Optimise everything, from UI to page load times to CTAs. You never know when a small fix could help you win your own Battle of Endor.

Never underestimate the Ewok

Small can be beautiful. Only a fraction of your eventual users probably have the kind of screen real estate you do. And new formats — wearables, cars, to name two — are shrinking traditional screens even further. Design to deliver a beautiful experience across screen sizes.

challenges, digital, india, industry, trend

The Battle To Own Digital In India

I was at the Effies the other night, and something struck me hard.

We, Jack In The Box Worldwide, were the only digital agency shortlisted in the category Digital Advertising.

We got a bronze. But the golds went to Ogilvy and Taproot.

It’s time those who claim that mainline agencies don’t ‘get’ digital shut up and take a long, hard look at the awards tallies.

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At the Abbys, Ogilvy’s Fox Crime campaign swept the Digital Grand Prix. The same story was just repeated at the Effies last Tuesday.

And media agencies, the third wheel of our growing ecosystem, were nowhere to be seen.

Let’s face it – at both of India’s premier award shows, where digital agencies and mainline agencies compete in the same field, the mainline agencies have come out ahead. 

They may not have won as many awards as the digital and media agencies but they have won the top prize twice in a row now.

The disparity in the number of medals can be explained by the fact that mainline shops get much fewer digital briefs than digital and media agencies.

In fact, the only place you’ll find digital and media agencies competing and winning are at specialist digital award shows – Campaign India’s Digital Awards, the IDMA, etc.

But, and not very quietly either, mainline agencies have been working to catch up and get past the competition.

Lowe, as Joseph George announced in a recent interview, is working to ‘mainline’ digital.

Ogilvy presents and executes an integrated campaign for almost every brief.

JWT has, under Bobby Pawar and Max Hegermann, set up a very capable pan-India digital team.

Leo Burnett’s Creative Directors are, in their own words, asked to crack the digital idea before the TVC.

BBH is competing with their clients’ digital agencies, pitching digital ideas along with their mainline campaigns.

BBDO has integrated so closely with Proximity that the latter even pitches (and executes) TVCs, on occasion.

It won’t be long before they’re winning digital duties, either as part of an integrated package, or stand-alone.

They have the clients, they have the money to hire good digital people, and they can play the long game more easily than small digital shops. 

They also have better creative folk than media agencies, whose key business is in the planning and buying of media space, not creative solutions.

And which client wouldn’t want to give their business to a place that has proven their understanding of the brand time and time again, and shows that they can do it in digital as well?

Us digital folk are fighting a battle we haven’t fully realised we’re in. And we have two options in front of us now.

One: Sell out. Every network agency is shopping for digital agencies in India. There are at least two digital shops I know of in serious talks, and another that has already been stealthily acquired. Integrate with the network agency and play in a larger field, quicker than you would’ve otherwise.

Two: The option former Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami suggests in his tour de force, The Elephants In The Room. Hire people who ‘get’ brands, across servicing and creative. Show clients that digital agencies can act as brand custodians too. And once you’ve consolidated your digital business, start attacking the mainline agencies by pitching for their mainline business.

What started off as a niche industry has become a full-blown battleground. It’s the Jedi versus the Sith, and it’s unclear, as of now, who’s going to emerge the winner.

digital, india

Digital And The Glass Ceiling

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how big will digital really get in india?

Right now, digital in India is that girl in college who nobody knows but everyone wants to kiss.

But sooner or later, people may want to do more than just kiss the girl…there are three more bases to reach, as all of us men were taught.

What will decide if she still remains that girl is whether she will let you do more than just kiss her.

That, to me, is the big question-mark looming over digital in India.

While clients in India are slowly warming up to digital, they’re also approaching it with a wary eye. They want to know beforehand how many people is it going to reach, how effective it will be, what the cost-per-exposure will be, and so on.

So we roll out our little bag of magic numbers, juggle them around, and put them up in front of the client. Telling them that there are about 7 million broadband connections in India today, according to CII and IMRB. This number is expected to rise to 214 million in 2014, with about 700 million users. That most Indian Internet users can be caught on Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Orkut (and all the other top sites Alexa throws up every day). We put in this little table that shows off what people are using the net for. Where they browse the net. For how long each day. And so on.

At a glance, the picture seems rosy. As Internet penetration increases in India, the medium becomes more and more attractive.

But here (finally) is my question.

Who is the Internet reaching?

Everyone, would be the usual answer. It’s reaching folks in metros and mini-metros. It’s reaching small-town folk in offices and cybercafes. It’s growing fast in rural India.

The thing is, it’s only reaching upmarket folks in all these places. People who can afford a PC and a net connection. Or those who are educated enough to work desk jobs. Small-business secretaries who check their mail while checking their boss’. Government clerks whiling away the boring hours on GTalk.

The Internet is definitely not reaching my maid and her family, my watchman, my liftman, my car cleaner, my peon, my cook and the waiter who serves my drinks at the Club. And it’s definitely not reaching tribes living in the jungles of Orissa or Bihar. Most of these folk still get their persuasion through TV, radio, POS and one-on-one communication. So, Ghadi detergent would be better served by TV and radio than digital.

And the difference between those reached and those not reached by the Internet is the glass ceiling for digital in India.


If you can’t read or write, you probably cannot afford a PC. Even if you stole one, you’d be lost. Because the Internet – all said and done – is primarily a reading-driven medium.

Apart from aiding computer literacy directly, education will open up opportunity. Opportunity will increase PC exposure, and voila! More people to sell stuff to through the Internet.

Instead of giving away laptops to villages, maybe our government needs to spend more on increasing the quality of education in villages.

There is a bright side, though. One digital medium that can bypass the need for education, apart from needing to know basic numbers. The mobile phone has the potential to boost digital in India, if only we could figure out what to do with it.

But more on that in a post yet to come.