A few years ago, my team and I visited Dungarpur, a little village in Rajasthan for one of our user research studies, and what we observed there intrigued us to learn more about what really matters to people at the core.
The village looked paralysed in the past while the rest of India moved ahead - no street lamps, no electricity, and limited healthcare facilities. It was made up of mud houses and malnourished children peeping out as we walked by.
Our purpose as a user research team was to conduct a healthcare-related ethnography research. But we ended up with a far greater understanding.
As we were speaking with a family, we saw a series of photos hung over the entrance to the house - photos of people at a modest wedding ceremony, all with a mobile phone held to the ear.
Curious, we asked the family about the photos and especially the common pose of people. It appeared that it was the same phone, and that everyone was taking turns to hold it, including the bride.
It is hard to understand that a poor village would prefer to obsess over a mobile phone when good food and a healthcare system were critically missing.
Listening to their stories, we could infer that a mobile phone is seen as a status symbol in this village, just as more advanced gadgets are seen in other parts of India. While for you and me, mobile phones are means to communicate or work, for these villagers it was a social status symbol, a way of saying, "Look, I've arrived!"
While this was not related to healthcare research directly, it helped us understand the mental models of the people we are designing/building products for, their aspirations, and what matters to them.
People are complex; not one-shade characters we see in stories. A product's success lies in its ability to understand and connect with people's complexity.
Today I see a healthy trend of new product companies popping up to solve challenges, but unfortunately, the teams making these products rarely leave their desk to visit and connect with the people they are building for, therefore missing out on valuable insights into their users' lives, ecosystem, and consuming behaviours.
And as a user researcher helping product teams, I strongly feel having an open, curious mindset and empathy will help us build and solve better. So step out, look around, OBSERVE, LISTEN, and ask questions.
(Based on a field visit made by Shipra Bhutada and her team in a remote village in Rajasthan.)