Empathy, education, empowerment: Bengaluru Design Festival panel offers advice on designing for the next billion

One of the highlights of the recent bangalore design festival (BDF) was a panel titled Designing for the next billion users. It was moderated by Shandar Junaid, Director of Product Design at Citrix.

Your history was the media partner of BDF. See also your history previous coverage of other design conferences such as DesignUp of 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 Y 2017.

The BDF panelists were rasagy sharma, product designer, sundial; Dharmesh BA, Founder, The India Notes; Alok Nandi, former president of IxDA Global; Payal Sharma, UX Designer, Lollypop Design Studio; and Prakash Sharma, co-founder of 1001 Stories.

Here are my ten key points from the extensive and provocative discussion.

see our d-zen (‘Zen Design’) section for more design resources and our reviews of related books the next billion users, average Indian winner, anchor Change, Social Entrepreneurship in India, Being an Impact Champion, grassroots innovation, Y A world of three zeros.


1. Digital infrastructure

Thanks to the widespread spread of smartphones and 4G mobile internet, the infrastructure is in place to launch many digital products and services to a broad base of Indian citizens. There is also openness and confidence to explore online markets and transactions, and opportunities to move beyond previous versions of connectivity and content infrastructure.

2. Information based on data

Building on the digital infrastructure, there is a growing opportunity to base design decisions and changes on verifiable data. Instinct-based experience and intuition can be combined with real-time information at scale about user behavior and preferences. Hybrid offline and online business models can provide unified views of people and consumer journeys.

3. Designing for Bharat

While the first waves of digital design were understandably influenced by Western models, the time has come to expand design models adapted to the Indian context. This includes designing for more heterogeneous users, multiple languages, and collectivist behaviors.


4. Empathy

Designing for new users from different contexts demands a greater focus and precision in empathy with the client. For example, it can be difficult for urban designers to overcome biases and prejudices when designing for rural users. But it’s important to keep asking who exactly the users are and to dive into their lives to understand why this product or service will be useful to them and how they will use it.

5. Design education

In the long term, design education will play a critical pivotal role in building the right mindset, skill set, and tool set for designers. Industry and academia will need to collaborate more closely to design effectively for the masses, and the creative ideas of students and researchers must be given a platform for wider visibility. Design thinking must also be taught in all disciplines.

6. Inclusion

Given the vast socioeconomic disparity in countries like India, designers now have the opportunity and responsibility to get it right with inclusive design. More attention should be paid to the inclusion of characters from women and the LGBTIQA+ community, as well as citizens with disabilities.


7. Sustainability

Current economic and development models and consumer culture have wreaked havoc on the environment and climate. Designing for the next billion users must also take into account the fundamental concerns of sustainability and preservation of the environment. Consumers must be nudged toward more responsible behavior, and product designers must also consider recycling issues.

8. Co-creation

The dashboard title itself requires a lot of critical introspection and proofreading – you must be designing with instead of for the next billion users. The citizens of the future should not be considered mere passive consumers, but active designers and creators of their own future. Designing for the next billion is not about charity but about dignity.

9. Creative confidence

While India has a wealth of cultural heritage and creative foundations, there needs to be more creative confidence. For example, the Indian culinary sector has a dazzling array of offerings, but the presentation and packaging could do with improvement to meet global standards. Discovery platforms (eg. the locavore), skills improvement and benchmarking could help here.


10. Role of the government

Given the high levels of pollution in Indian cities, designing urban habitats that are clean, sustainable and livable should be a priority focus and needs long-term multi-stakeholder alignment. The government plays a key role in extending these mandates.

the road ahead

In short, the panel advocated for an integrated design approach for the next billion, combining digital and physical models. The design of sustainable food systems (“foodware”) and a repositioning of health care beyond the mere “health cure” are essential.

Design is a combination of art and problem solving, and the future looks bright for the designer and maker community if they get it right.