India — a country where every person is an unread walking book, a film can be shot from their stories which will make you laugh, cry and even wonder. Here are five such stories from my experience that have changed my outlook and brought me closer to the reality, the ‘real user.’ Deepening my empathy and improving my vision (and hopefully yours by the end!)

A Beggar and his Bowl.

Seated in a train, a beggar approached me with his bowl. He was making noise by clinking some coins and asking me for more. I gave him an Orange instead of money. Keeping the bowl on his lap, he sat down eating the fruit. After a few bites, I asked him “You will get more money if your bowl is empty. Why keep these 3–4 coins?” He was struck for a while, maybe because first — someone is talking to him, like genuinely; and over that second — asking a question with curiosity. He paused and said, “No Sirji, people don’t like an empty bowl, they won’t give anything at all, and then I will have nothing at night. When they see at least some money in my bowl, they feel that other people have offered him something, let’s add our small bit to it. I have experienced it (nods his head).”

Aha moment

  • People don’t like emptiness, and they won’t entertain it either. It doesn’t inspire them. Instead, an unfinished task triggers them to finish it. This trick has been useful for me in getting the user to do something upon reaching an empty state or a dead-end in an application/work-flow.
  • Set inspiring empty states messages.
    For example — An empty Draft folder would usually say ‘You don’t have any drafts.’ …meh, versus ‘There’s always something as a draft, let’s get started.’ (and there is!)
  • Load your Forms/Pages with as much pre-filled default information as possible.
  • Show task advancement (Progress Bar) at every stage in a flow…even super-mini-stages too. A sense of completion drives conversions. The above is the underlying psychology behind the semi-filled ring around your profile photo — pushing you to complete all your account information.
    To conclude, we humans don’t like unfinished tasks.
Credit to Google Images

The Turn.

While riding one afternoon, I was stuck in traffic because someone far ahead was fighting over a slight vehicle touch. I usually wait and crib about such people wasting everybody’s time and bla…blah… But this time it somehow occurred to me that ‘I just can’t do anything about it’ and accepted the fact, humbly. After a while gazing around the vicinity, I noticed a township next to the road whose entry & exit might be a shortcut to my destination. And I turned right — drove in peace!

Aha moment

  • The moment you accept _constraints_ in your life (or while designing), your brain adapts to it and starts functioning differently.
    Just like in sports like Soccer, you accept the constraints like the width & height of the Goal, the field markings, etc. and play around it. The body and brain adapt to all these limits. Any sport is nothing but a set of well-designed constraints; your acceptance attitude makes it playful and fun.
  • Accepting & respecting the restrictions while designing will lead to better product adoption and smooth user experience because ultimately your product has to fit the environment (which has limitations) and not the other way around.
Photo by Jannes Glas on Unsplash


While getting off the train in Hyderabad, a middle-aged man asked me if it’s easy to get a ride to a particular place, to which I replied, ‘Yeah, Ola rides are available and a safe option around the station.’ I personally prefer riding with Ola instead of Uber in India. Pardoning again he said ‘Are Uber rides available? You know, I can’t really read things clearly on the Ola app and my eyeglasses are in my bag.’

Aha moment

  • Your target audience has such problems. Please pay attention to details like the font sizes, and follow a consistent design language and put right affordances throughout the product. The team at Google Maps considers colourblind people while choosing their colours for navigation, just FYI.

Gone with the Tick.

(Translated version of a casual conversation with a co-passenger)
Somewhere again in Train | 2nd May |  PM

Uncle: “Hey, you look like my Sister’s Son.”
Me: “Haha…Sweet, but really?”
Uncle: “Yes, wait let me show you his photo, I have it on WhatsApp.”
scrolls…scrolls his phone and start panicking.
Me: “Is everything ok?”
Uncle: “Yes, I just can’t find his photo, I had it here in the WhatsApp chat but can’t find it anymore.”
Me: “You might have deleted it by mistake maybe, what did you do?”
Uncle: “I just cleared my chat history.”
Me: “Oh, you might have forgotten to untick the option that deletes all the media from your chats.”
Uncle: “Maybe yeah…but media means just News channel videos & messages we share with friends, right?”

Screenshot from the WhatsApp android app

Me: “Ohh yes and no! Media also means your Photos, Videos, and audio files.”
Uncle: “OMG! Can’t they write it clearly? (frowns)
Anyways, thanks for your help. I don’t know what all I might have lost.”

Definition of Media on Google

Aha moment

  • The words in your message, your little message like above on WhatsApp really matter. Microcopy really matters.
    He might (or might not) have lost so many rare memories with misinterpreting this little word ‘media.’ When triggering actions like Deletion/Creation, speak a direct and a clear language, search for multiple meanings of a word. Microcopy has major-emotions.
    <Feel free to forward this to WhatsApp!>

Fast and the Curious.

A fellow traveller was submitting a web-form, and everything got submitted super quick; that he exclaimed at the end, ‘Did it all go right? I doubt.’ And he did the process all over again.

The world is racing with itself these days. Its very common to see hoardings of Fast Food, Fast Phones, Fast Cars, Quick Loans, Quick Delivery, Faster Connection. I even heard Fast Dating! And a similar trend is seen while developing products and customer experience.

Aha moment

  • Slow down, let things take their usual time. We human beings have our limitations and expectations. The subtle blinking sleep LED on the old MacBook Pro was mindfully synced with our breathing time to make it feel more human. Stay natural.

Oh great, you are still here reading. Let’s feed one more interesting story to your interest.

I got lucky!

(Chatting with a middle-aged fellow passenger in a bus | 3 PM)

Me: “So where do you work?”
Him: “I work for an Oil company. I inspect the installed oil & gas pipes with the instruments to check for any leakages and report them. Very manual and tiring job, I guess you are the computer guy?”
Me: “Yes, I am a software designer.”
Him: “Nice man (smiles), you software people don’t have to work in this scorching heat of the sun.”
(In Hindi — Tum software walon ko dhup nahi lagti!)

My heart sank deep in gratitude and awe.

Be thankful to your users (I mean really and not just for a marketing gimmick). They have given you their precious time, the space on their phones and their attention, the energy.

Use it wisely. Stay honest and grateful.

And with such a beautiful message allow me to give you a clear vision of how is your real-world-user.

Your user is standing in the middle of a shaky bus with one hand holding the bag, and the other wrapped across the bar for support and checking the phone trying to read those texts, type in, delete the shaky typos, type in again on the small keyboard and figure out where is the Next button!

Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash

I’d love to know which was your favourite story, comment them below or simply highlight it. You can now click and hold the Clap icon until it’s 50 for my six  🙂 Thank you for your time.

I am an independent User Experience () designer who loves to create user-friendly products and also loves travelling. If you like my style, let’s connect at [email protected]. Love from India.

5 UX design lessons from my travel diary was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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