Light on the Shoulders, Light on the Psyche

By, Abha Dhital,
Student – MBA Entrepreneurship


Here’s a secret, when you are a customer, ever so often you find yourself saying- I would have done such a better job with this product/service. When you are a service provider or a product designer, it’s a different story altogether. The struggle is real – all too real. You know what the challenges are, you have an idea of what the solutions could be, and yet when you sit down to devise them there is a good chance that you will fail, ample times before you succeed. 

I am always that customer who thinks she would have done such a better job if I were on the other side. However, I have been meaning to step into the creators’, the developers’, the designers’, the solution providers’, the entrepreneurs’ shoes for a while now, to understand why some solutions succeed while most fail. While dabbling in the subject, I came to understand that most solutions that worked had humans, the end-users, at their center. Hence, I have been inclined towards human-centered design (HCD) for a while now and when King’s College provided me with an opportunity to take up a challenge that had betterment of Urban Mobility in the country at its core, I was not going to miss it.

I recently participated in the Urban Mobility Co-creation challenge where various groups were to come up with solutions for both painstakingly obvious problems alongside those that could be easily blindsided. It was a learning opportunity where many teams from across the world were working towards various solutions to make urban mobility more effective, more efficient, and most importantly more humane.

You know, sometimes I feel like online shopping was invented for people just like me. I stay in, browse for food or things online, order in, and judge the service. While I have been very critical of UI/UX designs, credibility, timeliness, and customer service of such online services; until recently I had been underestimating the roles that the delivery people play in them. I have often overlooked the fact that they are the backbones of such businesses. More importantly, I probably haven’t ever stopped to think about the emotions, the feelings, the personal challenges that delivery people go through. For all most of us care, delivery people are just mediums. Right?

Interestingly, the challenge for our team, which was to devise a solution for the logistics company Pick n Drop, brought to our attention that many delivery people associate their job with stigma. The organization leaders revealed to us that delivery people, when carrying big delivery bags picking and dropping goods across the city, didn’t feel dignified enough. They were ashamed of the job. They were ashamed of their position in the social strata. Our job was then to find a solution that tackled this very stigma. 

Challenging. As we scratched our heads to decide whether to go with a solution that dealt with behavior change or product design, our facilitators reminded us we first go with REALLY understanding the problem. 

When you are creating a solution, it is so easy to imagine that you are the customer and limit yourself with personal biases. But what lies at the core of HCD is deep-diving into the challenges by actually interacting with the humans that we are solving the problems for. As solution givers, it is easy to get carried away and even easier to lose patience. We were overly enthusiastic to zero down to a solution. We were definitely in an unnecessary hurry, for the lack of better terms. But one of the first and most important takeaways from this program was that solutions take time, solutions take research, solutions take questioning the problem, and solutions take challenging what you think the solutions would be. 

As we interacted with the delivery people, the humans at the center of our solution design, we got to see a perspective that we were initially apathetic towards. We realized that the weight of shame and the weight of the bag both mattered to them, and both needed to be addressed. They wanted something that was not only light on their shoulders but also weighed light on their psyche. 

Now behavior-change, while of utmost importance, was a long shot. So our team focused on redesigning the bags. If the bag were to be light on the shoulders, we had to get rid of metal rods that made it heavier, and the overall material had to be light while also keeping insulation in mind. If the bag were to not weigh down the delivery people with stigma, it had to shrink into a regular-looking bag when the delivery people got home and expand into a functional delivery bag should there be bulky products to deliver during the working hours. Its appearance also had to look “cool” and “chic” without compromising the brand’s awareness and presence.

Sounds simple, right? I laugh as I write this. From designing and redesigning the prototype to sourcing materials and manufacturers to testing the prototype with the delivery people, waiting for validation, being open to criticism, letting go of the baby that our prototype was to create another iteration of the solution – oh, it was grueling. It was time-, energy-, and resource intensive. And as we developed empathy towards delivery people, it would not be an exaggeration at all to say that we also developed so much empathy towards the company in question – Pick n Drop itself.

Did we get the solution ready? Let’s say a version of it. Is it the final solution? Of course not. We have learned that design, whether it is for a product or a service, is a progressive and gradual process. You experiment, and experiment a lot, especially in the early phases so that once you are ready to introduce it to the market – it actually works! 

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