Design is no longer just reserved for the "look and feel" of a product, but a factor in the overall
vision of many successful companies.
To learn more about the role UX design and designers are playing in product development, I sat down
with the founders of Intelligaia, a UX design firm focused on enterprise products.
Started in 2005 in Chandigarh, India, founders Sandeep Chauhan, Rajiv Kaul and Cheena Kaul opened
offices in RTP and San Francisco to keep up with growing demand for their work. Now, the
Raleigh-based founders employ more than 80 people across the company, designing for clients like HP,
Cisco and DocuSign.
I've paraphrased their comments after my questions below.
Throughout your portfolio on your company website, I noticed the
words compass and destination. After some inspection, I realized that the compass and destination
were metaphors for users and product. Can you talk a little bit about that metaphor? I thought it
was an interesting word choice
The UX process has two components: objectively come up with a solution and subjectively make designs
that are pleasant to the eye. With regards to the objective piece, we have to find ways to solve
certain problems and map out the journeys of users. We saw compass as an apt metaphor for
understanding the people using our app. We're building a product out of their need and we need to
stay true to their needs just like the captain of the ship stays true to a specific direction.
The metaphor is also a reminder of how we look at the process. We create apps around human centered
design. There are no "users." Just humans. It's this shift from pixels to people that really defines
our philosophy. We're dealing with people, we have to empathize with them, and then find the
What are some misconceptions people have about design? Some people
think design is just Photoshop and minimalism but personally I see it as way of thinking about
things from top bottom and bottom up.
They think it comes for free (laughs). You're right, it's not just aesthetics. It's evolved to mean
much more. It's strategy, plan, process. Design thinking is a holistic way of looking at problems. I
would say that's the big difference between art and design. Art is something you do for your own
pleasure. Design has a purpose. Design has to solve a problem.
Why we joke about Photoshop is because that's what the world thinks design is. But with the mass
adoption of technology and people finding value when they incorporate design into their thinking,
they have seen that design plays a much larger role than simply the aesthetics. For example in our
sales process, we heavily emphasize our design principles.
Customers often come to us with a simple aesthetic requirement. We don't just solve the immediate
problem. We assess the situation using strong fundamentals of design, and only then come up with
solutions for their business needs that they might not have anticipated. Without design systems in
place, a business cannot scale efficiently. Educating customers is a big part of what we do.
As much as we are talking about design's non-aesthetic role, it's important to not discount the
craft. Design is the beauty a user ultimately interacts with. Even if there was a lot of thought and
engineering that went into the product, the front facing experience is what they see and touch.
Finally, it's the craft that comes out.
I was going to bring it up, but you touched upon it already.
Designers are no longer just involved in the interface. They're designing the strategy and
architecture of the product...
Today when you're designing, you have to think about the entire process. Within the product, there
can be many points of contact. So when we're designing we have to think about all the different ways
a person interacts with it- online, offline, different devices, emerging technologies etc.
Do you ever get a headache imagining the possibilities? When
someone comes to you with a problem and you're viewing it through this lens of design where there
are no limits and assumptions are questioned, you could ostensibly change everything and go in so
This is an important question. Most people don't understand this. There are lots of possibilities
that could end up as the final product. But given all these options, we have to ask ourselves which
one is good for my product. When we work on something new, people want to see the art of possible.
We go to great lengths to research and consider the future climate of technology-not just next
quarter, but down the line five years from now. We're designing for the
But to go back to your question, it's never a headache. It's more of an excitement. It can take
whatever shape. It's a beautiful thing to think about. It's the joy of our work. It's a designer's
dream to work on something with unlimited possibilities. We're challenged with this constantly.
What do you do when a business client comes to you with one
specification but you feel it's best to take it another direction? Because you have to satisfy their
needs over yours, do you ultimately go with their vision or...? Has there ever been a time you
produced a work- 1 them and one for them? :)
This reminds of what Henry Ford said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said
faster horses." You have to know when to push the limit sometimes.
Articulating your design decisions is an art of itself. You build this up through experience. A
really creative solution is not easy to sell. You have to see the other side of the table. The
investor is concerned about his money and wants a practical solution that he knows will sit easy
with customers. As beautiful as the iPhone was, if it wasn't functionally sound, a person wouldn't
have bothered with it. In other words, you can have the most beautiful design in the world but if
it's not helping the customer, there's no point. You have to balance the expectations with your
creative ideas, plan within the time constraints, understand the customer, and look past the time
The bottom line is you can't get too touchy about your work. Design is lot of emotional labor and one
needs to balance it with rational. Justifying your decision is as important as the decision itself.
That's how you build design leadership. You have to understand all points of view.
You brought up wearables. 20 years ago the web was becoming a
thing. Then mobile became a thing. And then tablets became a thing. Now we have smart watches. I
find voice assistants super fascinating because there's no surface. What technology are you most
In the future, it won't just be visual design. It will be centered around designing the process
itself. Two areas where we'll see UX playing a bigger role in the future are security and
cryptocurrency. Security is a place where design hasn't been prioritized. We've all seen how design
has influenced our devices. Security is going to be play an immense role in the coming years given
the way the internet is invading every aspect of our lives. Look at your own device right now. How
many security points do you have? A common man doesn't even worry about security.
I read a piece by Jim Gosler, a cybersecurity expert, the other day. If someone hacked into Google
Maps, and decided to point all the routes in one direction, it could turn into a very scary
situation. We need to think about that and create measures that prevent that happening on multiple
levels. Cryptocurrency is another area where design will be huge.
Right. Design is going to bleed into areas where design
historically hasn't been. So far, it's been prominent in architecture and sculptures, but those are
very pretty things. Security is very ugly. And no one wants to go there.
You're spot on. Software design got us thinking about building apps and making giant companies out of
them. Now is the time to think about how security and money can be handled through design. Right
now, Square can analyze how many customers are making how much money every hour, every minute, and
leverage that data to determine what loan to give based on how fast they can repay. This is
completely different from traditional banking where you have to apply for loans and wait an extended
period of time. It's a beautiful example of service design, where customers are at the center of the
Over the past 20 years, you've seen trends in UX design such as
flat design. What's a trend that is trendy right now that you disagree with? What's "in" that you
Endless scrolls. Those are irritating. It takes energy out of me. When is it going to end? (laughs).
A lot of people like conversational chat bots but I don't. Granted they're in the early stages right
now, so some kinks need to be worked out. They have a lot of potential.
Trends come and go but one thing that will always stay constant is the fact that good design doesn't
break. Good design is timeless. When a business or a product is built on good design, it doesn't
need to go through a bunch of iterations every couple of years. It will have long term utility and
As a UX designer, is there an artist you look to and say to
yourself, I want to be like that person? Growing up, did you ever say to yourself I want to have the
effect that person's art has had on me on others.
I was very fascinated by RK Laxman. I loved his cartoons growing up. He was the official cartoonist
for Times of India for many years. He came up with the idea for The Common Man, an iconic comic
strip. In a one or two-line caption and a cartoon, he could explain the essence of the political
climate in India. It was like Twitter before Twitter.
As a designer you need to learn to not be so emotionally invested in your
work because it's ultimately someone else's and their artistic preferences take precedence over
yours. It sounds like that's a lesson you've learned over time. Can you talk a little more about
Am I actually emotionally separate from my designs? It's tough but important not to get entangled in
it. You should be able to give it up. You can't cling onto something because you feel it is your
"masterpiece." You should be able to scrap it and move onto another thing. This is easier said than
done because we're always emotionally involved. Detachment can never be fully there, but being aware
of this feeling is critical.
What is one piece of advice you want to leave with UX and product
Balance time between prototyping and research. Have a clear intent of what are you creating- it's an
invaluable soft skill that a designer can bring into the team.
Young designers can benefit from sketching. Devices and software exist to help out with this but the
hand drawn sketch is the foundation. A designer needs to have better hand control than a common
person even if it's just a wireframe. It has to go beyond scribbles. You have to hand over something
that is clear to interaction designers and investors alike.
Another thing I would say is for them to spend more time applying knowledge rather than just simply
compiling it. Derive benefits from research work. They overemphasize it to the point of never
leaving it. Leonardo Da Vinci too made vigilant observations about the real world. But he also took
that a step further and came up with solutions. So I would say, designers should be able to apply
that knowledge and create something with it.