Welcome to the Jungle5 UX Lessons from the Wilderness
Ritusri Halambi /
If you were to ask me what kind of holiday you want to take, I will always vouch for a safari vacation, preferably the Tadoba Andhari National Park in Nagpur. Cities have their own vibe, but to be honest I would imagine myself sitting on the last seat of an open jeep in a middle of a jungle eagerly waiting for a wild animal to appear.
National parks are a great way to experience “the wild” – the animals are free to roam across acres of open jungle. As a family, we love going on tiger safaris. You might assume that a tiger safari includes tigers. But no, that’s not always true. Sightings are never assured. It’s purely luck, tiger luck! There are about 3500 tigers in India as of 2023, out of which most national parks are home to around 110 tigers. About 12-15 tigers have their territory marked in the tourist zone which means that a tiger sighting is a rare occurrence, making it a super exciting experience.
My first tryst with the wild was back when we visited Bandipur in Karnataka. As kids, my brother and I were fascinated to meet Mowgli’s friends but were so disappointed not being able to spot “Shere Khan”, the tiger. We saw plenty other animals apart from the tiger, and that kept us going to various national parks across the country, including Nagarhole, Pench and Ranthambore. And finally, in search of seeing a tiger we visited Tadoba – one of the places in India where tiger sightings are maximum. It’s become a fixity; we keep coming back to this beautiful serene place. We made our second trip to Tadoba last June and took a three-day trip into the core zone of the jungle.
There was something different about this trip. On previous trips, I was just a kid eagerly waiting to spot a tiger. On this trip, I was a fresh graduate, working in the field of design, more observant, more self-aware, and realising that I’m seeing more than just a tiger. This made me draw some parallels between the experience of a designer and the experience in a jungle, and three days and four safaris later, here are my learnings…
Tadoba Andhari National Park, Chandrapur, Nagpur
1. Seeing beyond the obvious: When we are on a jungle safari, all our senses are heightened. Our eyes are wide open. The jungle is lush green and vibrant. We pay close attention to the details, the visual cues, the footmarks of the paws or tracking the wild animal down to any movement in the bush, we are quite observant. Not just sight, but also sounds. From the rustle of leaves to the birds chirping, to the monkey’s call, every little sound becomes a clue. We could scent the aroma of the damp mud and the air was filled with pure oxygen. Obviously, taste is not directly related but yes, the taste of excitement and adventure is very prevalent. Lastly, the touch of the breeze on our skin and the warmth of the sun makes it a wholesome experience.
If you look closely, you can see the moniter lizard waiting to attack the mangoose who is behind the ant hill
Tiger pug marks were spotted which helped in tracking them down
Similarly, during a user research interview, as a designer we are supposed to listen, hear and see more than what the user tells us. Every little shuffle of their feet, every fidget are subtle signs. We tend to observe non-verbal cues, like facial expressions and body language. There are times when the user’s eye contact conveys how interested or hesitant, they are. These insights help in gaining a holistic understanding of the user’s needs and emotions. The art of observing beyond words help in transforming research interviews into meaningful design solutions.
2. Adaptability: I realized animals in the wild easily adapt to the weather conditions of the jungle. An animal may adapt to their environment in several ways. It may be a physical or a structural adaption like the crocodile can thrive in water and on land or just how the sloth bear has long, and curved claws made for tearing apart termite mounds or beehives. A tiger adapts to the harsh weather conditions. During the summers, tigers are sighted chilling in water bodies and it’s the best time to sight tigers! During monsoons and winters they usually don’t come out in the open.
Crocodile gliding in water
Sloth bear crossing our path
By taking inspiration on how animals adapt to the surrounding, designers too can inculcate adaptability. Animals thrive in the wild conditions, similarly designers should continue to adapt and evolve to the ever changing demands of the market. Designers should be flexible and open to change with respect to trends, market conditions and culture differences. They should be sensitive about inclusivity and cultural diversity as they are relevant in today’s time. The ones who acknowledge and embrace cultural differences are positioned better in the industry.
3.Communication: A jungle safari communicates a beautiful and a captivating story which immerses the tourists in the narrative, be it through tour guide or the jungle experience itself. There are multiple highs and lows. Jungle is also about anticipation. When you’re in the jungle everything is a matter of chance. Disappointment is a common emotion, yet it is these moments of disappointment that the unexpected often occur. Usually, tigers are sighted near water bodies drinking water or basking under the sun but unfortunately it rained the night before we went on our first safari and the chances of spotting the tigers were bleak. On day two, something unusual happened. Something caught our guide’s attention. He saw some movement in the bush. He told our driver to stop. It was a mere deer. After a few minutes we heard a distinct call, a monkey alarming the deer. After driving a few meters ahead, we had the privilege to see the grand “Matkasur” lounging gracefully in the muddy water. It was an honour to sit quietly and observe his behaviour. Surrounded by eight jeeps, the tiger was undisturbed by the tourists. Then, something extraordinary happened. He got up and gave us a road show for forty-five minutes! Shivers ran down my spine thinking how close the tiger was to our jeep. It was such a surreal moment! Every safari had some story to tell, and the climax was worth waiting for!
The grand “Matkasur” treating us with a road show
So, by applying communication to UX design, we can create engaging narratives. It evokes emotions and creates a strong connection with the user. Emotionally driven stories resonate more with the users. In a competitive market, incorporating communication helps to differentiate and bring out the uniqueness in the brand. Just like the encounter of “Matkasur” created a lasting impression on our minds, designers can create unforgettable moments with their designs that will leave users with stories to share and memories to cherish.
4. Instincts: This may sound clichéd, but nature follows simple principles and rules. Animals have a few inherent instincts, like birds have an instinct to migrate in order to escape harsh weather conditions, the tigress has a motherly instinct to protect her cubs from another male tiger and the deer have a survival instinct to hide from the predators. On the last day, our tour guide hinted at the possibility of witnessing a glimpse of “Choti Tara”, one of the famous tigresses in Tadoba, known for her hunting techniques. She was sighted with a successful boar’s kill and two cubs. We couldn’t get a clear sight of the cubs as she had hidden them inside the bush. Our guide told us that she is protective and wanted to keep her cubs safe from another male tiger. And, as night approached, the mother’s instinct to keep her cubs safe became evident.
Tigress sighted with her kill.
Similarly, designers also have certain instincts. Trusting the gut feeling will help designers to make better decisions and give user-centric results. A design process is quite robust, monotonous and scientific. However, designers often encounter situations where they might not have access and flexibility in getting accurate data. In such cases, relying on their gut feeling becomes valuable. This doesn’t mean designers make decisions arbitrarily rather their instincts are called by years of experience. A designer’s decision is combination of stakeholder interviews, user research, competitive mapping and that gut-feeling.
5. Collaboration: Lastly, the animal world emphasizes on collaboration and coexistence for survival. In the animal kingdom, it’s all about teamwork! The pack of wild dogs (Dhole) are known for their group hunting techniques. While hunting, some of them chase the prey while some others hide behind bushes for ambushing the prey. They hunt in larger packs in case of big animals. That’s how it works in the professional world too! Collaboration between designers is a must. One needs to establish a culture that encourages open and transparent communication not only between designers but also between designers and clients. We need to embrace the power of teamwork for fantastic results. When we respect each other’s unique stripes and build a positive habitat, our work jungle becomes a thriving paradise of adventure and success! So, let your creativity roar, swing through challenges and tackle problems with agility.
Wild dogs also known as “Dhole”. Picture courtesy- Walkthewilderness by Thomas
These are just 5 takeaways I’ve had on my first trip as a designer in the wild. I’m sure there’s a lot more in store… after all, it’s wild out there. Can’t wait to go back!