Episode 65 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Udhaya Kumar Padmanabhan. UKP, as he is known to his friends and family, is a Global Strategic Design Director at Designit, an international strategic design consultancy. He is based in Bangalore, and in this conversation we talk about challenges and opportunities inherent in designing information systems for the Indian market.
As you’ll hear in the interview, I was especially interested in learning more about the diversity of languages spoken in India, which present interesting challenges to stewards of information environments. UKP explained:
we have the second largest English-speaking population on the planet. That’s about 125 million plus and counting. Apart from that, we have 615 million and counting speakers of Hindi, which is misconstrued as the official language of India, but it’s the most widely spoken language in India and elsewhere. 615 million is like more than half of our population. But most of the services and products and platforms, more so in a digital world today, are English.
We have a lot of languages, and we have a lot of people who are digitally equipped today. We have probably the second largest, or maybe the largest mobile phone population in the world as well. So, access to content, access to product and services is a check box that’s already been picked. But is it disseminating and assimilating and enabling people to assimilate information and context and transact that’s a big bummer. So, there’s a significant thrust on that plane. Specifically, that, okay, the English world is taken care of, probably some other European languages’ world is taken care of, but India, like I keep saying, it’s like every 200 kilometers we had a mini country, in essence.
People mistake localization to best user experiences. Technology helps you convert an English into a Hindi or a Hindi into something else, but a lot of context gets lost in that. I keep joking, it’s like your subtitles on any of the Netflixes or Amazon Primes that you see. If you really observe, at least 50% of those translations are hilarious. So much so that sometimes you can just watch that and laugh.
So, there is a lot of opportunity. You have simple math. You have about a billion prospective consumers, not necessarily customers for anything digital. Hungry! And English doesn’t cut it out.
Earlier in my career, I was very interested in the effects of internationalization on information architecture. I naively assumed that this mostly applied to organizations doing business internationally. But India is as an excellent example of why internationalization matters even in the context of a single country. (But are there many other countries as internally diverse as India?)