The toughest appliance market in the world

Challenging environmental conditions in India put incredible strain on whitegoods. Unreliable water and electricity, extreme temperatures, pollution, humidity and monsoon rains all contribute to heavy wear and tear for appliances. A few more things that set India apart from other markets: there are 500 million vegetarians, more than 30 official languages spoken, 50 cultural holidays in the calendar year and one of the fastest growing middle classes in the world.

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Rapid learning from deep immersion

The goals of our research were to understand this new consumer and define clear and actionable insights that would provide both near- and long-term value for our client. During the six-month project, the Smart team spent five weeks undertaking in-field research in Delhi and Chennai, living for four days at a time with eight women and their families. Spending that much time allowed us to learn about all aspects of their lives and their environment. We studied the way they shopped, cooked and ate meals as a family. We also observed their laundry methods, where centuries of traditions were being redefined by access to washing machines in everyday life.

Purchasing the first set of appliances is a big family decision. It’s also an expensive one, often requiring years of savings. We observed families making up their own traditions as they went along to reflect the way they incorporated them into their lives.

We saw refrigerators taking pride of place in the living room, whereas laundry machines and clotheslines had no dedicated space at all. We also noted the shortcuts and work-arounds women devised to make things a little bit easier for themselves.

Concepts for a culture, not just a consumer

Still in India, we translated notepads of cultural observations into product and service ideas we could apply to refrigerator and washing machine concepts. We knew there would be some considerations that wouldn’t cross the cultural divide, so we conducted extensive in-country prototyping to make sure our ideas made sense and resonated with locals.

For instance, the new iconography we developed for user interface needed to act as a common denominator for the 30 languages spoken throughout the country. This required a lot user sessions to ensure we got it right.

By the end of project, our team had presented a variety of concepts for different appliances specifically designed for the Indian market. The focus was on easy-to-understand, high-value solutions that addressed the challenging environment and answered the diverse needs of the Indian culture and lifestyle.

This experience in India reaffirmed our belief that purposeful design comes from a deep understanding of people, their motivations and their aspirations. For multinational companies seeking to enter emerging markets, this type of project can go a long way to establishing brand presence and loyalty, as well as carving a roadmap for business growth in the region.

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