Cubcast Ep.5 – Integrating Design with Software Engineering

In this episode, Shashank is joined by Dr. Prof. Anirudha Joshi. Anirudha Joshi is a professor at IIT, Bombay where he teaches interaction design. He is the founder member of the HCI professor’s association of India. We deep dive into Prof. Joshi’s research on bringing together software engineering practices and HCI activities.


For our fifth Cubcast episode, we had the wonderful opportunity to get together with Prof. Anirudha Joshi, a HOD of IDC School of Design, IIT Bombay, where he teaches interaction design. He is also a founding member of the HCI professor’s association of India.

Our host and CBO, Shashank Deshpande took this opportunity to dive deep into Prof. Joshi’s research on bringing together software engineering practices and HCI activities in this exciting episode – Integrating Design With Software Engineering.

Here are the key takeaways from this session.


What were you trying to validate with the design-software engineering collaboration?

“The immediate aim was to show that if you can integrate design activities into the software process development, it will have a big impact on a lot of things. But specifically, I measure a metric that we created called the usability goal achievement metric.

The primary hypothesis was that the closer you are to the process, the better your usability for achievement.

This would be a lot clearer if I took you through my Ph.D. journey first. When I submitted the paper to the research progress committee, they said it was good, but I had to come up with a way to prove it. They identified a few things I needed to prove and I got started on it.

I created two metrics to measure: Process metric and Product metric. Process metrics measure how close you are to the human process, and product metrics measure how well you’ve achieved your usability goals.

I validated the metrics separately first, then went on to collect data on them. I realized that people are not able to set usability goals as clearly as I wanted them to, so I had to create another tool called the usability goal-setting tool.

Eventually, the goal was to identify if these two metrics were correlated to validate if we can use them to achieve usability goals and integration indexes.”


How did you describe the usefulness of the two objectives of usability goals and integration index to design leaders in their software engineering and HCI processes?

“Usability goal achievement metric or UGAM is a metric and a tool that allows us to identify how well the team is able to achieve any goal.

In some of my early pilots, I asked people to set goals using this tool and evaluate their own projects that have been recently completed. There were three steps:

  1. Set goals.
  2. See how well you did against those goals.
  3. Calculate the metric.

I was shocked to see how many people got stuck on the first step where they didn’t how to articulate their goals. Once they eventually did and were able to evaluate their goals with the metric, it enabled an organization to see how a team has been doing over time, using various methods across different geographies and domains.

It became a like-for-like comparison across projects. In that sense, UGAM becomes a tool to evaluate and compare projects and their outcomes.

Similarly, the index of integration is a process-compliant metric where you define your development process in terms of smaller activities and assess how well your team is going about it.

Although you define a theoretical process, you might not always be following them on every project, and the index of integration allows you to identify that. What all organizations can do with this is to easily figure out which of those activities have the most impact on the final iteration of the product.”


You’ve researched the cultural differences between engineering and design professionals. What are the similarities or differences you found?

“This research was done long ago, even before my Ph.D. While a lot of things have changed in the professions, the foundation still seems to be the same.

The classic way of looking at it is to identify the differences between the two. But what I found was that many designers do dabble in the art of coding too. When the same person is thinking like a designer and an engineer, they think differently, which is very interesting.

Even when I tried to learn Python a few years ago and write code, I found myself thinking like a typical engineer, which is essentially focusing on factors like the maintainability of code or how to craft the script.

An engineer’s thinking process is very implementation, maintenance and duty-oriented. But when it comes to designing, they’re not thinking about how something is created or maintained. Rather, they’re thinking about solving real-life problems for real people.

That brings a completely different mentality to the project. In that sense, engineers bring the internal validity of a product, while designers bring the external validity of a product.”


You’ve interacted with design leaders from across the world. Have you seen any differences in how the Indian design community has evolved or positioned itself versus other parts of the world?

“There are interesting cultural differences and I’d say this is more to do with the Indian education system rather than Indian designers.

In several countries, particularly in the US, there is a very interesting focus on liberal arts, sciences, and engineering, where the focus is on liberating the individual from whatever they may be settled down with. It helps them overcome the development- or delivery-oriented work that people tend to do.

The European educational institutions look at these elements in a different way too.

Compared to that, the Indian education system has been very disciplinary for a very long time, but it’s good to see it changing slowly, but strongly. For example, there is a program at IIT Bombay now that focuses on sciences for things like humanities, social sciences, art, management, entrepreneurship, and design.

Most of us who did engineering at our undergraduate level typically had a few courses on humanities, be it economics, psychology, English, or any other social science. IIT Bombay has always had that but the basket is slowly increasing to include all these other disciplines.

There was a report that was done when this program was proposed where they conducted surveys amongst engineering students to identify which of these courses they would like to learn. It turned out that design education was one of the most popular demands among students.

As a head of the department, this is an exciting opportunity to spread design awareness and design knowledge among engineering students.”


To wrap up,

This session was an especially insightful one with Prof. Anirudha sharing his deep-rooted experience and experiments to try and evolve the engineering and design fields among young, aspiring designers and engineers.

Of course, this is just the crux of what he had to share with us. If you’d like to watch the entirety of Prof. Anirudha’s insights on integrating design with software engineering, you can find it right here!