Who are the next billion users?
For the ones residing in urban settings, it is natural to think of the internet as a ubiquitous resource. Swift digital transformation and deeper penetration of technology in every walk of life have created novel demography of sorts that is always online-first. Most tech companies, thus, tend to consider just this as the focal point of their upcoming innovative ventures.
However, when designing for the next billion users, tech & design companies have to take a step back and understand the current socio-economic landscape of the world because the key to finding your next billion users hides there.
Let us take a look at the numbers.
Between 2013 and 2017, almost one billion users were introduced to the digital world. Surprisingly, 50% of this internet-first crowd came from 11 developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
And this pattern is set to repeat itself for the next billion users.
This new wave of billion users is not going to be people from the USA, UK, Canada, and other developed countries, where almost 70–80% of the population is already connected. Your next billion users are from the emerging economies, i.e, from countries like India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and more (where the economy is fast transitioning from a low-income, less-developed scenario to a modern and globally-connected market).
For tech and design companies looking for their next billion users, these economies present the biggest set of opportunities, but not without their own set of challenges. Let us look one by one, how these seemingly gargantuan problems can be controlled through the tenets of human-centered design.
Accessibility-first design approach
Did you know that around 80% of people with disabilities reside in emerging economies?
The privilege of being a designer in an increasingly globalized world creates a vast sea of opportunities in proactively building meaningful, ethical, and useful products that incorporate inclusivity. Be it of culture, languages, societies, or even physical and mental abilities.
No two users are the same.
From economic standing to cognitive abilities to a number of environmental factors — anything can stand as a roadblock between you and your user, inhibiting the use of technology in solving problems of their daily lives.
The solution is to become increasingly inclusive by default.
Strategies for UX designers
- Be a regular attendee of talks, meet-ups, conferences, etc with accessibility-experts, specifically for a particular geographic area.
- Expand your user research sample size and be deliberate about including people who are differently-abled. Get in touch with local NGOs to connect with this demographic.
- Coming down to racial, gender, and cultural inclusivity — follow the above step in involving a diverse array of participants for all stages of research.
- Remember, in most emerging economies, English is not the first language. Avoid complex terms and technical jargon.
Strategies for UI designers
- Get acquainted with local aesthetics, design, and themes that dominate the culture of a specific region. Take inspiration from them. Also, make sure that the visual designs and language that you implement in your product design doesn’t insult or offend any group.
- Make your app high contrast. Rely more on universal icons, colors, and shapes to guide users.
- Minimize the need to type and enter information. Minimize the use of complex hierarchies such as drop-down menus, tabs, etc.
- Make use of multiple visual cues to communicate with the users. Strokes, indicators, patterns, so on and so forth to establish an easy-to-grasp universal visual language across every screen.
- Keep text and typography large. Ensure it works seamlessly in both portrait and landscape mode.
- Pay heed to the minimum touch size targets for Android phones that don’t limit dexterity and vision.
- Remember the design shouldn’t break on magnification. Check every element of the design under 200% magnification.
Lightning-fast global design sprints
Listening to your users is a key part of creating the best possible experience for them.
The 6 pillars of a successful design sprint (understand, define, sketch, decide, prototype, and validate) generate enthusiasm and forward momentum required to build a champion digital platform.
How can UX designers and product designers strategize and conduct an effective design sprint, when designing for the next billion users?
- Observe your target users in their daily life and routine. Bring these unique insights into the design sprint.
- Build empathy for your users by understanding their specific needs and pain points and seeing the world from their perspective.
- Owing to remote collaboration in today’s pandemic-hit world, it might not be possible to travel to each and every location in order to interact directly with the users. The best possible alternative is to collaborate with local experts, early on in the design process.
- Not just collaborate, but co-design with the local experts. This allows for better insights and higher empathy with the users paving the path for faster decision-making and swift validation of ideas.
- It would be wise to include a translator in your team.
- Facilitate higher inclusivity and better engagement with the target audience by including a diverse set of activities such as storytelling, drawing, and role-playing.
- Be aware of cultural nuances and ensure nothing offensive or derogatory becomes a part of the design.
Designing for “no internet” scenarios
Shocking as it may sound,1.6 billion people around the world live outside the range of mobile internet.
Millions more keep shuttling between areas of good internet and no internet. In certain emerging economies, the internet cost is just too high (Ugandans spend roughly 11% of their income on the internet). Be it Laos or Los Angeles, intermittent networks force many people to switch between online and offline modes (intentionally or unintentionally).
Designing for offline states is as important, if not more, as designing for online.
Don’t treat designing for offline states as a roadblock or deterrent. Since this is a relatively new concept, it allows for a higher scope of creativity and innovation.
How to design a seamless offline experience for your users?
- Display offline functionalities clearly, employing universal visual design elements.
- Pair texts with visuals (especially on buttons) that indicate “no internet” or “offline mode” which will enhance overall usability. This is especially useful for low-literate and/or non-English speaking natives.
- Allow downloading for future offline use. Indicate the file size so that it becomes easy for the user to decide whether to use up that data or not.
- Make it possible to delete old files and conserve space in the phone since a large percentage of people in emerging economies use lower spec smartphones
- Make use of nifty animations and micro-interactions to display how many seconds will it take to download the entire file.
- Make the offline file easily discoverable
- Notify when the internet connection is restored. Users often switch to airplane mode to save battery life, internet cost, etc. This means, when the connection is back, your product should notify users of the list of content in line for download. This creates a transparent and trustworthy process where the user has full control and visibility of internet usage on your app.
Pick the best prototyping methods, on-the-go
The three factors that influence the choice of prototyping method — location, bandwidth, community.
Where are you conducting and testing your prototypes? What is the quality of the internet connection there? How well do people living in these geographies respond to tech?
Based on these you can have a plethora of prototyping methods at your disposal, ranging from low to medium to high fidelity. Let us take a look at which method falls under what category and which one is best suited for your needs.
Low, medium, and high fidelity prototypes
- Low fidelity prototypes — Paper scrolls and wireframes — These are easy to obtain and work on and need minimal time investment. Users are often most comfortable with this format as not only is it simple and relatable, it also allows for higher collaboration. Not to mention it is an economical and offline method to collect insights directly from users. The one problem with this method is that it requires a lot of imagination and contextualizing (to be honest, all you have is a blank canvas) and is quite text-heavy (tough to break the obvious language barrier here.)
- Medium fidelity prototypes — Swipe through prototypes, Sketch/Illustrator Mockups — This one definitely has an upper hand on the low-fidelity prototype since this clearly shows the user journey and gives the look and feel of a finished product. Moreover, you can collect valuable insights on the visual design language of the product, even in the offline mode at times. However, it is not 100% offline friendly and maybe dependent on the OS. Requires you the pre-download stuff before testing.
- High fidelity prototypes — Custom Platform — This one comes with a host of benefits such as personalized content and is quite tightly aligned with real-life scenarios along with giving a complete idea of the visuals. On the cons side, it might offer limited functionality, be dependent on the OS and require an internet connection.
Coming down to which you should choose — remember there are no hard and fast rules. It’s not like you cannot use high fidelity prototypes ever in such cases. But as mentioned above, always keep in mind the three factors — location, bandwidth, and community — to take up the call.
An extra serving of empathy
Will a first-time internet user in India have the same needs as a seasoned tech-savvy American?
Reiterating the point that no two users are the same, designing for the next billion users needs you to dig way deeper with your research in understanding the nuances of people in the emerging economies.
Here are some ways you can build higher levels of resilience and empathy when out there on the field researching your targeted demographics
How can designers get better at evoking empathy?
- Think beyond iPhones. Think low spec smartphones. Think feature phones (the ones that connect to the internet but are not smartphones). Then ask yourself this — Does my product work well on these phones?
- Data is the new oil. Not every country is blessed with tons of it. This variable alone has a massive effect on how users use digital products. Keep that in mind and design products that can work seamlessly in limited or no internet scenarios.
- Include easier and secure payment methods rather than depending on just credit card payments. COD payments are a great way to break that barrier that adds trust among users.
- Get a grasp of how people view technology. Are they intimidated by it? Or confused? Or is there a social stigma involved? Do men and women use it differently? You must take these into consideration.
- India alone is home to 22 official languages and hundreds of dialects spoken across the country. In the case of emerging economies, you cannot assume English or any one language as the default, so instead of being text-heavy, be more focused on visuals that don’t need much explanation.
- Leverage human relationships through a thorough understanding of community and culture. Limited resources mean people often have to share stuff, which also includes sharing data. Are people, in general, trusting in nature? How much are they comfortable sharing their stuff and information? Does your design improve the overall experience and social infrastructure while solving people’s problems?
- Don’t stick to classic western design concepts of minimalism. Design for delight. Add whatever visual language resonates best with your target audience, which also builds trust, connection, and empathy with the next billion users.
Bonus content: The best design lessons from YouTube Go
What can be learned from the redesign on YouTube as YouTube Go for designing for emerging economies?
- Deliver improved user experience without compromising on quality just because there are limited connectivity issues.
- Respect people’s budget — a 99 cents app in emerging economies can cost close to a full day’s meals.
- Design platforms that foster connectivity within the community, make sure you make your users feel a part of the larger whole.
- Offer offline experiences that are seamless, intuitive, and risk-free.
- Feature locally relevant content, design language, updates, and more to make your product more relevant.
Message from our Founder, Aashish Solanki
“Designing for the next billion users poses a multitude of challenges, but we at NetBramha Studios view these as a multitude of opportunities to help people and create a positive impact in their lives.
We cannot be more thankful for our recent ventures, where we as a design team were exposed to a number of fundamental roadblocks and then utilize the best of our skills and talents as a creative, problem-solving collective to face that head-on.
Through design, we got a chance to build the perfect ally for the more than 118 million Indian farmers, transform childbirth and neonatal care into a safe & beautiful journey for soon-to-be parents, and encourage sustainable farming through omnichannel retail experience design, among many many more transformative journeys.
Though for us this is just the tip of the iceberg for us, we surely believe with the human-centered design we can build not just one but many more platforms that redefine the lives of the next billion users.”
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