Designing in the Echo Chamber


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Or why chasing “newer, faster and better” prevents us from solving bigger, more interesting problems.

Few people live a more technology- and media-saturated life than the UX designer. Many of us are geeks and technophiles at heart. We are optimists. We like solving problems and creating delightful, predictable, intuitive solutions for others. But in our efforts to achieve this, are we failing to perceive larger systemic problems — or even perpetuating them by relying on the familiar?

Two billion new people will join the connected world by 2020. Many of these live in developing regions of the world where literacy rates are lower, and English literacy rates are lower still. Soon, a new majority of users will bring entirely different needs and cultural metaphors that drive the ways they use technology.

As UX professionals, we can bridge these technical and cultural gaps to reach the hundreds of millions of new users coming online every year. This means adapting our thinking and our tools so we’re armed to face new sets of problems — and able to design solutions that resonate far beyond the limited borders we initially target.

In this talk, we’ll explore some emerging technology trends and use cases from both the developed and developing worlds. We’ll consider how current UX patterns, metaphors, and concepts may actually inhibit understanding for new users who don’t share our cultural contexts. And we’ll examine the opportunities these challenges present for new products, services, and startups to fuel entire markets and even change cultures through the power of design.

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Designing in the Echo Chamber

  1. 1. Designingin the Echo Chamber Apple Store, Grand Central Station NYC Photo courtesy of By Trip O’Dell @tripodell Monday, September 16, 13 When I originally convinced Bob and Marc to let me speak about this topic - I had no idea how big, terrifying, and interesting the subject was going to be. The topic I am here to talk to you about today is something that is important and hopefully, intensely relevant to our work in the coming years.
  2. 2. DISCLAIMER Monday, September 16, 13 I am not a demographer, or an economist. I am a designer. Like you, I make my living applying technology to solve problems for people who are “not me”. I am not an expert on emerging markets, nor do I have any special “insider” knowledge from my work that I am going to share with you. My views presented here are my own, and not representative of Audible or Amazon.
  3. 3. Protest in Turkey 2013 Photo courtesy of 2.4 BILLIONInternet Users Globally* *Courtesy Mary Meeker / KPCB Monday, September 16, 13 according to Mary Meeker at Kleiner Perkins, at the beginning of this year there were 2.4 billion people connected to the internet.
  4. 4. Tahir Square Protest, Egypt 2011 Photo courtesy of In 7 Years there will be: 4.2 BILLION Monday, September 16, 13 At an annual growth rate of 8% - The challenges of designing for a population this large go far beyond simple scale - In my experience at Adobe, Microsoft and Audible I’ve worked on products with hundreds of millions of users and had to balance Issues like: cultural differences, the limitations of language and designing with other languages in mind. like the length of text strings in English vs the same concept in German or Polish. I’ve had to consider how the UI will work in languages that read right to left.... But there are issues that I believe are completely below our collective radar, and many of us are not currently equipped to address...
  5. 5. Why I care about this... Monday, September 16, 13 Pine Ridge is where I started down my path to UX design. I was a volunteer teacher at a Jesuit Mission School (think VISTA or Peace Corps without the cushy stipend) One of the most impoverished places in US - around 6k per-capita / China is 9K The demographics there are very similar to places in the developing world. It is remote, entrenched poverty, violent crime, political corruption, substance abuse issues, a legacy of cultural domination. Very remote - 60 miles to grocery store, 100 miles from nearest small city Poor - 80 percent of residents are unemployed. 49% residents (61% of the children) live below the federal poverty line. Infant mortality is 5x the US average Lowest life expectancy in western hemisphere except for Haiti
  6. 6. Why I care about this... Monday, September 16, 13 I saw how technology was already shaping the culture of my students. Many dressed and acted like stereotypical latino gang-bangers from LA -(and yes, we had Crips and Gangster Disciples on the Rez) because they were the only other brown-skinned people they saw in the music and TV they liked. I taught Photography & Multimedia - in a leaky darkroom with one antiquated Mac quadra, in 18 months I raised the money for a state of the art lab teaching Darkroom and Digital Photography, video editing, Web design, Flash Animation. I was staying a few weeks ahead of my kids in the software. 20% of the homes on pine ridge don’t have running water or telephones, and we were bringing broadband into the school and covering local politics on video cut in iMovie 1 and Final Cut on second generation imacs. I saw how what I was teaching was making a difference. But I also saw how what I was teaching was shaping the stories kids told about themselves, the stories they told. I was putting tools in their hands to shape their own narratives. I was able to witness the symbiotic relationship of technology and culture first hand in a really acute way.
  7. 7. CULTURE ADOPTION TECHNOLOGY Monday, September 16, 13 Technology and culture are symbiotic - Culture drives user needs. User needs drive adoption, Adoption changes culture, culture changes technology. The emerging opportunities of the next two billion users will be driven by three factors. Demographics, Education and Culture
  8. 8. DEMOGRAPHICS Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 As a designer who has primarily worked product-side for large companies, working on large-scale products, this shift in demographics is exciting and terrifying at the same time.
  9. 9. Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 How much of what I know now, what I understand about how “users” behave, what motivates them, what they understand, the “heuristic expertise” I now have - will be completely irrelevant in just a few years? Will we be those guys at the Detroit Auto Show in the early 1970’s scoffing at the early exports from Japan because the value proposition of those new products is so out of step of what we think we know, from dominating an industry for 30 years?
  10. 10. ” “ It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up. George Packer “Change the World” The New Yorker May 27, 2013 Monday, September 16, 13 This quote came from the May 27th edition for the New Yorker earlier this year. If you haven’t read it, its a fascinating take on the hubris of technologists who believe they can “change the world”. I happen to be one of them. Its a cautionary tale, and Packer’s story hit on some very uncomfortable, and inescapable truths about “The Valley” specifically, but also about those of us who design experiences and businesses while sitting atop Maslow’s hierarchy.
  11. 11. The first 2.4 Billion Users • Lives in North America, Europe or East Asia. • Literate • Comparatively Affluent • Urban or Suburban • First connection to the internet on a laptop or desktop computer. First Billion Early Adopters • Multi-device • Urban/Suburban • Educated • Wealthy Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 First of all, since this is a presentation to my peers - let me define “us”...(Know your user)
  12. 12. The first 2.4 Billion Users • Lives in North America, Europe or East Asia. • Literate • Comparatively Affluent • Urban or Suburban • First connection to the internet on a laptop or desktop computer. The Emerging Wave of 2 Billion Users • Mobile phone only • Urban/Rural • Low education • Poor/Emerging Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 Every successful disruption starts by turning a paradigm on its head. This is the majority of next two billion users.
  13. 13. How will this change what we design? Monday, September 16, 13 This new wave of users will dwarf the existing, western-centric audiences on the internet quickly. For the last thirty years, we have been designing for the same populations and cultural contexts. Primarily western, well-educated, and wealthy. Out of respect for the communities of users I will be comparing, I am going to avoid terms like developing/developed world, or literate and illiterate. I will speak in terms of “Agency” High agency users, regardless of their cultural or national origin share commonalities in terms of education, wealth and technical sophistication. Low agency users are more generally technical neophytes, poorer and their educational backgrounds and opportunities are more modest. Nearly every country we are going to talk about, ESPECIALLY India and China have a mix of both high and low agency users. But the sheer numbers of low agency users is awe-inspiring globally.
  14. 14. National broadband coverage by 2020 China Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 China has the largest population of internet users in the world at 546 million, but only has 42% market penetration
  15. 15. 600,000,000 users India Photo courtesy of 016 Monday, September 16, 13 India has 137 million users with only 11% of the population participating on the web, 100 million of of those users are primarily mobile and account for 500 million app downloads every month. Indian users juggle multiple SIM cards and multiple devices with different pay as you go carriers which allows users to shop for the best value for specific use cases such as wireless data, sms and voice. This is changing the design of mobile devices. In many markets with unreliable electrical grids, or limited access to power, users carry multiple devices - perhaps a feature phone with better battery life and a smart phone for SMS, Media and Apps. They use multiple pre-paid sim cards and juggle airtime and data between devices.
  16. 16. CULTURE ADOPTION TECHNOLOGY Middle East Iranian internet participation grew 205% in 2012 Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 Saudi Arabia leads the world in Youtube engagement - 50% of its population is under 30 years old. They are accessing content banned by state- controlled media, including political satire. A large percentage of that traffic is women accessing educational content. The middle east is an odd mix of high and low agency. Comparatively high in wealth, but extremely impoverished in access to uncensored information, education (for women) and personal liberty.
  17. 17. 800,000,000 Africa Monday, September 16, 13 But by far, the most interesting statistics are coming from Africa - we’ll get to Africa in a few minutes, but Africa will have over 800 million mobile subscriptions by the close of 2015.
  18. 18. This will be their computer (or something like it) Monday, September 16, 13 I’m being intentionally provocative with this image. A Windows Phone?! But MS and Nokia have designed the 520 specifically for the developing world. For about $175 - the same price as a mid-range feature phone you can have a modern smartphone. Its roughly 1/3 the price of an iPhone 5. IDC reported that in 2012 Smartphones outsold feature phones for the first time Apple is a distant runner up to Android and feature phones in most markets - and Winphone has a lot going for it as a design system for low- agency users. Image: Ariel Zambelich/Wired Creative Commons Attribution
  19. 19. Monday, September 16, 13 There has been a lot of criticism of winphone - too simplistic, too boxy, too flat, lack of apps. Have we considered that the design isn’t INTENDED for high-agency users? One of the inspirations for the WP design language was transit signage - as found in international airports assists non-native speakers navigating complex systems. Images, Smart tiles with photos, consistent usage of icons and glyphs and numbers- a design system that rewards investigation through consistent gestures and a content-first approach. Type is used sparingly in a consistent typeface with support for dozens of languages. > 30:00
  20. 20. Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 But feature phones are still king in low agency markets, even though smartphones are close to price parity - access to reliable electrical grids, data usage and simplicity are all factors. Smartphones will gain quickly - but will only dominate low agency markets when issues like multiple SIM cards per user, and battery life are taken more seriously.
  21. 21. WHY DO WE CARE? (Why does this matter to UX?) Monday, September 16, 13 So what’s the big deal? These numbers are big. We’ve all seen them covered ad-nauseum in the tech and mainstream press. Why are these numbers especially relevant to us?
  22. 22. Because their livesPhoto courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13
  23. 23. Are not Like ours Monday, September 16, 13 like never before, “we are not the user”.
  24. 24. WE ARE NOT THE USER Monday, September 16, 13 and yet WE will be designing a great deal of the content and experiences these first time users will consume the first time they venture onto the internet ...and many of our tools and approaches will need to be re-considered to meet their needs.
  25. 25. The Opportunity looks a little like this... Monday, September 16, 13 If we were to draw a map of where the hottest growth for internet usage will be, it might look something like this.
  26. 26. Courtesy UN-Habitat Report 2008 Monday, September 16, 13 But its actually a density map of urban poverty created by the UN in 2008
  27. 27. Image Courtesy of Google Public Data Explorer Monday, September 16, 13 We’re all familiar with population growth charts that look like this - China (Big), India (Big) etc. ... but there are other ways to look at these population trends.
  28. 28. 34.6% Ages 10 - 35 480,175,686 43.2% Ages 10 - 35 599,146,416 Visualization by Martin De Wulf (@madewulf) Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011) Monday, September 16, 13 China and India in 7 years Huge populations and opportunities are huge. China’s population growth is slowing due to the One-Child policy, but the population is still massive. India’s population is STILL growing, and will likely exceed China this century. Like China, there is a burgeoning middle class with disposable income. But their usage habits and media consumption behaviors are significantly different than ours.
  29. 29. 46.2% Ages 10 - 35 590,529,324 Monday, September 16, 13 Africa on the other hand is a huge, untapped market. Almost half the population falls into the “sweet spot” in 2020. It will be second only to India in the number of projected new users by 2020. This will be driven primarily by the fact that most of Southern Africa has almost no hardwired infrastructure. They have already been adopting and leapfrogging the west in Mobile networks in many areas.
  30. 30. EDUCATIONMonday, September 16, 13 In “A computer for the 21st Century” Xerox PARC researcher, father of Ubiquotus computing (and one of my UX heroes) Mark Weiser said:
  31. 31. The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it. Consider writing, perhaps the first information technology: The ability to capture a symbolic representation of spoken language for long-term storage freed information from the limits of individual memory. Today this technology is ubiquitous in industrialized countries. Not only do books, magazines and newspapers convey written information, but so do street signs, billboards, shop signs and even graffiti. Candy wrappers are covered in writing. The constant background presence of these products of "literacy technology" does not require active attention, but the information to be conveyed is ready for use at a glance. It is difficult to imagine modern life otherwise. ” “ Mark Weiser “A computer for the 21st Century” Scientific American September, 1991 Monday, September 16, 13 As someone who grew up with severe dyslexia, its difficult for me not to see the cultural bias of a high-agency user in these words. - How much of what we call “experience design” is culturally based in western custom, metaphor, myth, symbolism even language? UX has been dominated (except in Japan and China) by primarily western, high-agency practitioners.
  32. 32. Monday, September 16, 13 This is how education looks in early adopter nations. There are many high-agency users.
  33. 33. Monday, September 16, 13 This is how the most populous countries in Africa look. Obviously literacy will be a challenge, and there are many more low-agency users as the first generation comes online. For design, this will be a challenge and an opportunity to rethink possibilities.
  34. 34. Monday, September 16, 13 But It wasn’t so long ago that India and China looked a lot like Africa.
  35. 35. What is literacy? Monday, September 16, 13 Literacy encompasses more than reading and writing. Letters/characters, numbers, concepts, cultural references. Shortcomings in literacy can be mitigated when enough context is provided to support the concept. Literacy is a very touchy subject as it is often falsely associated with intelligence. Low-agency users with limited literacy skills will likely have a good grasp of simple numerical concepts, letter or character recognition and possess a basic vocabulary of sight words, but may lack reading fluency or the ability to make themselves easily understood in text. They are not completely illiterate - they are more likely to be “functionally illiterate”.
  36. 36. Monday, September 16, 13 So imagine what most technology products look like today
  37. 37. Monday, September 16, 13 To someone who lacks the baseline skills to use it effectively? How much of our experience is still biased towards textually-based interfaces?
  38. 38. Functional Illiteracy Monday, September 16, 13 Even in the industrialized world, literacy is an issue. Many industrialized countries have high rates of functional illiteracy - EG: 20% in the United States, 14.6% in Canada and some countries like Mexico and Italy with rates above 40%. There isn’t a global standard for what constitutes “literacy” - the old standard used to be “able to read a local newspaper” - most news organizations only target a 4th grade reading proficiency. We can easily point to examples where technology is changing how we communicate. But how much is technology shaping the content of what we say either through limited skills or by forcing users to utilize patterns such as software keyboards that further limit their ability to communicate? Are there more efficient tools available? More on that in a bit.
  39. 39. WIMPy UI Thinking Monday, September 16, 13 Our UIs are heavily biased for text. Desktop and web interfaces date back to Xerox park, and are still influenced by the high-agency PhDs that pioneered these patterns.
  40. 40. Page Title Cancel Label Label Label Label Label One Label Three Label Two One Three Two Screen Name Page Title Google 4:20 PMCARRIER 3G Screen Name Google teehan+lax - interactive user experience design Google teehan+lax - interactive user experience design Cancel Cancel SendNew Message 1 2 3 0 03 04 05 02 01 Label Three Label Four Label Two Label Two CARRIER 3G 4:20 PM Search CARRIER 3G 4:20 PM Apple Label Label Label Label 4:20 PMCARRIER 3G teehan+lax Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Featured Most Viewed Search Favorites More Done Loading Movie... CARRIER 3G 4:20 PM Label Label Touch UI isn’t much better Monday, September 16, 13 Touch-based UIs aren’t much better. Especially in languages where the character sets are more extensive (Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Arabic, Hindi, ) Its essentially the same people developing the patterns.
  41. 41. Icon are not a cure-all Monday, September 16, 13 Many icons are rooted in specific cultural metaphors or contexts. They don’t always translate globally.
  42. 42. Rules for Low-Agency Users • Carefully curate patterns that require text contextualize text with images and symbols • Use speech, camera, sensors or TTS/STT for input and output • Look to natural affordances (haptic), and simple gestures & animations to do common things • Be playful. Use FREs that teach core functions and invite/reward further Monday, September 16, 13 Carefully curate patterns that require text Use TTS/STT for input and output Look at natural affordances, and simple gestures to do common things Utilize playful first run experiences that teach the core functions of the experience and invite and reward further investigation.
  43. 43. CULTURE Monday, September 16, 13 Every culture drags its own baggage into how it approaches and solves problems. Shared beliefs, language and experience can lead to blind spots in the problem solving space. We become myopic.
  44. 44. Design Bias Monday, September 16, 13 “Design culture” is no different. We have our own strong biases about what “works” and what does not. What is “good” design, and what is “bad” design. We can’t change the world through the tasteful application of typography and clean, bright aesthetics. We can only change the world, if we first change the way we look at the world and our users. We can’t do that looking down from the summit of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
  45. 45. WeChat : the Low- Agency Trojan Horse Monday, September 16, 13 The reason that WeChat is a killer app - is that it mitigates the need for text input. Let me say that again. Its a CHAT app, that does not require typing. This app is hugely popular in China, partially because functional mandarin requires 2-3000 characters to communicate in text. Saying something as simple as “happy birthday” in mandarin requires 20 taps to render with a keyboard. WeChat removed that barrier by flipping the SMS paradigm to a speech-based communication - It also requires very little input to connect with friends - photograph their profile VR code within the app. You can still type in WeChat, but its just one method of input between speech, video, photos, and emoticons.
  46. 46. Monday, September 16, 13 The app invites exploration with playful matchmaking (shake to see who is near you, public message in a bottle) and removing barriers to interact - short voice messaging, and group broadcasts make it easy to communicate with a broadly distributed network on the mobile device.
  47. 47. Monday, September 16, 13 Where this becomes a killer app for low-agency users is that it removes barriers for full participation in personal messaging. Nations where WeChat is growing fastest - China/Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa and Turkey.
  48. 48. CULTURE ADOPTION TECHNOLOGY Monday, September 16, 13 We-Chat, and Apps like it (What’s App? is popular in India) creates new opportunities for low-agency users. Access to markets, agricultural conditions and price information - disrupting middlemen community organizing, especially facilitate labor and human rights organization Access public health and medical resources
  49. 49. Airtime swapping and MPesa compete with banking and currency Monday, September 16, 13 Mobile Adoption is changing money. Air-time swapping is extremely common in Africa because carriers allow free transfers between accounts. In Zimbabwe, hyper-inflation has caused most people to abandon the local currency for American banknotes and coins. But American coins are scarce, so nearly every shop in Zimbabwe gives change in airtime transfers between sim cards. Airtime is becoming a competitor to fiat-currencies, its like a new gold standard. Airtime, is airtime. MPesa is a Vodaphone subsidiary started in Kenya and has been extremely successful in low-agency markets ranging from Southern Africa to Afghanistan. It serves traditionally underbanked populations. Mpessa Users can: bank cash at retail outlets make withdrawals at ATMs conduct peer to peer transfers receive dispersals and make re-payments of micro loans MPessa is even being used to pay salaries and taxes in some markets.
  50. 50. CULTURE ADOPTION TECHNOLOGY When MPesa replaced a cash-based payroll for the Afgan National Police, officers believed they had received raises because graft had been removed from the supply chain. Monday, September 16, 13 In Afghanistan, MPessa was implemented as a solution to pay Afgan police salaries, replacing a long-corrupt cash system. The officers believed they had received raises because graft was so endemic. Most had no idea what their salaries were. (Note: Who the hell would want to rip one of these guys off?!!) Greater transparency and accountability in low-agency markets will lead to more stable institutions.
  51. 51. Challenges: Institutions & Infrastructure Monday, September 16, 13 Technology can’t solve all these problems, infrastructure issues such as Electrical grids, road system access to basic government services, medicine, food supplies, clean water and education are still HUGE problems in low-agency markets. Technology can’t solve all problems but it can create the conditions were where change is possible.
  52. 52. Photo courtesy of Monday, September 16, 13 The opportunity in low-agency markets is so big, all the major players (Microsoft, Nokia, Vodaphone, Google, Facebook, Samsung) are actively investing in “last mile” projects across of the globe. Nokia and Microsoft are flooding Africa and India with low-end smart phones running windows phone 8, and selling them for $100 less than in Europe. Last month, Mark Zuckerberg announced a major effort to bring the internet to the rest of the world. Google has made headline with project loon - using high-altitude balloons to provide wifi coverage in areas not accessible by the electrical grid. The big players are recognizing the platform implications this population shift and investing heavily in low-agency users.
  53. 53. Tahir Square Protest, Egypt 2011 Photo courtesy of 4.2 BILLION(and they are not us) THE BIG IDEAS Monday, September 16, 13 Lots more users who are not like us.
  54. 54. THE BIG IDEAS CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY ARE SYMBIOTIC Monday, September 16, 13 Technology and culture are symbiotic - Culture drives user needs. User needs drive adoption, Adoption changes culture, culture changes technology. Learn the culture, or learn the consequences. Use cases, Business Models and interaction paradigms must adapt to the needs of the culture they’re presented in. Many existing business models that work for us - such as streaming, subscriptions, even approaches to messaging and content will not work in all markets. For instance, India and China are “Ownership cultures” the idea of renting content, or paying for monthly access are not part of their culture. Value propositions are not universal.
  55. 55. Page Title Cancel Label Label Label Label Label One Label Three Label Two One Three Two Page Title Google Screen Name Google teehan+lax - interactive user experience design Google teehan+lax - interactive user experience design Cancel Cancel SendNew Message Send Button Label 1 2 3 0 03 04 05 02 01 Label Three Label Four Label Five Label Two Label Two CARRIER 3G 4:20 PM Search CARRIER 3G 4:20 PM Apple Label Label Label Label Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Video Title 00:54 Username 391 views Featured Most Viewed Search Favorites More Done Loading Movie... CARRIER 3G 4:20 PM Label Label text-dependent patterns do not scale well to low-agency markets CAREFULLY CURATE TEXT THE BIG IDEAS Monday, September 16, 13 Low literacy is not low intelligence. Functionally illiterate users generally have a solid grasp of numbers, sight words, contextualized metaphors, and respond naturally to pictures. They are willing to learn through play and investigation. Don’t tell your user how to use the experience, show them.
  56. 56. THE BIG IDEAS RETHINK AFFORDANCES Monday, September 16, 13 Our job as experience designers is to enable the user to meet their needs and achieve their goals and make it seem simple. Don’t force your user to think like the system, or require them to read to learn how to use the app. The device has more senses that we do - sight (camera), sound (microphone), touch (gesture and haptic), orientation and velocity (accelerometer), position (GPS and compass), as well as context and relationships to work with. Use them all! Encourage and reward play and investigation.
  57. 57. LITERACY ISN’T AN IMPEDIMENT IT IS AN OPPORTUNITY THE BIG IDEAS Monday, September 16, 13 Lets focus on making our experiences transparent. Create layers of content within the experience - text, numbers, pictures, animations audio, video, gestures can contextualize concepts and make them accessible low-agency users. Focus on empowering your users to do things they never thought they were capable of. We can’t solve the challenges in their part of the world, but we can give them the tools that will make change possible.
  58. 58. THANKS!@tripodell Monday, September 16, 13