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Designing UX for the internet’s next billion users

The next billion people who will go online are not like the ones who came before. How does a giant like Google adapt their UX to meet their unique demands? Rachel Ilan Simpson shared the answers.

On November 21st 2019, the 2019 Mobile UX London conference took place at the DeVere West One in London’s West End. The audience of mobile UX professionals were privileged to hear from a fantastic line-up of speakers, as well as take part in a wide range of technical workshops. It was a great day and I know everyone who attended was totally engaged.

We’ve put together a series of articles to recap on some of the presentations, so even if you couldn’t be there, you can still gain insight.

Rachel Ilan Simpson

It was a pleasure to welcome Rachel Ilan Simpson to the MUXL stage. Rachel is Senior UX Designer at Google, currently working on Google Go. Rachel has 7+ years working with award-winning design agencies, ground-breaking startups and on teams at Google since 2013 (Chrome, Search). She has worked with clients and collaborators such as Seth Godin and BMW.

In her talk, titled ‘Designing for Google’s Next Billion Users’, Rachel shared with us how UX designers are facing up to the challenge of designing for a group of people with completely different demands and expectations compared to anyone who came before.

Who are the next billion users?

The next billion people who will use the internet are in emerging countries with rapidly growing economies. They are in countries such as China, India, and Indonesia. However, online entry is also growing fast in Nigeria and Brazil.

The next billion are on income levels between $9 and $31 per day. There will also be people with lower incomes, between $2 and $8 per day also going online for the first time. In his book, ‘Factfulness’, Hans Rosling identified that people across the world have more in common with people on a similar income level, than they do with people in their own country, when it comes to how they live their lives.

The challenges of the next billion users

If you were running a company like Google, Amazon or Facebook, you might be rubbing your hands together at this news. There are a billion people about to go online for the first time and they’ll be itching to use your services. However, the next billion cannot easily slot in with existing practices.

In mature internet markets, we are accustomed to computers and the internet. We’re likely to have grown up with computers, getting started at an early age. Some of us would have gone on the internet for the first time in the mid-1990; around 25 years ago. We take it for granted.

The next billion did not have this luxury. It is totally new to them. It’s likely they wouldn’t know where to start when confronted with a Google search screen.

They are also completely skipping the desktop computer stage and going straight to mobile. Mobile first, mobile only. 

Finally, in these emerging countries, there are issues of literacy, mobile connectivity, cost and language, which stand in the way of the next billion users realising the full potential of the online world.

How does Google Go try to solve these problems?

Google Go, the Google product that Rachel works on, is an internet gateway app. It is installed by default on lower-end Android Go devices. As a result, it’s extremely prevalent in emerging markets.

The UX for Google Go is designed by a team in London, with ongoing research taking place in India, Nigeria, and other countries. Regular research methods include lab studies, diary studies, home and café interview sessions with users, as well as pre and post-session debriefs.

To try and solve the problems mentioned in the previous section, Google Go is designed to be fast and light on data. Being light on data is essential in areas where data cost is an issue and connectivity can be unreliable. Speed is also a bonus; new users didn’t grow up waiting for pages to load; if a page doesn’t load straight away, they might think it isn’t working.

Finally, in countries such as India where there are different official languages and countless local dialects, as well as literacy issues, Google Go is as image-based as possible. Where there has to be text, Google Go makes it easy to switch languages. For the next billion users, simplicity is key.

Find out more

Thanks to Rachel for sharing her stories and insights with the crowd. Everyone who was there will remember this for a long time to come.

Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll be sharing articles and videos from the event, so make sure you stay in touch with Mobile UX London. Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you never miss a thing.

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