Design principles for next billion users

Dharmesh Ba
D91 Labs
Published in
5 min readJun 27, 2019


A few days back I struck a conversation with my Uber driver and had asked him how long he has been driving with Uber? and to my surprise, he replied back that he was one of the first few drivers in Bangalore who had signed up with Uber when they had launched and he went on to say how Uber had changed his life. I pointed out the mobile phone docked in his dashboard and asked if that was provided by the company? and the following conversation opened something interesting about him.

‘Yes sir, this phone is provided by the company. But when I joined them, they gave me this one useless phone, which has just one button. I couldn’t use it properly, was not sure how to go from one screen to another. It was such a nuisance. But look here, this phone has three buttons and I exactly know the functions of all the three’

It took me a few seconds to realise that the phone he was cursing about was an iPhone 4 and the one he is currently facilitated with is an Android phone. This incident reemphasised the thought that ponders my mind frequently

‘We are not all and all are not us’

At D91 Labs, we have had the opportunity to talk to multiple startups who have been building for the next billion users and to my surprise, one of the major challenges that these businesses that have been trying to solve are tech literacy. The primary question has been

How to design technology for the next billion users?

The following are our collection of thoughts on what we think are some of the good design principles for Bharat.

Keep the technology smart and the design dumb:

Do you remember the first time entering a bank all alone and trying to fill a challan? It is a daunting task to do in a completely unfamiliar environment. That is exactly how someone feels when they are trying out new apps in a digital environment. The anxiety of doing it right is so high that they feel dumb when things go wrong. Whereas it should be the other way around. Hence the technology should be smart and design should be dumbed down.

  • Avoid introducing new interactions and interface that are far from what they see in the real world. Example: Card swipe, horizontal scrolls etc.
Examples of non-intuitive interactions for NBU. Courtesy:
  • Allow discoverability at all levels and stages. Avoid hiding menus and navigations in multiple layers for them to discover.
  • Autofill and suggest information at relevant junctions for them to make a choice or take an action.

Align with their mental models

A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. Most of the Indians are coming online for the first time. Their closest reference would be their equivalent in the real world. Physical objects don’t change size, shape and colour when they are acted upon. For example, a physical bank form is not going to increase in size as you start filling it with pen and paper. But digital allows you to morph size, shape form and colour but the behaviour is uncommon to most. Keep your component states straight forward.

  • For example: Rather than having an edit state and view state, have a single state where they can make changes as many changes they want and finally save it with an explicit button.
  • In most cases, a save button gives them a sense of accomplishment for the work that they have done however small it could be

Remember Betty Crocker cake mix study?

Do one thing at a time:

An increase in the number of options and choices during a flow increase the cognitive effort for someone to make a decision. The users tend to play around with the options trying to figure out or they drop off. For example, a single page long form creates mental fatigue but breaking them into various parts help them focus. Other similar behaviours could be observed during navigating cards, moving around a slider or making a choice between radio buttons.

In the cases where multiple choices need to be laid out, make sure the user is provided with appropriate nudges to help them make a choice.

A nudge, as we will use the term, is an aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.

Designing nudge for payment flows

Narrative vs Database workflows

Most of the digital workflows can be divided into two categories:

  • Narrative workflows — Unidirectional
  • Database workflows — Multidirectional

A narrative workflow is where you want the user to complete the specific task in a specific order to achieve the objective. A unidirectional flow. A database workflow is where you want the user to browse in any possible direction he wants.

For example: In Amazon, browsing the category is a database workflow and checkout is a narrative workflow.

Being aware of what kind of flow you are dealing with helps you in making key decisions in the product of when new elements need to be added and removed.

Narrative and database flows on Amazon

Handhold them for success

Every first-time digital users should be treated like the customer is a Tanishq showroom. They need to be handheld and explained all the terminologies and should be given all kind of help to reach out for doubts. Helper texts, localisation, adding support number and guides are to be an integral part of the product thinking. They aren’t a choice anymore.

We will be adding more as our experiences with NBU becomes richer :)

Read our research stories here: Decoding Bharat Series

About D91 labs:

D91 labs is an open source initiative by to help Bharat build great fintech products. We organise and publish user research, insights and frameworks for fintech in India. Please follow us on medium for more exciting stories and insights on Bharat.

Psst! We are looking for collaborators and contributors to D91 labs. If you are interested, please drop your details here and we will reach out to you

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Dharmesh Ba
D91 Labs

Building @D91Labs, Design lead @setu. NID alumnus, ex-Cleartax. All things fintech.