Understanding China Consumers in a Lean UX Way (1)

How we conduct the lean UX research when designing for China consumers?

A finding during my travel across China

I have been living in Beijing for 5 years before joining ThoughtWorks. My new job involves a lot of travel. Last year, I lived in Chengdu for 6 months and in Xi’an for another 3 months. I’m now writing this blog, sitting in a cafe in Shanghai, where I have been staying for a month.

During my travel, I had the opportunities to work with our design and software engineering colleagues in different cities. I noticed a very interesting phenomenon:

A colleague in Beijing and another colleague in Chengdu may have the same computer science degree from the same university, may work on the same project conducting simultaneously in two ThoughtWorks offices, and may go to the same chain brand restaurant for dinner after work.

However, they may have a completely different personal life:

Although they both rely on the same mobile application: Dianping, a Chinese version of Yelp, heavily for choosing the place for dinner and make the decision to go to the same chain brand restaurant.

My colleague in Beijing chooses the restaurant because it is close to his office and is a convenient place for him to have a quick solo dinner. After the dinner, he will have a 1-hour light rail commute from the office to the apartment he rents.

The colleague in Chengdu chooses the restaurant for its nice environment which is suitable for him to eat and chat with friends. After the dinner, he will take an Uber back home.

China consumers with a smartphone: a large diverse group of people
China has the world’s highest penetration rate for smartphones. [1] Smartphone adoptions in China’s tier-3 and tier-4 cities are increasing rapidly and contributing to the country’s smartphone penetration rate raising. In China’s tier-1 cities, although the penetration rate for smartphones is over 90%, consumers in these cities have strong purchase plans for new smartphones. [2]
When we design a consumer mobile application, the user can be the one living in Beijing, the one living in Chengdu, or the one living in the rural China.

Designing a mobile application for China consumers: Will the lean UX work?

As a Lean UX pioneer, we usually start the design process with assumptions. We built our personas, each with a given set of behaviours, pain points and needs. Then we rapidly evaluated the provisional personas during the interaction with real people and made the revisions.

This approach may face significant compromises when designing a mobile application for China consumers:

The assumptions are usually wrong. The assumptions made by a designer about potential users’ behaviours couldn’t reflect life variety in China.

Remember the finding I got from my own travel experiences: Two software engineers, who are doing the same work, behave differently in their personal life.

Without such travel experiences, I would make the assumption that a software engineer work in a IT company will use his mobile phone a lot during a long commute to work, according to my observations and work experiences with my colleagues in Beijing.

This is clearly not true for a software engineer in Chengdu, as I discovered later that my colleagues in Chengdu usually have have a much shorter commute to the office and lots of them are driving or taking Uber.

The assumptions are not correctly revised. The revision process lacks considerations from life variety either.

I can again go to the high-tech district in Beijing with my colleagues and randomly interview software engineers who work there. With the information provided by them, I will have a more precise persona. I will proceed with this persona and the design opportunities captured during his morning light rail ride.

Eventually, a design idea may be useful for the targeted software engineers in Beijing, but not for their peers in Chengdu.

The assumptions lack sustainable emotional connections to the real people. The designers who made these assumptions don’t have a diverse culture awareness.

China is too vast for a designer to have the opportunity to live across its major cities. “Settling down” is a dominated conscious in Chinese culture: When you grow up, you should secure a job, settle down and start a family. Most designers will work and live in one city after graduate, or moving among tier-1 cities.

Although a lean UX revision process involves co-design or co-creation with a group of people from diverse professional backgrounds, nearly in all cases, they live in the same city as the designer.

Thinking about my early findings again: Both my two colleagues chose the same restaurant for dinner.

My colleague in Beijing made this decision because people living in tier-1 cities faces a tight-schedule life and under pressure. He would like to save time from dinner and read a book in the evening.

The colleague in Chengdu chose the restaurant because people in tier-2 cities is more relax. He would like to spend more time with his friends.

Such insights on culture variety are vital to the success of our design. In a lean UX practice, we make assumptions, and continuously revise our assumptions to foster design ideas towards the outcome. With the compromise of defining and revising assumptions, the success of our design is vague and tough.

How we conduct the lean UX research when designing for China consumers?

To be continued.


1. Nation leads in smartphone penetration, 2015, http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2015-07/14/content_21279039.htm

2. 尼尔森:中国智能手机市场步入升级调整期, 2015, http://www.nielsen.com/cn/zh/press-room/2015/Nielsen-Chinese-Smartphone-Market-Now-Driven-by-Upgrading.html

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.