Designing for New Internet Users: Part I

Recently, I came across a very impressive video on designing great apps for new internet users. This talk was by Garen Checkley, YouTube UX lead in emerging markets at Google, and Tracy, a researcher at YouTube at Google during its 2017 I/O annual developer conference. They’ve worked on a new version of YouTube app built from scratch- YouTube Go- for users in emerging countries like India.

I felt a personal connect with the contents of the video, as I had a chance to interact with Garen in the recent past. Besides, I’m joining Google as a User Experience Researcher (as a Contractor) very soon and the insights on emerging markets added to my knowledge base.

Let me start by quickly providing a brief overview of the video. Do checkout the video though, it’s a lot more detailed and enlightening. The sum and substance of the video is that it is important to consider the experiences of new internet users in their contexts. From a host of qualitative and quantitative data, it is proved that new internet users have very different experiences from those of users in developed markets. A comparison can be made between a typical persona in developed vs emerging markets, when it comes to internet experiences:

User persona for internet experiences in developed markets
User persona for internet experiences in emerging markets

Garen and Tracy share a framework to build products for new internet users. They identify three buckets with nine components:

Framework to build products for new internet users. Source: 
Designing Great Apps for New Internet Users (Google I/O ‘17)
  1. Cost: Data is equivalent to money
  2. Connectedness: Flaky connectivity
  3. Compatibility: Low-end phones
  4. Culture: Mental models and visual preferences
  5. Content: Language barriers
  6. Commerce: Forms of payment
  7. Social: Collectivist culture
  8. Sensorial bent
  9. Surprising element

As a UX researcher, I keep my eyes open to understanding users’ behavior and how/why they do what they do. I have a few observations which make sense to be added to this list. I am able to support most of these observations from numbers/recitations from authorities like nngroup, and credible web links.

I added two more components to each bucket.

Additional suggested components
  1. Climate: Geographical attributes of a region
  2. Course: Finding the right course or locating the address
  3. Credibility in a ‘do-it-for-me’ market
  4. Sharing: Sharing phone at home and work
  5. Space: Mental model of space limited as the physical space
  6. Special: Some experiences on mobile are special

Initially, I thought of making two additional buckets, though then realized that most of the unique emerging markets attributes have been covered neatly in three buckets by Garen and Tracy. Hence it made more sense to add them to the existing buckets of Usable, Useful and Engaging.

I’ve also provided a design tip for every component. Though it is important to remember that these are just a few top-of-the-mind ideas. It takes a lot to ideate for a great design to solve real problems, and hence it’s appropriate to think of these ideas as food for thought.


India is a pretty hot country as compared to US. Whereas typical average temperature in summers in US range from 17-27˚C, in India, it ranges from 32-40˚C. At times, during Apr-May, it may be as high as 45˚C.

This means a lot of sunlight.

Whereas you won’t see a lot of people out on roads in US, in India people are quite out in the open during the day. In fact, most of the businesses operate roadside.

Now we know just how tough it can be to take a selfie in sunlight with all the glare on the screen. Or to figure out who’s calling by looking at the phone screen- may be one can tilt the angle a bit or find brief shade to see who’s calling, but watching one-minute video in sunlight? Nah, not possible. Add to it the low-cost phones in India with substandard screen quality, touch and resolution- it seems impractical. Similar applies true to Google maps- whether you are standing on the roadside or sitting in your car, if you quickly want to see a map, you are in for some twisting and turning of your hand and head to make sense of what’s on that phone screen.

Design tip

I suggest making a mode that assists people view the video in sunlight. It may be similar to the high-contrast mode in Windows which allows users to distinguish more easily between various page elements. Originally designed for people with visual disabilities, this mode is also vastly used by the likes of people who stare at monitor for extended periods, like developers, since it is easier on the eyes and reduces eye strain. Essentially, it solves the same problem as presented by sunlight i.e. glare. Some poorly designed sites on the web have bad color combinations such as blue links on black backgrounds, red text on green backgrounds, or other combinations that are not easy on the eyes for anyone. At times, this even makes it tough to spot the mouse, much less text.

This means developing a mode appropriate for viewing videos in sunlight, which automatically changes the size and color of fonts, background and foreground colors for ease of viewing. Based on the weather conditions and time, it can suggest this mode between 11AM-4PM. It may look like this:


Two years back, I started shopping online, and since then, I shop everything online. A lot of online shopping means a lot of home deliveries. In India, it translates to a lot of calls from delivery boys to know the address. Not that they don’t have address with them, the challenge is finding the right course to take, or in other words, locating the address.

For a customer, that brings some headache. Every so often, delivery boys can’t locate it in one go, and so they call again, at times calling more than two times.

Similar applies true to cab drivers. Sometimes, when I give them a call to tell them that they were expected to arrive 3 mins earlier, but now the new expected arrival time shows 6 min and they probably have passed past me, they seem confused. And then they ask me, “madam, kahan hai aapka address (Madam, where is your address?).” So I say, “bhaiya aap map me dekh ke aao na (Plz follow the map).”

I feel that reading maps is not everyone’s cup of tea. When I started graduate school at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), I was handed over a map of the campus. There was a lot of admin work to take care of- hence various buildings to visit, and a lot more to be explored like gym, library, sport courts, clubs, parks, restaurants et cetera. I consulted the map, and I was lost.

A map of my Alma mater: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I had Google maps too, which pretty well covered the campus. Though I was still asking around for directions.

My understanding is that a lot of people can’t read maps. Specially Indians, who aren’t used to reading maps in schools or colleges. What we are used to, is finding our course on the way. We ask for directions on the road. That is how our mental model is. When we are on campuses, we ask the next person which direction to go to reach a building. When we are on the road, we stop our vehicles briefly to ask the next guy which way to take to reach our destination. The next guy usually replies by giving the name of a landmark. “Take right, you’ll see BSNL office, take left from there to reach your destination.” “BSNL office” does it. We reach there, we ask the next guy, and he says “go straight, your destination is next to Canara Bank.”

Indians’ mental model of directions

Design tip

Reading maps is challenge. Provide an alternate view replicating the mental model of Indians in terms of landmark. A little like below, which starts at your location and ends at the destination, just outlining the key landmarks, while eliminating the rest of the noise.