Research, design, and present potential solutions to help Thailand reach its goal of training 500,000 people to become skilled I.T. workers in the next four years so that they are well-equipped to be a digital powerhouse in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.
I received the opportunity to attend my company’s Corporate Service Corps program, where participants spend a month abroad — in addition to five months of pre-work — in groups of 15 to help solve economic and social problems of their selected communality. My project was situated in Bangkok, Thailand and my sub-team of four was assigned to work with the Thai Government’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA). Our client shared that they had an ambitious goal of making half the country (over 30M people) using technology in some capacity, and of training 500K I.T. workers over the next four years. They were looking for our help to make the latter possible.
I was the UX Designer and Design Thinking facilitator of my sub-team of four consultants. Though this project had first started off as strategy consulting, our client was enthused about our idea to create a prototype that would illustrate our findings and provide concrete actions and paths that the government could take after we finished our engagement.
In addition to these two roles, I was involved in other tasks such as scope negotiation, requirements gathering, and client presentations. Our team was an international mix — with consultants from Italy, Brazil, Canada, and America — which meant that we also had to find ways of working collaboratively that worked for all of our respective backgrounds.
Our team’s process for this engagement was as follows:
Prior to landing on the ground in Thailand, our team engaged in extensive review of documentation provided by our client as well as research related to our project objectives. We focused on how other developing countries were preparing their workforces to become more advanced in technology, and also compiled questions to ask the client based on the documentation we received.
A key element of successful UX consulting is coming to a shared understanding of the scope and deliverables for the engagement. At first, the scope was provided in a broad manner and was written in a way that could have taken months, if not years, to complete. Our team provided our understanding of the client’s challenges, discussed our time frame and mutually agreed to focus on the following:
- Audience: University students with a Computer Science background (Novice Understanding) and I.T. Professionals with over 5 years of experience (Advanced Knowledge)
- Subjects: Cybersecurity and Data Science
- Industry: Digital
- Region: Bangkok and the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)
Even though we had a limited time of four weeks on the ground, we emphasized that it would be beneficial to the client for us to maximize our time with their users. Therefore, we planned, executed, and compiled findings for several requirements gathering sessions in the form of design thinking workshops, user interviews, and surveys.
Design Thinking with College Students
Our client was able to partner with a local university to provide students to spend 5 hours with us in an extensive design thinking workshop that covered the following:
- User Personas
- Hopes & Fears
- Empathy Mapping
- Process Pain Points
- Ideation Storyboarding
This design thinking session was unique for us because we had to speak to the students through an interpreter. However, the students caught on quickly and we were able to have a very productive session that confirmed some of our initial hypotheses but also gave us incredibly new insights that we would not have had if we hadn’t spoken to them (the findings will be discussed in a later section).
It was interesting to note that our client had initially apologized they were unable to gather students from top-tier universities in Bangkok, but they were relieved when we told them that this was fine — and even better — because we wanted to understand what the average student was thinking and doing to gain expertise in the I.T. industry.
Interviews with Students, Educators, and Working Professionals
We wanted to be able to speak with as much of the ecosystem surrounding knowledge and I.T. as possible, so we traveled to other locations to speak with students, educators, and working professionals.
Sample Questions to College Students
- Why did you choose Computer Science?
- Do you prefer to pursue a startup business or a job/career?
- What are your job expectations?
- What are your expectations around salary?
- How do you gain awareness of new technologies?
- How prepared do you feel to join the workforce?
- Do you have any expectations to gain international experiences?
Sample Questions to Working Professionals
- What was your path to becoming a I.T. professional?
- How do you continue to learn on the job?
- Have you seen changes to the education system since you graduated?
- Are there any I.T. related skills or jobs that go unfilled in your company?
- How competent are new, young hires at your company?
- What led you to work at a company instead of a start-up? (or vice versa)
- Did you have to travel internationally to gain the skills you have now?
Surveys with Technical I.T. Workers
Lastly, we also conducted surveys for employees that were unable to meet us in-person but were available to fill out online information. The quantitative results we received were helpful in being able to demonstrate that our findings were not limited to the select few we met, but were indicative of a larger phenomenon.
Now that we had gathered information from several sources, our team decided the best way to consolidate our findings was to conduct an internal design thinking session of our own where we as researchers could share what were our main conclusions from each requirements gathering session. We ended the internal session with affinity diagramming as our output of the session to further summarize our understandings and to begin the process of ideation.
Playback of Common Themes
Following the affinity diagramming exercise, we conducted a playback of common themes, which essentially takes our findings and organizes them in terms of requirements and stories that we were going to use as part of our designs. Some of the common themes we found were as follows:
- Students were concerned about falling back and not graduating together. Surprisingly, students did not want to be ahead of their classmates either — social cohesion came up time and time again.
- Working professionals and students alike spoke about how difficult it was to find an I.T. related job that paid well. Some of the students said that it was easier to find lucrative jobs as tour guides in the travel industry than it was to be a computer programmer at a software company.
- They also brought up that there was a lot of stigma still associated with being in the I.T. sector — that all professionals work out of a dark and dingy basement, coding all day until their eyes turn purple. They also found that they had a hard time explaining to family what their career was about, particularly if the family came from a rural background.
- It was clear that the students did not have role models in the Thai I.T. industry to look up to. Whereas in places like America, there are plenty of I.T. role models such as Steve Jobs, Sundar Pichai, Virginia Rometty, Satya Nadella, etc., the students said they didn’t know of anyone — even in a local capacity — that they could point to as being a successful I.T. worker.
- All interviewed brought up that they wanted to integrate technology into their lives and family’s businesses. Several mentioned that they worked other part-time jobs while in school or work to help the family out, and they see many use cases that could help their Thai businesses that were still involved in a cash-based economy.
- Students shared that they wanted information to be shared in interactive ways, as a lot of their computer science coursework was still mainly theoretical and only accessible from books. They wanted lessons that would be digital and accessible on mobile phones. Some even mentioned the courses should be offline as well because they would take river taxis to their universities and there wasn’t always Wi-Fi available to study on the way.
To present our findings and key recommendations to the client in a summarized manner prior to developing the wireframes, we provided two user models in the personas of “May”, a university student who was looking for motivations to learn and for learning paths, and ‘Chitcham’, an I.T. worker who needed time to learn and more information and ways to apply knowledge. Our clients concurred with our findings and we got started with our low-fi prototyping of a solution that would illustrate our recommendations for the agency to enact and put into place.
Ideate & Prototype
I began low-fi prototyping by taking our consolidated findings and depicting them visually on our solution prototype, which we named Withi Digital, Thai for “The Digital Path”. We showed these early-stage wireframes to our client and other users, and they gave us recommendations on what to prioritize and include in each screen. Some of the feedback we received was to keep it in line with other Thai websites by making the site look youthful and not too cluttered. We began to include specific requests they brought up, such as inclusion of a chatbot that would be available for the user to talk to at any time. Some other ideas, such as a mascot for the site, were later decided to not include in the design at this time.
After we finished our low-fi prototyping, we began to quickly iterate into a high-fidelity prototype to present to the client. Here are some of the features we included as part of the prototype based on our research findings:
Featured Content on the Homepage
Example of a Course Learning Page
Example of a Course Completion Page
Walkthrough of Dashboard Prototype
The video below goes through the different user flows prepared as part of our final deliverable. Note that there are two distinct user flows covered in the video:
- University Student (May): The prototype begins with her learning about this educational portal through social media. To make the site welcoming for her and other users, there are colorful graphics and cartoon iconography used in various aspects of the site.
- I.T. Worker (Chitcham): The prototype for his user flow begins halfway, after it shows May receiving a certificate of completion. His story begins with him receiving an email regarding a new data science course. The site shows that he receives an alternate landing page geared to him due to him accessing the site from an advertisement.
You can also use the following link to click through the interactive prototype:
We delivered the prototype in addition to a 50-page document summarizing our findings and presenting our recommendations for DEPA to enact in the next 4 years to achieve their goal of training 500,000 I.T. workers.
The client said they were very impressed with what we were able to accomplish during our month with them, and asked our company if they could begin discussions to make our prototype into a real, working product. We were amazed to hear this, as our client had previously shared they were working with other partners for the implementation side of the work. But as a result of our using user experience design to show a vision of the art of possible, the client was now interested to deepen their relationship with our company.
I learned a lot from this engagements, particularly that design thinking and prototyping sessions weren’t just methods to help defend our recommendations, but rather, that these sessions can serve as primary sources of research. It was a result of the design thinking sessions that we learned, for example, that students didn’t want to fall behind or be far ahead of their classes, so our design changed from the initial vision of including competition to being more about group cohesion. I look forward to more engagements like this where I am able to conduct user research and then take findings from that research into reality by way of designing and developing high-quality solutions.