Culture Shock by Design
Observing bias on the web.
In the western world, we generally know how our user’s behave. The User Experience™ is paramount and as web developers, we obsess over these details, tiny and big alike. We all have that copy of Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug stowed away somewhere just in case there’s a rainy day and electricity isn’t a thing. No question, when it comes to having a fast loading site; it’s just done and that list scrolls on and on.
If we know what the user wants, we should be able to tell our clients what they need. Time is money, after all. A former co-worker of mine recently had a client literally drop its hosting provider after it was determined that the slow load time being encountered was on the server’s end. When the hosting provider denied it was an issue from their perspective, the client dropped the company. The client’s site now loads faster than before because they found a company that could accommodate them. Every second a site loads creates a wider divide between the customer and client.
As developers, this is common knowledge but it doesn’t stop there. We live and breathe development. We know the buzz words and we have sites in our portfolio that are using those latest tricks and trends. We prepare our selves to let Apple and companies to set the trends in design but our pitchforks are prepped and ready for those developers who dare to stray too far from what is set by others as the paradigm. When we know what “everyone else” is doing, it’s all but too easy for bias to set in.
That being said, I ask that you step out of that box for a few moments. Let’s imagine we talk to an open minded client who wants to expand their business to another country and they did some homework. They want us to focus on one mobile browser, and completely gloss over the idea of having a desktop version of the site. It’s okay, if viewed on a desktop, that the site is functional but that’s not a necessity. Now, they want some ideas on how to implement these QR codes into their advertising in…
We all generated an unordered list of reasons, or an ordered list for the dozens of you heathens out there (Internal dialogue note: bias much, Matt?), as to why these ideas goes against the grain. Anyone who has spent even a bit of time in the western design industry probably had that list of talking points prepared for just such an occasion.
But the thing is, that’s how business is done in some eastern countries like China. It stands out when compared to our common practices, considering sites like the Awwwards can be somewhat of an echo chamber for what we consider modern design. As this article states from Smashing Magazine, only a few Chinese sites have ever made it to Site of the Day to date.
Granted, this is an unlikely scenario for most of us web developers that don’t already have a footing in this type of thing. I know most companies will want an agency that has the experience. But what does it cost us to look into, and dare I say admire, how the non-western world practices a trade we all have in common, even with our bias abound? A case could be made that China may even be paving the way for us.
Think about how rapidly the western mobile market is bursting at the seams with each passing year with new users. Next, consider the fact that even our most generous, future numbers on the direction of where mobile users are going pale in comparison to mobile-only usage to China right now. While the market will adapt as more users go online and find new ways to consume content, the other side of the Great Fire Wall could give us some of the solutions to the challenges we may face in the future.
We know that our field is in a state of constant flux but we’re all better off for it if we keep our ears to the ground. Bias does not serve us well in this industry and I implore my fellow developers to find ways to remind themselves of that. Maybe someday we’ll all use ordered lists and today’s heathens can be tomorrow’s hipsters.
But until then, let’s try to keep an open mind.
Disclaimer: This article is written as part of #StartYourShift, a monthly writing project for Web Developers set up by the cool kids over at Sparkbox. This month’s topic was: “How have you experienced (or observed) bias in the web industry?”