Getting up close and personal with non-tech savvy users

Ifa Nasution
Oct 31, 2019 · 6 min read

Who are they & how can we deal with them?

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Courtesy of Muzli. Video App by ALEX BENDER for G R A V I T Y

Look at the design above! Cool, isn’t it? Most of the time, we want our design to be sleek and elegant, with sophisticated interactions and cool animations. However, sometimes we forget for whom we design. Is it really what our users need? Who are our users anyway?

We need to know exactly whom we are designing for.

In my case, dealing with Bukalapak’s warung or mom-and-pop store users are quite challenging, compared to typical Bukalapak casual buyer users. We often got rejected by warung when validating our design or product during field research, since they felt insecure to try our prototype or assumed that we were just another salesman.

As the observation goes, we found that they are less informed and less fluent in the use of technology, due to their low literacy level. This fact made them one of the perfect examples of non-tech savvy users. Next question will be “how many of them are there in the world?”

In 2011–2015, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a study involving 33 countries, to measure the size of tech-savvy users’ population. Turns out only 5% of the population have high digital literacy, or so-called “tech elite”. Based on that numbers, it’s highly possible that most of people out there are non-tech savvy users!

Knowing you and I might share the same group of users, so why don’t we walk down the street and get to know more about these peeps.

Behaviors of non-tech savvy users

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Nowadays everyone uses smartphone. Non-tech savvy users might be influenced by their relatives to bought one, then installed WhatsApp, created a Facebook account, joined a group, and got connected with friends or even celebrities. This propelled by the rise of affordable Android smartphones.

Even though already acquired this piece of tech, they didn’t know much about things that could enabled by the device. The idea of integrating technology into their daily life is still largely unfamiliar for them. That’s why they never cease to learn from people around them.

There are five prominent behaviors we found during our research which really affected by how these users adopt new tech:

They have a high dependency on their more tech-savvy relatives in learning everything related to smartphones, including new apps.

On the other hand, tech-savvy users tend to explore the app first.

Usually, they use one hand to hold the phone and navigate it with the index finger of the other hand. This makes their focal point of view different from us who usually do one-handedly with thumb finger.

When it comes into typing, they use “11” finger, means both index fingers are being used to tap the keyboard. Moreover, they don’t remember the position of each letter on the keyboard.

Trying new apps is a scary thing to do, just because they are afraid of making some substantial mistakes.

Duh mas, saya gak bisa ah, saya gaptek, mana ngerti yang gitu (I can’t do that, I don’t understand anything like that)

They often think they could change the setting of the app or even lose their data or money if they clicked something on the screen. Those frightening things always prevent them from exploring new apps and learning something.

It’s hard for them to express their thoughts. We often end up getting many vague statements in our research.

R: Kenapa kamu tertarik? (Why are you interested?)

P: Ya gitu mas, tertarik aja (Well, I just interested)

We can’t easily ask them to imagine some concept that’s completely foreign and unrelated to them.
For example, there is a research statement:

Bu Nia telah menjadi Mitra Bukalapak selama 6 bulan. Kalau kamu Bu Nia, penting kah informasi tersebut? (Bu Nia has joined Mitra Bukalapak for 6 months If you are Bu Nia, is the information important?)

They could reply with following answer:

Tidak penting, karena saya bukan Bu Nia (It’s not important because I’m not Bu Nia)

How to face non-tech savvy users

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The first time I met my warung participant, I was shocked and speechless. Feeling reluctant to try the prototype, he asked me to teach him instead. It took me a whole 15 minutes trying to convince him. After several occasions with similar participants, I figured out seven points that could help us conduct smooth research:

Before starting the session, better adjust yourself to their level of language comprehension first. We usually use these following words to substitute technical terms they might not understand:

Tap pencet/klik (press/click)

Marketplace jual-beli online (online shop)

Prototype aplikasi uji coba (trial application)

Top-up isi ulang/tambah saldo

For every question that been answered vaguely or even nothing at all, we’ll have to explain everything twice or more. Sometimes we had to wait a solid 10 minutes before finally heard the answer. Facing non-tech savvy users will put your patience to the test. Before anything else, the most important thing to do is getting your zen on. It might sounds simple and effective, but IRL, it’s kinda hard to do.

Turns out they don’t want to be judged as a clueless person. That’s why they tend to resist trying our prototype.

Gak mau ah, saya gaptek gak ngerti gituan. (No, I don’t want to try it, I don’t understand how it works.)

Obviously, we can’t continue our research without their participation. Therefore, we must encourage them by saying something like this:

Bisa dicobain dulu. Gak apa-apa kok. Boleh diapain aja. Gak ada yang salah atau bener. Kalau ada yang gak sesuai, itu karena masih aplikasi uji coba. (You can try it. It’s okay. You can do whatever you want. There is no right or wrong with this app, since it’s only a trial version.)

Minutes after tried the prototype, this type of user usually responds:

Udah oke kok, bagus-bagus aja (It’s okay, already good enough)

Except they said this in a visibly confused face, while scrolling back and forth on the same page. By doing a close observation, we can spot their reaction through expression and gesture, which is hard to be conveyed verbally.

We should persistently ask follow-up questions, in order to probe them and dig deeper into our user mental model. It helps when the user is a man of few words.

Every time they look confused, give them an example. It really helps them grasped the concept you want to talk about, especially in usability testing. For instance, if they couldn’t speak out during the test, you might show them how to think-aloud in everything they do.

During usability testing, there were several moments when our users struggled to understand our inquiries or had difficulties doing several tasks. Just be prepared to provide some assistance, as long as we ensure the validity of the data.

Here are some cases where an assistance comes in handy:

  • Help filling out a survey for a user who can’t read or write.
  • Help typing in a webform for a user who can’t type quickly or “11 fingers typer”.

Every now and then, we are still trying to adapt to our users’ behavior when conducting research. Therefore, when the research ended, we won’t only discuss the data but also the participant’s responses. That’s how we manage to come up with the mentioned “counter-attack” moves. So why don’t you take a break from synthesizing, and take a closer look at your participants’ unique behavior!

Thanks for the collaboration in making the content Iqbal Mabbit Satria, Ivana Putri, and Purna Anantha!

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