Today—whatever day you’re reading this—more than a million people will come online for the first time. Tomorrow and the day after, a million more will follow. A million people increasingly from emerging markets and rural areas, where connectivity is on the rise and data costs are coming down. A million people whose first exposure to the digital world is usually through their phone.
The internet has no owner’s manual. For someone new to it, technology can be exciting...but also intimidating. As COVID-19 accelerates the shift to digital across nearly every industry and facet of life, building digital confidence in new internet users is more important than ever. It’s important to the small merchant in Chennai who is now sending photos of their inventory to customers; the mother receiving remittance payments from her son in Jakarta; and the daily wage earner in Dhaka looking for work—all doing so on their phone for the first time.
In collaboration with Google’s Next Billion Users team and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we set out to help product teams build more inclusive digital services. Together, we created digitalconfidence.design, a suite of design tools to help teams build digital services that work for everyone. Regardless of where they live, what language they speak, or which device they use.
Whether you’re a designer, developer, researcher, or product manager, here are five tools to use when designing or building for the next wave of internet users.
Build empathy with user context cards
The next wave of internet users has unique needs and context—and they may be very different from the users your product team has designed for in the past. For instance, that shopping cart icon you click on to finish a purchase may not ring a bell for someone living in a rural area without a supermarket.
Consider what we learned from Huria, a woman in Kupang, Indonesia, who has always paid the local shopkeeper in cash. When explaining why she didn’t use a digital payment app, she told us, “If I click the wrong button, my money might go somewhere else." For someone used to in-person transactions, the lack of physical artifacts (like receipts and ATM cards) can contribute to a sense that their money isn’t secure, or raise doubts about whether their transactions are successful.
Understanding the needs of users is the first step in designing a product that works for them. How digitally fluent are your target users? What are their typical behaviors? Our user context cards can help your team articulate who you’re designing for by understanding their unique context.
Download the cards here
Align on your challenge with sprint focus cards
Whether you're running a sprint or defining your roadmap, the first step is aligning on the challenge you’ll focus on. Like the unique needs and context, new internet users also face unique challenges when they interact with digital tools for the first time.
Almost a third of all search queries in India are voice searches. “Talking is easy,” a person outside of Jaipur told us, “but typing is hard.” Voice interactions can be error-prone, though, and for someone who’s still figuring out his or her smartphone, that can be alienating; users might even blame themselves.
Many new internet users are also used to learning new skills and troubleshooting problems alongside friends, family, and neighbors. In Bangalore, the Google team met a woman who had just gotten a smartphone. As they sat down to talk with her, they realized she left her phone by the door. They asked if she wanted to show it to them. “Why would I do that until my daughter’s home?” she asked.
As you get to know your users, your team may discover a handful of needs you could address. Choosing which challenge your team will focus on—like optimizing for voice or developing clear onboarding and assistance flows—will help deliver the best product for your end users. This set of sprint focus cards will help your team align on your design challenge by unpacking common obstacles new internet users face.
Download the cards here
Get inspired by other solutions
Creativity often starts with inspiration. How do other apps design for slow, intermittent, or unreliable network connections? How do communication apps account for multilingual users? How do payments apps make complex interactions less overwhelming?
We've curated a selection of inspirational thought-starters and apps to fuel your team's creative process. Browse provocations that’ll spark conversation among your team or check out other apps that are already addressing the real-world challenges of new internet users.
Explore the inspiration tool here
Use design principles cards to guide your decisions
Design principles are the North Star of your solution. They’re an actionable tool to guide your team’s design decision-making. Clear design principles keep the team focused on the needs of end users—like Poonam from outside of Delhi, who told us that digital accounts were confusing. “Why do I need Google to set up my phone?” she asked. Her Android runs on Google software, where having a Gmail account is a prerequisite. But without knowledge of the companies behind the tools, the relationship was hazy, and even a potential barrier to entry.
Our research uncovered the need to let users, like Poonam, “look before they leap.” Users with less digital confidence prefer to try out apps and features without risk before committing. Allowing them to preview experiences will help them discover new possibilities and overcome the fear of doing something “wrong.”
Aligning on design principles that center users with less digital confidence—like offering multiple modes of interaction, providing timely guidance, and celebrating wins early and often—can produce a more accessible and inclusive product. Use the design principles cards to find actionable strategies to guide your work and inform design decisions.
Download the cards here
Measure your effectiveness with the test framework
By now, you have a prototype. It’s time to answer a tough question: How can your team make sure the product you’re building makes a difference for your intended audience?
Answer: Ask your users! Understanding how real people respond to your product is the only way to ensure you’re effectively building digital confidence. A thorough test framework will help you define your testing goals, choose the right methodology, and align on success metrics.
Download the framework here
Building digital services that work for everyone is now more important than ever. We’re inspired by all of the stories we hear of product teams around the world using these tools to design for the next wave of internet users.
As of May 2020, we’ve validated the Digital Confidence Design Tools and methodology with twenty-two product teams, including Google Pay, Flipkart, Airtel, and Hindustan Unilever. Dozens of prototypes built during our tests are being piloted and measured with new internet users around the world—and our hope is that dozens more are built to connect users in emerging markets with everything the internet has to offer.
About Last Mile Money
The Digital Confidence Design Tools came out of Last Mile Money—a five-year innovation initiative between global design firm IDEO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to connect underserved communities to the digital economy.
About Google’s Next Billion Users team
The Next Billion Users (NBU) team is dedicated to ensuring that Google’s products are meeting the needs of the next billion people coming online. With these needs in mind, the team gathers users insights to build products that help new internet users make the most of the internet. Google's NBU team is also committed to contributing to the ecosystem to create a more inclusive internet where anyone can thrive.
Design Lead, San Francisco
Jason is a design strategist and cofounder of IDEO’s Last Mile Money program, a five-year financial inclusion initiative with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He has deep expertise launching and running programs that tackle complex systemic challenges, conducting international fieldwork in emerging markets, and leading multidisciplinary teams through the human-centered design process.