Are there different global design trends? Does it impact WeChat, WhatsApp, and Uber?

I’m continuing re-posting and elaborating on my AMA from Growthhackers.com.

This was another great question from Edward Stephens: Do you think international mobile design will pose significant cultural differences e.g. mobile usage in China (WeChat) and do you expect this to homogenise?

While I do think there are some strong elements that are influenced culturally, good design that leads the user to do what the product is designed to help them with is winning in markets around the world, so I think there will be a continuing trend towards simple, focused design. It may differ with things like iconography, coloring (we often forget that color has very different meaning depending on the market), and language, but I think there’s a core set of fundamentals that will be standards for other apps to look at. In general, those fundamentals are all about:

  • Does the app quickly accomplish the task at hand?
  • Do I understand the purpose of the application within the first few moments of the user experience?
  • Does it load relatively quickly?
  • Is the app sticky? Do I have reasons to keep coming back?
  • The user goals of the app should align to key metrics for the business. You should prioritize those as much as possible in the user experience.

I think Whatsapp provides a good example of something that works incredibly well across all borders with simple design. Every country I travel to people use Whatsapp as their primary messaging companion (excluding China), so I think the interesting work will be to see how Facebook thinks differently about Facebook Messenger vs Whatsapp as they try to place more services into their messaging applications. Will they focus on one being more business focused vs the other being more consumer focused?

Take Uber as another example. Although their recent re-branding has gotten a lot of attention, fundamentally, nothing has changed about the app. It’s still the same user experience with the same concepts once you get past a more country specific app icon and some nice coloring upon loading. And to be fair, it’s unclear to me if this re-brand will have any real impact from a design or cultural perspective. Having used Uber across a variety of markets, there wasn’t a sense that the “U” logo or the stark black and white coloring was creating any issue. In general, the app seems to have quite high usage throughout the globe (and my travels include Africa, Latin America, Europe, the U.S.). I did find this the most interesting post on the topic, relating to Chinese expansion: https://www.techinasia.com/talk/uber-redesign-logo-answer-china.

We see this with many of the apps in the Naspers portfolio as well. As they get refined and focus shifts to key metrics, it often comes with simplification of core flows in the app, making it easier to invite friends, and cleaning up their design to reduce confusion and increase usage.

If you look at the best apps coming out of emerging markets, they aren’t fundamentally designed differently than many of the best apps we have in developed markets. Good examples are apps like Enjoei in Brazil, Zomato, Flipkart in India, and many others. Good user experience is critical regardless of the market and many apps have done quite well leveraging a similar design market to market.

One other important element that companies looking to expand internationally need to consider: devices in emerging markets often have far less storage space than those we’re accustomed to in the United States or developed markets. Therefore, whatever your design is, it better hook the user rapidly. Otherwise, there’s a strong chance they are going to delete your app as they’re working with a much smaller storage space meaning app spaces are at a premium.

WeChat

Specifically to WeChat, we definitely see others in the market (notably Facebook Messenger) trying to mimic what WeChat has created in China. The most interesting challenge will be whether or not the global market is similar to China. Will other countries leverage a chat/messaging app as their core means for other activities such as payments, e-commerce, and hailing a cab/uber? Or is that behavior more prominent in China as a result of the deep penetration of WeChat among the installed base there?

No clue if we will ever see Facebook doing this type of stuff, but I have to imagine the move to put David Marcus in charge of that group is designed to eventually move them in that direction. The recent Uber partnership is a pretty big deal in moving that way as well – I expect we’ll see many more of those in the near term.

Facebook and Whatsapp are still really far away on the B2B elements that exist within WeChat. And whether or not we’ll ever see Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp become a dominant commerce channel similar to WeChat is a much harder question to answer. I have to believe that’s an eventual possibility, but unclear whether user behavior is just different in China than in other markets.

–Great post by Fred Wilson that talks about some of these concepts, especially how other apps will slowly become the web browser: http://avc.com/2015/12/contextual-runtimes/
–Good background on WeChat for those less familiar:http://a16z.com/2015/08/06/wechat-china-mobile-first/

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