Designing with empathy can be challenging because most of us at Spotify use the latest iPhones on speedy Wi-Fi or unlimited data plans, so our view of how our products perform varies greatly from those of our users in other parts of the world, who might be using older devices on spotty networks and expensive data plans. These are what we call “access-constrained users”, and to design features that work well for them, we have to gain a deeper understanding of their reality and perspective. It’s also important that we don’t fall into common performance pitfalls, such as designing a UI that doesn’t handle “no-connection” states gracefully, or fails to include options to disable moving content.
What are access-constrained users?
Access-constrained users generally fall into three categories: device, data, and network. As previously mentioned, they commonly live in disparate markets such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, and Latin America, with plenty of cultural and technological dissimilarities. For example, Malaysia scores highly on the Mobile Connectivity Index, whilst Sudan has a much lower score, and the average price of data in Pakistan is relatively cheap, while in Kenya it’s expensive.
Despite their differences, however, there are several threads that connect users in these markets:
Device-constrained users will experience stuttering, freezing, and crashes much more frequently than users who are not device constrained. They’ll also spend more time waiting for things to load and may be more averse to exploring a service to find what they need. They’ll usually have smaller screens with low contrast, and are more likely to have their screen dimmed to conserve battery.
Data-constrained users will be sensitive to content they perceive as data-intensive, such as moving images. They also tend to have reduced storage because their mobile is often their primary device and, therefore, has to store everything they care about.
Network-constrained users spend more time waiting for things to load. They experience lots of network interruptions so if a feature cannot function properly under these conditions, they won’t be able to use it.
If you want to learn more about access constraints, you can dive deeper in this post.
If we only design for speedy devices, we also risk finding out late in the development process that our feature performs poorly on devices used in emerging markets — and at this point, it can be costly and painful to make significant changes. When designing for a global audience, we have to do better, which is why we developed Performance Context Cards and Performance Action Cards: tools for our teams (and yours) to use during certain stages of the product design process.
Introducing Performance Context Cards
When designing for people who live across the globe from you, it’s important to understand how their context might be different, or similar, to your own. Performance Context Cards will help you connect with access-constrained users and give valuable insights into the device, data, and network constraints they’re facing, as well as help you ask questions that challenge your own perspective.