Building Resilient (Over Scalable) Experience

In the world of crisis, resilient product and design matter even more

With COVID-19 pretty much deciding our fate for the next year, and maybe the year after, there’s a swift change to strategy as to how we build and design our product.

A long time ago when I started learning about web design, Dan Cederholm’s book “Bulletproof Web Design” was so appealing to me because it taught everyone how to code CSS in a “bulletproof” manner. Things like how a button would expand gracefully if you increase or decrease the text size, and how background images would still be sharp and noticeable in various screen sizes. Of course, this was limited to user interface design. This was an enlightening read for all of us designers back then because we’re so used to just “make it up as we go” or “putting out the fire” — meaning that whatever breaks, we fix it just for that very case or moment, without thinking the longer term. Basically, everything we did was not resilient to changes.

Then, there’s also resilient design in the world of architecture, where architects are challenged to design buildings that are adaptable:

It’s about elasticity, an innate quality of adaptability, and the connection to architecture is twofold. First, resilience means designing adaptable structures that can “learn” from their environments and sustain life, even in the face of disaster. Second, resilience means architects can learn from their buildings and deploy evermore-refined designs. Third, resilience means involving people directly in the design and creation of strong and inclusive cities.

I guess the same concept could apply on a broader strategic scale in UX — how we mentally think and design our product in the year forward. There’s a couple of ways to do this, I feel, and some of them might already start, like starting to build a more resilient team who can work anywhere, pivoting some or all of our businesses into something more flexible (like Airbnb introducing virtual experiences), or something else. But the problem with this approach is that it rarely makes a drastic change to the product or the way we design it.

It all starts from the users, again.

What about we dig a bit deeper to our customer base or users and see what we can continue or not continue doing, based on what they can and can’t do anymore?

I was tinkering with the idea that we all should go where the most widely-used or adapted medium is.

One of those is focusing on messaging apps, for example.

This is especially true for the markets where app or computer/internet prenetration is low, or where we aim to gain a larger user base in terms of age (e.g. older people) — and/or have a feature that helps transition into that.

I was making a purchase on Indonesian grocery site SESA for my parents, because simply they don’t know how to use it, so I helped putting some items on the list and made an order. There’s nothing wrong with SESA anyway, and we made an order. Only that we had to move over to Whatsapp ordering because they couldn’t automatically calculate shipping fee for some uncovered areas, so we had to fill everything manually again, including a list of 20 items with their prices.

I imagine what if when we opt for Whatsapp order, the system can automatically generate a plain text message that is structured so well that it makes the customer’s life and the merchant’s job easier? I can’t help imagining that my father being stuck in this process, and in COVID-19 era, this is a matter of life and death.

There are increasingly small and indepent businesses in Indonesia that are enabling deliveries and orders, but most of them don’t have websites, and the customers don’t use websites or apps anyway. They use messaging apps like Whatsapp.

Messaging app is probably not scalable, but it’s resilient.

Other example is we can also use a more traditional or unthinkable medium, like television. Yes, you read it right.

This is somehow also in line with the above example, but let me be more specific. Internet usage in developing countries often reach only less than 25% of overall population: 21% in Iran, 18% in Indonesia, and about 10% in Indonesia.

Smartphone penetrations, for example in Indonesia (again, I use Indonesia as I am most familiar with it) is around 30% in 2020.

Even if we design an app for Whatsapp, it will still not reach most people, especially if our mission is critical, like education.

With most students in the world moving over to home-based learning, most developed and more privileged countries would resort to laptops, phones, tablets and stable internet connection — probably with the comfort of noise-cancelling headphones and heated or cooled rooms… with plenty of food. But how about the students in far-flung regions?

This is why I think the Indonesia’s Minister of Education Nadiem Makarim has made a smart and inclusive move to air education programs on the national television that reaches even more places in the archipelago.

Public television broadcaster TVRI will air a full-day educational program called Belajar dari Rumah (Study from Home) for three months to help students who are required to study from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take a look at the example schedule:

I am not saying that we should begin to market our product back on the television, but let’s think of ways where we can utilize the most utilized channels, or a more democratized one. This depends on the users you’re solving the problems for.

If it’s a food delivery service or retail in an urban area, messaging app would be good. If it’s a marketplace for SMEs located in various small towns, a combination of messaging app and the official app would probably be good. If your users are mostly older people, then an experience around voice messaging/assistance might be better.

The point is: not everything has to have an app or website, or be centered around them.

In the future, who knows that even paper or telegrams can even be used again. Everywhere in the world, mail service is getting a comeback because of COVID-19 and we can rest assure delivery services are to be here for a long time, even more so in this pandemic. It is important that we build a scalable product, let’s not forget that resilient product can win things over for the longer term.


Picture by Karim Manjra, from Unsplash