As humans, we are constantly influenced by our environments and experiences, through which we form conscious and unconscious assumptions that collectively help us navigate our daily lives. But for engineers, product designers, and researchers, building inclusive products means there needs to be constant checks in those assumptions. Their cultural contexts and mental models will likely be very different to or even nonexistent for NIUs, so it’s crucial that when designing products for them, conclusions aren’t drawn while far removed from their life in their environment.

For example, many families in NBU countries share their mobile devices with one another (See Privacy). Device privacy and account settings, however, are currently mostly built on the fundamental principle of “one person, one account.” When that one to one assumption is challenged, there needs to be a rethink of everything from how a password is used effectively to how women can maintain their agency — and even their personal safety — in more traditional societies that limit or closely monitor their internet usage.

By embracing a more immersive approach — beginning with research and firsthand interactions with the NBUs to understand nuances in culture — we can better ensure that we’re building digital experiences on a foundation that will be relevant and valuable for novice internet users. There are no shortcuts to these insights. They need to be lived and experienced (See Immersion).

One of our most successful examples of this immersive research and development approach comes from the Google Maps team. Traveling to places like Delhi and Jakarta, they found that Google Maps — which was designed for cars — wasn’t adapted to these rapidly growing urban centers, where motorbikes and scooters were fast becoming a preferred mode of transport. A diverse team of engineers, UX designers and project managers was formed, and they spent extensive, in-person time with two-wheel drivers in these cities, both on and off their vehicles.

As they collected stories, 360-degree videos, sounds and photographs, they formulated a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the everyday challenges these drivers faced — a picture that data simply wouldn’t be able to capture on its own. The result was a motorbike mode for Google Maps that included enhanced voice navigation, custom routes, shortcuts, and more landmarks for better orientation while traveling by two wheels instead of four (See Motorcycle Mode in Maps).

Link to Youtube Video (Visible only when JS is disabled)

Driving a two-wheeler in Jaipur, India.

This 360-degree video made by Munish Dabas highlights the sights, sounds, and feelings of driving a two-wheeler in the streets of Jaipur.

In order to ensure that insights translate to practical application and use, experimentation, beta-testing, and iterating in the field are also critical. This process helps improve products and services, ensuring they’re truly relevant and useful — particularly so in the case of products built for NIUs, whose nascent digital confidence can be easily shaken by confusing experiences. Even the seemingly smallest detail might contribute to frustration. Consider environmental contrasts like sun and shade, for example.

People everywhere use their devices in direct sunlight, of course, but this is especially true in the global south, where a large part of each day is often spent outdoors. In these settings, low-contrast screen designs are often particularly challenging to decipher. If the contrast between design components and the background is not large enough, important information and affordances might get lost or overlooked. Testing an application with a dimmed screen in bright sunshine might seem like an edge case under normal circumstances, but addressing such edge cases as the default will help steer teams toward more inclusive products from the start.

Another example: cracked screens. In many NBU markets, where hardware represents a substantial investment, broken handsets will remain in the ecosystem unrepaired, often being passed along to other family members. The percentage of users using cracked screens is significant — indeed, about a quarter of the NBUs we spoke to said they would continue to use a cracked device even if it could cause injury.

Broken screens and dead pixels can make some touch targets hard to activate or entirely unreachable. We can account for this by ensuring that designs work in both portrait and landscape mode for more flexible functionality and by making buttons and other affordances large and clear. It also helps to check visual designs through the lens of magnification and zoom, as designs often break when magnified by up to 200%.

Assumptions are, by their nature, deeply ingrained into our thought process. To challenge them, we must first recognize them, and doing so takes discipline. It means we can’t be afraid to be proven wrong or to fail completely. Even sunsetting products should be expected, especially when novel ideas, beta-testing, and product iteration are at the heart of innovating for the NBUs. It’s not a very natural muscle motion — our instinct to keep reinforcing or chasing down an incorrect assumption can be overpowering. But when we design the practice of empathy and culture into the development process and endeavor to build more inclusive products, we improve the experience not only for the NBUs but for every other user, as well.


Internet access is a basic human right. But the goal of providing equitable and inclusive internet access to everyone remains unmet.

Building inclusive products

Conducting user research, whether it’s on-the-ground or virtual, helps designers better understand the people they aim to serve.


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Designing for confidence

Inclusive digital design can help novice internet users grow their digital confidence.


Everybody who works in tech can help create a more inclusive, equitable internet for everyone, everywhere.

Financial inclusion

Financial inclusion goes beyond financial access. It’s about empowering, creating opportunities, and accelerating progress.

Growth in Africa
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It’s the tech community’s responsibility to support novice internet users as they learn how to be online.


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Motorcycle Mode in Maps

Built for the next billion users, Motorcycle Mode in Google Maps shows how developers Google can improve existing services to meet evolving user needs.

Navigating a smartphone

From tapping, to pinching, to swiping, and more—developers can help unlock the value of a smartphone.

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Novice internet users can better access the benefits of the internet with offline capabilities and “lite” versions of apps.


We’re developing new ways to protect people’s privacy when they share devices with friends and family.


It’s our responsibility to help answer the questions of novice internet users—so they’re empowered when they go online.

Reality vs Perception

We’re helping educate novice internet users in order to prevent misconceptions and empower people when they spend time online.


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Novice internet users often learn how to use the internet and their smartphones through their friends and family. Learn more about their experiences.


Many novice internet users don’t know common digital symbols and functions. Upboarding helps grow digital literacy by meeting users where they are.


Developing enhancements for voice tools can help grow the internet and bring more people around the world online.


The barriers women face are disproportionately higher compared to their male counterparts. We have the opportunity to empower women and help close the gap.

Xtreme conditions

Some novice internet users experience environmental barriers that prevent them from getting online. Learn more about the challenges they face.


The benefits of education should be made available to all youth, the country's richest resource and the driving force to full country potential.

Gorm the Zop

“Gorm the Zop” is a game to help people understand the experiences of novice internet users around the world—and build empathy.