Designing for

Every day, more than a million people will come online for the first time in their lives. Imagine for a moment that you’re one of them.

You’ve been saving for your first smartphone for months, and finally, today is your day. It’s exciting — an open door to new opportunities. But it’s also confusing and intimidating. What do all these icons mean? What if you hit the wrong button? Where do you even begin? You’ve just made this brave leap into the digital world, and now, quite understandably, you’re wondering if you’ve made the right decision (See Navigating a smartphone).

This is the actual emotional conflict between excitement and fear shared by NIUs all over the world, based on our interactions with them. But together, we can help ease those anxieties by ensuring better designs where each new user can feel confident navigating an internet that was not only built for them but also built with their help. We want them to experience and engage with content without trepidation and in a way that will help bolster their digital confidence with each new interaction.

Designing for digital confidence, now and in the future, will require a community of product makers, acting with empathy and a willingness to embrace new perspectives, building relevant, meaningful digital experiences for everyone, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, or which device they use. That’s why IDEO, Google, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation collaborated to develop what we call the Digital Confidence Toolkit.

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Digital Confidence, Design Tools.

A set of design tools — developed by IDEO, Google, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — to help product teams build digital services that work for everyone. Regardless of where they live, what language they speak, or which device they use.

The tools in the kit are designed to empower teams to build more effectively for NIUs by first identifying common challenges faced when developing products for this group of users:


The idea of an “account” can be confusing for NIUs encountering them for the first time. Without an understanding of digital accounts and identities, it’s not obvious why anyone would need a Google account to set up an Android phone or why one would then need a different account for a service like Facebook. The amount of information required to set up an account can also feel overwhelming, and often, setting up is discontinued if it becomes too much. Even remembering alphanumeric passwords can be a source of frustration for users who struggle with literacy, especially if the credentials were created by someone else, as is so often the case with NIUs.


Knowing when and where to tap, swipe, toggle, or long press on a phone screen can be disorienting and oftentimes counterintuitive for an NIU. The process of learning what’s clickable and what’s not can leave users confused, and the frustration is amplified by inconsistent interfaces across different apps and operating systems.


For people who live in cultures without supermarkets and have not seen a shopping cart, the shopping cart icon won’t resonate at all. Unfortunately, the digital world relies heavily on visual language that unfortunately wasn’t created with regard for local semiotics — particularly those specific to NBU regions. Moreover, imagery and iconography that are either too abstract or too detailed can fail to resonate with NIUs. Alternatively, photo-realistic visuals provide details that can distract. Visuals that show real-life actions and are semi-abstract often communicate better than static objects or stand-alone symbols, but as is so often the case, the solutions require localized research and beta-testing.

Addressing challenges like those listed above will require a new way of thinking. Indeed, that shift needs to be central in efforts  in designing for novice internet users. But the exercise also offers a tremendous opportunity for learning and growth. Designing for digital confidence enables us to design better for the rest of the world.

A Smartphone Built to Boost

Millions of people in India currently using feature phones want access to a full-fledged smartphone, but there are still gaps, both in affordability and usability, that prevent them from realizing those aspirations. Now, thanks to our partnership with Indian telecom, Jio, we’re creating a solution — an affordable Android-based smartphone that delivers premium capabilities, with features designed specifically to address the needs of NIUs in India (See Hardware).

The phone features a whole host of voice-first capabilities (See Voice). “Listen” and “translate” buttons, for example, allow users to listen to any on-screen content read aloud in their native language — a boon for NBU populations who struggle with literacy. The same functionality is also available for the camera, allowing users to simply point the lens at any text and translate it to voice with the touch of a button.

In addition, the voice-activated Google Assistant is integrated so that it’s able to command functions on some of the more popular Jio apps — preventing some of the frustration that arises when users misunderstand the limitations of voice functionality.

And, because the photo-taking experience should always be delightful, we also partnered with Snap to integrate Indian-specific Snapchat Lenses directly into the phone’s camera.

The objective with all these efforts is the same: When we design for confidence, we allow NIUs a comfortable transition from guided learning into self-exploration and discovery, and eventually, those newly confident users can help guide other NIUs into using new products, as well.


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