5 Great User Experiences in China

{ 🇨🇳 } – UX Design: The Secret Fuel Supporting China’s Explosive Growth

Shanghai’s skyline. Photo by Edward He.

From rumours of implementing social credit score to CRISPR twins with edited genes, China has been the centre of many tech news globally.

I visited Shanghai, China last month (Winter 2019), and I noticed that along with their rise in tech innovations, their quality of design was also impressive. As designers, we need to keep our eyes open to successes from other countries and cultures to push for a better experience for our own users.

1. Scan and Pay

Almost all the stores in Shanghai have now implemented a QR code system for people to scan and purchase items. This system is backed by several mobile payment platforms, namely Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s payment arm Alipay. From riding the subway to eating at a restaurant, I paid everything with just my iPhone â€” and it’s always as simple as scan and pay.

Square, Amazon Go, JP Morgan Chase, and Facebook Calibra may be the closest players in the US market to implement such system.

TL;DR: The government can track all of your transactions, and that can be dangerous. However, this idea of replacing items like cash that I would otherwise have to carry in my pocket to an app on my iPhone is indeed a nice UX. This is already applied to boarding pass (Apple Wallet) and name cards (Linkedin Profile), but we as designers can further look into other ideas that can make people’s pockets lighter and lives easier.

2. Even the Ads Are All About QR Codes…

The potential benefits of QR codes:

  • Scan (less work for the people) -> bookmark to read later OR subscribe to newsletter OR pretty much anything digital (more reward for the product)
  • Can track data (which location gets the most traction, what are some common behaviours after scanning, etc).

Here, I also want to emphasize that China is very fast at adopting these technologies and changes. A year before, most of the ads emphasized on informing people what to search on Baidu (Chinese Google).

China does rapid prototyping very well — it’s not afraid of bringing ideas to the public and killing them if they are not adopted. This may be rather hard in Western cultures where there are various levels of policies and regulations; however, we as designers should not be afraid to make an impact if we are designing for a better experience. If we stop designing, there won’t be changes.

3. … And Those Ads Are Everywhere

China wastes absolutely no space to put on ads. This one is on a Taxi window. The most clever place that I saw was the elevators— projecting video ads on the doors:

  • Phones often don’t work in elevators, so people are bored and will pay more attention to the ad.
  • Can be local and targeted — residential vs office building, region A vs region B, etc.
  • Cost is significantly lower than traditional printed ads.

Again, these are bold moves that are being rapidly adopted throughout China. A year from now, these ideas may not exist — and that is what makes China so interesting to observe and get inspiration from. Smart ideas deserve to be spread and tested.

4. Purchased Something? You’re Automatically Friends (And Will Be Sent Coupons)

As usual, I ordered my food using a QR code at KFC. The next thing I know — I’m friends with KFC on WeChat (Chinese social media) and I see various coupons. This is an intrusive yet interesting user experience. There are no separate tabs; instead, WeChat completely blends in ads and coupons into the overall interface. Some personal thoughts:

  • I unfriended a few like McDonald’s since they sent me coupons every day. I felt like it was spam. It was very easy to unfriend contacts.
  • If the right ad is presented at the right timing at the right place, people wouldn’t have a negative impression towards ads. Western cultures should look into blending ads experience into people’s lives more.
  • Also, give more power to the users — design the right thing.

5. Mobile Battery Rental Programs

My phone can’t last the entire day, and without my phone, I pretty much can’t pay or do anything in China. But there are these boxes where you can rent portable chargers located almost everywhere in the city. It costs less than a dollar per hour, and you can continue your trip and return it at boxes in other locations. Very convenient and essential to a society where you need phones for everything.

Phones are also relatively cheap in China thanks to companies like Huawei. In the States, they are still expensive, but there are rumours that suggest developments of cheap, new smartphones from Apple, Google, and Samsung. With more percentage of the citizens owning smartphones, the city can adapt more technology and ultimately make lives more efficient.

It’s true that not all of the ideas above can be implemented in the States or other countries. However, I believe it is still worth looking at and sharing ideas and designs to inspire each other in the design community. If I missed any or if there are any cool UX in other countries, please comment down below. Hope you enjoyed the article.

Hiroo Aoyama Avatar

Hiroo Aoyama / Product Design Intern @ Facebook

Hiroo Aoyama is a designer and author. He is currently an incoming product designer at Facebook.