Over a billion people are not yet connected. Today, more than 4 billion people across the globe use the internet ― with a majority of them in developed countries. But as our world becomes more connected, there are still billions of people who cannot access the internet and its benefits. The next one billion mobile phone users will come from emerging economies like India, Nigeria, and Indonesia. And they’re coming online at an unprecedented pace. This blog post will explore how we can design digital products for this next wave of users that provides options for those in different markets to get online and find their place on the web.

Developed economies have had the most user base over the past two decades, where a combination of high income and good infrastructure has provided the platform for users to thrive. But the landscape in these developed countries is starting to reach saturation and companies need to diversify their user base.

In retrospection, there are many factors for the connectivity divide between rich and developing economies. One of the reasons is the difference in infrastructure, education and distribution of resources. But a huge contributing factor for the global population not participating as the internet is not designed for them.

The products built today was built with the vision for the first billion users. The users of the first billion had high technology literacy, high speed and reliable connections and advanced devices. But the future of the web depends on the mobile-first individuals from developing economies.

Web Accessibility for the next billion users

When we say accessibility in technology terms, it is mostly to do with optimizing products for individuals with disabilities. Some of the obstacles for the next billion users are hardware software, language, and culture when engaging with technology.

Universally accessible experience is vital for a more inclusive web. Spending on infrastructure in developing economies is a long term goal. But building websites and apps to operate in those environments is possible. Here are a few challenges that need to be considered

1. Poor Connectivity

The biggest challenge when designing and developing for the next billion is low connectivity. Still many parts of the developing countries especially in rural areas experience poor and unreliable connectivity. The economic factor in these countries plays an important factor as Internet access is expensive for most individuals.

The workaround for this problem is to build digital products that progressively renders content and use placeholders for information that is not loaded. This gives users get a clear indication of progress while loading and a better user experience.

2. Lower Specification Devices

In developing economies, mobile phones are the primary device used to access the web. But these devices are not modern devices with all the latest specifications. These are probably low specification devices with small memories.

Accessibility is key for these devices. It is vital to focus on the elements like contrast, text size and colour. Focus on the design that can load on low specification devices. Making the product responsive, minimal battery usage and a low app size are key.

3. Design and Technological Literacy

The next billion users from the emerging economies have had very different experiences when it comes to technology. The linguistic, educational and cultural barriers have influenced the way they interact with technology. The low literacy and lack of digital skills is the main barrier to using the web.

To overcome this barrier we need to rethink and restructure our approach to design, interactivity and user experience. The products need to be adapted to suit new environments, different cultures and needs. To understand the new user base we need to involve and interact with them in the designing and building process.

Building a better digital future

About 85% of the world’s population are living in places with poor connectivity, low specification devices or lack tech literacy to access the internet. (World Bank). And yet, only a fraction of the web is built with this user base in mind. But slowly companies are beginning to understand the importance of this user base and are adapting.