Understanding Market Needs: Advice for Startups and Young Designers
Understanding Market Needs: Advice for Startups and Young Designers
Elaine Ann, founder of Kaizor Innovation, was introduced to the concept of design thinking when studying in the U.S. in the 1990s. After spending 12 years in the country, she returned to Hong Kong in 2000 and established Kaizor Innovation, a consultancy that helps foreign companies, mainly tech businesses, enter the China market by guiding its clients to develop products or services aligned with the habits of Chinese consumers. Since human-centred technologies were rare before the 1990s, and computers and mobile phones were not user-friendly, design thinking played an important role during that time. Elaine is also a founding member of IxDAHK. They offer a mentorship programme to train startups and other people interested in interaction design and have also been actively advocating the importance of UX design to corporates and technology companies.
Tips to Startups: understanding market needs
Elaine admits that founders of Hong Kong startups generally lack work experience. “Many people think they can start a tech startup right after they graduated.” However, in addition to industry knowledge and skills, startup companies must first understand the market needs. “Apart from addressing the problems in the market, they must be able to attract consumers to use their products or services in order to run a successful business.” Startups need to consider the financial aspects too as rents are high in Hong Kong, and salary is a significant cost. If the co-founders of a startup do not hire any help and can work from home, they can save a lot of costs. The last consideration is language proficiency. Elaine said tech startups should look beyond the local market and adopt a global vision in order to build a good business. A good command of English or Putonghua is a must.
Elaine also offers three more tips to startups:
- Make good use of online tools, such as Google apps, ZOOM and WeChat, to work from home during the current pandemic, and understand their functionalities and benefits.
- Attune to the changing market needs and turn them into offerings.
- Participate in networking activities related to interaction design, such as events and mentorship program organised by IxDAHK, to find the talents you need.
Understanding market needs: Design thinking applications in East and West
Elaine points out that design thinking has been ingrained in the corporate culture overseas. Employees of foreign companies usually work as a team to participate in the development process and they are empowered to make the decisions. When the team reaches a consensus, the decision is implemented immediately to accelerate the service or product development phase. Meanwhile, employees of Hong Kong or Mainland companies under the influence of Confucian culture tend to work individually and seek directive from their supervisors afterwards. This may prolong the research and development process. With the cultural differences, it is better to collect ideas on an anonymous basis in Hong Kong. For example, Elaine will ask staff/teams to write their ideas on Post-it notes, stick them on the wall and discuss the ideas together. When doing user research, researchers can shadow customers for a day in their homes to observe their experience with the produce/service as overseas users believe in the research organisation and the legal protection. However, as Asians value interpersonal relationship more than law and institutions, using personal network for user research will be more effective.
Taking PayMe, an instant money transfer app popular in Hong Kong, as an example. Elaine notes that the bank was willing to set up a separate entity to develop the app and minimise its interference in the process. Empowered with a high degree of freedom, the team was able to launch the app timely after analyzing the market needs and make quick adjustments subsequently. Today, PayMe commands a considerable market share in Hong Kong. Although tech startups may not have sufficient manpower or resources, Elaine believes that their flexibility can lead to a more efficient decision-making process. With the data collected, they can start the research and development immediately, and use design thinking to create targeted offerings to address the needs of users for better results.
The human-centred design thinking concept encourages us to consider the needs of users from their perspectives. When practicing design thinking in the East and the West, it is important to understand the local culture and market habits. For example, fridges used in foreign countries can usually make ice water, but Chinese consumers need a different type of fridge since they seldom drink ice water. Therefore, the executives of a foreign business wishing to enter the China market must be familiar with the local culture and the preferences and needs of local users in order to put design thinking into good use.
Another example is that overseas companies would complete the testing and preparations before launching an app so as to offer the best user experience right away. However, Chinese users are willing to try out an app first, and the developer can test it and make changes. This is a major difference between the application of design thinking in East and West culture. Foreign countries emphasise innovative research and development, while Hong Kong and Mainland businesses usually adapt and improve existing products quickly.
IxDA strengthens its presence in Hong Kong to capture interaction design trend
Founded in the U.S., Interaction Design Association (IxDA) is an international community organisation aiming to promote interaction design and professional discussion of related topics. Every year IxDA invites professionals from all over the world, including product managers, creative directors, interaction designers, engineers and researchers, to join its annual international conferences and seminars. Leading scholars and experts will share the latest developments and best practices of interaction design with the participants.
IxDAHK was founded in 2004 by Elaine and several designers from different companies in Hong Kong. At the gatherings held by the association, people from all walks of life can gain a better understanding of how interaction design can be applied by different businesses. The prospects of interaction design are promising, since design is no longer a standalone profession and designers are no longer confined to graphic design work. Such development does not only highlight the importance of designers in the overall R&D process, but also attracts new talents interested in this field.
IxDAHK has launched a mentorship programme for people who are less experienced in interaction design or want to join the industry. A dozen of experienced designers, selected according to the needs or specialties of the participants, will provide guidance to their mentees regularly, and offer them career opportunities so that they can gain hands-on experience. After a selection process, IxDAHK will assign mentees with internship opportunities in startups. They will receive guidance from veteran interaction designers on a part-time basis, creating win-win to the mentees, the startups as well as promoting understanding of interaction design in the community .
Design Thinking vs Interaction Design
Design thinking and interaction design are two emerging concepts in Hong Kong that may confuse some people. Elaine explains that design thinking is a process that aims to engage users by identifying their needs and habits with empathy. Interaction design, on the other hand, focuses more on designing an offering to meet the user needs using customer data. In short, design thinking focuses on the user experience journey, while interaction design is a key step in the creation of a “product” that best suits the needs of users.