Designing with Emerging Markets

An Example: Create an experience that delivers on the needs and wants of users in East and Southeast Asia


My roles included Product Design Lead and Research Collaborator

While working as a product designer for a music streaming service, my primary focus was on creating a product that fulfilled different needs in untapped markets—this challenged me to face the unknown and look for the possibilities behind the ambiguity. Here is a showcase of how we embraced this challenge, went out into the wide world, learned and built an understanding of market needs, digested the meta data, identified opportunities, tried and failed, and eventually created meaningful solutions.


Challenge: Our music streaming service is not a dominant competitor in East and Southeast Asia, a region which represents a huge opportunity for growth. The product’s core value today — emphasizing on personalization— is different from what’s expected in this region.


Most users in this region use our service casually compared to Europe, the US and Australia, and the penetration rate is low. With knowing that our core value might not align to the needs of the target audience, we want to learn more and seek solutions for improving user engagement.


How We Learn and Build Empathy


“Gain deeper understanding of behaviors and needs around listening and playing music that are specific to mainstream music listeners in East and Southeast Asia, so that we can inform future design direction for the app.” .

Innovation begins and ends with people. The disciplined practice of human-centered design involves careful investigation. It requires curiosity, objectivity, and empathy. Understanding user needs is the first step in building a product that will work for others. We conducted several rounds of deep-dive research that combined different research methodologies, including diary studies, face-to-face interviews, and contextual inquiry, in several proxy markets, including Indonesia, Japan, and Korea.

Beyond research, we also learnt users by immersing ourselves in their lives and their culture. For example, we took minibuses with local Indonesians on a remote island and observed how the minibus drivers influenced the community’s taste in music. We followed K-pop fans and engaged in activities with their idols, and we were surprised by the fans’ enthusiasm and loyalty for their favorite artists. We attended a karaoke party and hung out with locals in Jakarta. We witnessed firsthand how music builds a community. Music is not only an entity that satisfies personal needs, but also a powerful medium for communicating people and their inner thoughts to others.



Key Observations and Scalable Opportunities

Localization involves translation and other factors such as text length, local idioms, image usages, cultural references, date formats, and page sizes. This list, however, is merely the baseline for winning over users in new markets. These basics don’t ensure that the product will serve local needs, given that there’s a wide variety of intentions that help people connect to music.

After conducting the research in several markets, our team ran a deep-dive workshop to digest the research data and did a thorough analysis. We not only learned from unique market traits but also discovered commonalities across markets in East and Southeast Asia. Some of these commonalities are scalable opportunities.

Below we include, but not limited to, three key opportunities:



Ideation and Creating Solutions Across Markets


“Goal: Establish our music service as an attractive proposition targeted to mainstream music listeners in East and Southeast Asia, resulting in more loyal and engaged fans.”

At this stage, we were focused on translating key observations and opportunities into actionable solutions. First, the team members engaged in a process of brainstorming to generate ideas about how to address the issues and opportunities identified in the user research. We then created a concept map through which we developed a shared understanding of the main ideas and organized the complex notions in a visual manner. People have a wide variety of intentions when they connect to music; as such, we recognized the need to develop various solutions that fulfilled different user needs. Throughout the process, we acknowledged that there were no bad ideas. Ideas to do good could be be considered, even if it did seem somewhat outside the box.


After the initial design exercise, the initiatives were formed. During this stage, we concentrated on each design initiative, sketched out the detailed solutions, framed clear definitions of target users, and identified usage scenarios. Each team member put pen to paper and sketched competing solutions. Sketching provided an ideal mechanism by which we could progress from an abstract idea to something concrete that everyone could evaluate.


No one single solution can capture the full growth opportunity. Therefore, we opted in favor of a more holistic approach that would allow us to tap into the various markets in a variety of ways. The baseline product has a lot of localization issues; however, we believe that adequately differentiating our product from local competition will rely on us tackling bets that go beyond just fixing the baseline. Therefore, we aim to have a mix of bets of different risk levels.

Here is the highlight of some bets:



Measuring, Planning, and Prioritizing

This is the challenging stage for a project of this scale. We want to create a big product that fulfils various needs; however, it’s impossible to solve all the challenges that are inherent in the market at once. Due to limited time and resource, each bet needs to be validated through quantitative or qualitative tests before moving to the implementation stage. Technical feasibility of the proposed solutions and the potential business success also needs to be measured during this stage.

After careful evaluation, some bets would stay at the exploration stage for inspiration or future consideration; some would be handed over to other teams; few would be built and owned by our team.

To prepare for development, we have broken down dependencies, phases, and prioritization, and communicated our plan to all major stakeholders.


Design, Test and Implement: Lyrics Feature as an Example

To present the process in detail, in this section we dive into “Lyrics, sing-along, and karaoke.”

“Without lyrics, music experience feels incomplete.”


The research shows that lyrics are of huge importance to East and Southwest music culture, with users looking for music that can be ‘felt’ personally, as well as enjoying singing along collectively. Lyrics serve as a media through which these users come to learn and understand songs, providing a tool for them to share their feelings with others. Being in touch with lyrics serves to facilitate more engaging music activity, such as singing along to songs, and taking part in karaoke either in public or in the company of loved ones. Music experience is not only about listening in itself, therefore, being also about self-expression and the ability to share personal moments with friends and family. Furthermore, when looking at lyrics in non-native languages – in this case, English and sometimes Indonesian – lyrics are essential for understanding the meaning behind songs.


The Objective: Create an engaging lyrics experience which allow users to both engage deeply with and to sing along to songs. Roll out this experience in five target markets in Asia.



Milestone One: Basic Lyrics Experience


Based on the product roadmap, there were four millstones that would take four quarters to complete. For milestone one, we focus on the baseline, which is completing the basic lyrics experience. This includes achieving lyrics coverage within our target markets and ensuring the lyrics feature is easily accessible in both half-screen and full-screen options. Interaction patterns and visual design are also planned and determined at this stage.





Having sketched out the concepts, we continue to verify the design using prototypes with varying degrees of fidelity. Once the final design solution is validated through testing, we create high-fidelity assets and work closely with software developers to achieve our goal. We also started the design work for the next milestones, which include improving the discoverability of lyrics and the possible sharing flow.




Results So Far



Since the basic lyrics experience was released in Japan, we have observed a 10% increase in the number of daily active users who view lyrics.

Moreover, the user research conducted in Jakarta, Indonesia, showed that the new lyric experience worked well for assisting listeners in understanding a song’s meaning and for being able to sing along individually. As the song plays, lyrics-tracking was found to be a delight, with most participants liking the larger font size. However, some lyrics cards were difficult to read because of the combination of font and background colors that proved hard on the eyes. Participants showed a desire for sharing lyrics and for using lyrics to search for songs, which are planned features in respect of building for the next milestones.


Lessons Learned

As a global product, we must acknowledge that when it comes to defining a good design, there is not one single truth. While there are a few universal design principles—like balance, symmetry, and harmony—the majority of design sensibilities are informed by local cultures, customs, and environments. As a designer who builds a product for diverse audiences, I learned to be humble and manage my biases so that I can make fair judgments and gain accurate insights. I immersed myself in different environments and tried to build empathy with others. Finally, I learned that the true meaning of design is to bring a positive impact to others.