Design Stories​


Internet has become an integral part of our day-to-day life. From being viewed as a luxury service intended predominantly for entertainment purposes available only to a select few a couple of decades back to becoming the de-facto platform on which modern day digital services are being carried out, the evolution of the internet has certainly come a long way. Coupled with the rise in the usage of mobile phones, the internet is all set to stake claim for inclusion in the physiological needs in the Maslow’s theory of needs! So true in today’s context! We can’t imagine a life without internet!

With terms such as Metaverse and ChatGPT gaining prominence in today’s day-to-day lingo, let us go back a few years to 2015. A period when the US was starting its initial trials on 5G, the rest of the world was still coming to terms with the advent of 3G technology.

A report from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN body mentioned that nearly 3.2 billion people will be online of which 2 billion will be from the developing countries. Especially, the penetration of internet in Africa continues to outstrip the others with over 51% compounded growth from 2010 to 2015. Truly, the next billion users of the internet are poised to come from the emerging economies with their growth continuing to outpace that of the developed countries

The power of the internet has not only improved connectivity, literacy levels and discovery of new places and ideas, but it has also promoted entrepreneurship with many creators harnessing the full potential of Google and Facebook, not just for browsing and networking, but for also listing their products and services online thus promoting an entire ecosystem of development.

However, there was a major stumbling block towards realizing the ultimate customer experience while using these services. And that was internet speed.

People in the developing economy regions such as Africa, Latin America, South East Asia etc. typically use only feature phones. With 2G being the predominant network coverage prevalent there, it is a usual sight to see several minutes before a webpage is fully loaded, leave alone viewing images, graphical content or videos. And in areas which are remote or away from network connectivity such as deserts and forests, it becomes all the more cumbersome to use these services.

Their experience of using the internet would be drastically different from a typical person in the UK or US who use 3G/4G/5G connections enabling them to quickly load pages, download content and stream music instantaneously.

Engineers at Facebook identified the problem at hand. They wanted to understand first-hand the usage patterns and problems faced by millions of people while browsing Facebook in the developing countries.


How would it be if you went back suddenly in time, experiencing that signature dial-up tone while connecting to your internet, the joy of downloading a 4MB song in revolutionary speeds of 128kbps and more importantly troubleshoot whether the internet is working or not by seeing if the Google homepage loads?! Well…Facebook did something similar!

In a unique initiative called “2G Tuesdays”, Facebook employees logging into the company’s app on Tuesday mornings were provided with an option to switch over to a separately created 2G connection. This artificially simulated experience will enable users to browse pages, view photos and videos and upload content in a much slower speed than they usually do in a typical 3G/4G/5G connection which is ubiquitous in the US. This was a voluntary option provided to the employees for an hour on Tuesdays.

This unique empathetic approach helped engineers at Facebook to identify the pain points faced by a typical user while using the app in a 2G connection. They were able to capture all possible anti-patterns faced while using the app in a low connection such as page transitions, delayed loading of content in the timeline, high usage of data while using the app etc.

While typically Facebook focuses on next gen cutting edge technology projects for enhancing its various products and services, the “2G Tuesdays” initiative provided them the opportunity to take a step back, reflect on the personas of an individual who is accessing social media for the very first time in his/her life from a remote village in a third world country and work on solutions to improve their product so as to create an intuitive user experience for them.

After the 2G sessions, the teams would discuss the features and functions of the app which can be improved upon under weaker internet connections and work on customizing the Facebook app specifically for usage under intermittent internet connections.

This unique application of human centered design by Facebook resulted in the creation of Facebook Lite – a byte sized version of the Facebook app exclusively designed for usage in weaker internet connections. The fundamentals of Facebook Lite were born right out of observing the pain points while browsing on an unreliable 2G connection in a basic mobile – low app size, consumes very less data, compatible with older versions of Android, consumes lesser cache data, doing away with irrelevant notifications etc. They even went a step further in ensuring the app update size doesn’t exceed 2-3 MBs.

Facebook Lite focuses only on those primary attributes of Facebook which are expected out of a user in an emerging economy country. A user who wants to typically use Facebook only for viewing updates from his network, viewing photos and save video (which can be viewed later) while not consuming much data and space. As a trade-off, it did away with peripheral features (included in its main app, not so important for Lite users) such as auto-play of videos, the glossy app design, marketplace, Facebook Watch etc. Focus on just those 2 or 3 attributes which provide maximum value for your customer. Not anything more or less! The popularity of the lite version of the app was so much that Google immediately followed suit with its own version of Go (Lite) apps for its Search, Mail and Maps offerings.

Sometimes, it’s best to leave certain things untouched. The fame and popularity gained by a few products or brands are so huge that any successive update/new product launched doesn’t garner an equivalent response! Be it Coke’s launch of Coke Classic, the highly anticipated Ambassador relaunch by HM or even our very own Classic Milk Bikis relaunch, they remain so nostalgic & deep-rooted in the minds of people that the makers are forced to bring them back to the market.

Even in the case of Facebook, it was not always about the fact that the app was data intensive or occupying a lot of space or the complex user interface which made people to shift to the Lite version of the app. Sometimes, they just love being minimalistic! Just have a simple, plain vanilla user experience where you are given just the things you need and more importantly, you are in control of what you do. Today’s Gen Z is actually making the switch over to normal feature phones or minimalistic phones. The reasons being – limiting their screen time and looking after their mental health! So much so, that a 2019 report claims that over a billion feature phones are expected to be sold over the next 3 years.

We spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it. Design Thinking is all about developing empathy in order to achieve a human centered approach for problem solving. While it’s important to ensure that we step into other’s shoes, it’s even more important to reflect for a moment as to whether we have stepped out of our shoes first!