What our tech giants should learn from Chinese app design

This summer I I packed all of my things and moved from San Francisco to Guangzhou, China for work. Through an unlikely chain of coincidences that I can’t quite remember, I became a product manager on WeChat, a popular messaging app in China.

Moving to a new country means learning to do a lot of things differently: speaking a new language, eating, shopping, getting around. Within a few months, I am surprised at how much I have become acclimated to what at first seemed such a foreign place.

It also applied to my digital life. I’ve replaced all of my apps with those used here, both for my keen interest as a person in the tech industry and to “go native” where possible. Since then I have also become blind to the necessary adaptations there too.

One day, just for fun, I started writing a list in my notebook of all the things that are different between the apps here and the ones I’m used to using and building in the United States. When I finished I was surprised at how long the list was, so it seemed appropriate to flesh it out in an article.

Walled gardens, gates, platforms

that of Richard Gabriel The rise of “worse is better”, now a classic essay, was the first to distinguish between two opposing views on software design:

There is the “Worse is better” approach illustrated by UNIX and C as developed at Bell Labs. He leans towards collections of small, somewhat coarse, interoperable tools. Then there is the “The Right Thing” / “Better Better” approach, exemplified by Common Lisp, Scheme and Emacs as developed at MIT. This approach produces larger and more complete monolithic solutions to problems.

The latest trend in American applications is divide the applications into “constellations” increasingly targeted and minimalist applications, focused on tasks, in a nod to “worse is better” school. But the applications here have been pulled in the opposite direction.

Each app has amassed more and more features seemingly unrelated to their apparent purpose – sometimes cleverly integrated, sometimes arbitrarily attached – in what I can only imagine are offers for each app to remember them. eyes and fits into the daily habits of more users.

In China, unlike the United States, apps are crammed with all kinds of unnecessary features. These are often found in a “discover” tab.

Dan Grover


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