How Users in Indonesia Overcome App Limitations by Communication

Designing Well #3

I visited Indonesia at the end of the year and a start-up VP told me “In Indonesia, even if there is no function, users try to achieve their  through communication.”

What does that mean? In an episode of the podcast Metaverse Etc., there was a story of a child who forgot his lunch and had it delivered to school by Gojek. Gojek is a food delivery app like Uber, and of course, there is no “delivery something forgotten to school” function. In the story, the parent called the Gojek driver and asked directly to deliver the lunch box to school. In Indonesia, we often see situations where service is expanded through communication. For example, when I was staying in Indonesia I called for a motorcycle using the car-dispatch app, Grab; the driver sent me a chat telling me I would have to walk a little since he cannot enter the area I was located. Another time at the hotel, I got the breakfast menu sent to me through the messaging app WhatsApp. I ordered my breakfast and time in that reply. Even though there was no “no entry zone display function” or “breakfast ordering function,” the service can be expanded by communicating with each other via chat, and more functions than the implementation content can be realized seamlessly.

Ordering breakfast via WhatsApp
(the message actually received during my stay)

Communication for achieving each other’s  goals

Service providers and users make suggestions and take steps to meet each other’s goals by communicating. The service is not a predetermined and inflexible product, but it feels like there is some room for maneuverability. This has several advantages to it. First, you can achieve much more than just using simple functions. It is a little inconvenient to have to walk somewhere to meet, but most people would think it is better than not being able to get a lift. Even though I was able to get a ride on the app, there were times a driver asks me to cancel the request since he cannot come to pick me up in the area. Rather than being bluntly told by the app that “we cannot complete that request,” is it more convenient for a user to be able to solve problems through communication.

Messages delivered from the driver (a message that I received)

Furthermore, it gives both parties room to come up with ideas. In the podcast Metaverse etc. mentioned above, there is also a story about someone who ordered a tempura rice bowl and was asked by the driver “tempura is sold out, but they have mayo karaage. Is that ok?” Canceling the order will not satisfy both customer and the restaurant (supplier); In a case like this, in order to achieve each other’s goals, ideas and negotiation skills are cultivated. This autonomous action makes the service more human and you can feel happiness in encountering kindness and the unexpected.

“Rules are things that change” – a culture of negotiation in Indonesia is reflected in its services

Why is communication so important in services in Indonesia? When I asked the VP mentioned above, Indonesia has a long history of colonialism and the fact that the ability to communicate is connected directly with individual profit. She told me an episode of her grandfather, who spoke seven languages natively and could negotiate directly with the Dutch and got land from them; this explains well how negotiation is their standard. Cultural undercurrents suggest that there is an understanding that rules are not absolute, but something that can be changed by communicating.

If you look at Japanese business customs, I would be worried about putting communication at the heart of service provider functions. I would worry that users would get into trouble if they spoke with one another and I would have to take care of users. We have different culture and background to Indonesia so not all applies, but I believe there are many things we can learn from them.

A market is a place where you make a profit by exchanging goods. When capitalism goes too far, the economy is prioritized and interpersonal relations are thrown away in favor of earning profits. However, in Indonesia, communication in digital services is essential, and this gives rise to problem-solving, and you can feel everyone’s individuality and humanity, rather than being too restricted by equivalent exchanges which view service and price as immovable things, by just expanding your imagination a little you can give rise to unexpected ideas.

Of course, there are times when frictionless service is convenient and necessary. I do not want to go back to the inefficiency and hassle of having to negotiate every time. However, rather than accepting the services made by platformers like passive robots, the problem-solving quality and speed of the service will surely improve if there is some leeway for users to be creative.

Toward a local and open society

As I learned more about Indonesian culture, I was interested in industrial society’s past and future at the World Village Design Conference, a village revitalization conference hosted by the Indonesian designer Singhi Kartono. I am quoting a diagram taken from a report by Eri Nishihara, a UX designer who took part in 2016.

Taken from Eri Nishihara’s blog article “World Village Design Conference @Yamaguchi Prefecture Ato Town

Society before the industrial revolution was “small,” “local,” “closed,” and “isolated.” Since the industrial revolution, industrial societies have become “big,” “global,” “open,” and “connected.” I also predict that future industrial societies will be “small,” “local,” “open,” and “connected.”

While using technology, Indonesia’s “local but open and connected society” puts emphasis on interpersonal relationships through communication. I feel like I can see a slight hint of the future in this.

Written By

Shiho Yokoyama

Shiho is a CXO at Nesto, a startup in the well-being field, seeking cozy and friendly community and business form. She lives in a kominka (Japanese old house) in Kamakura where cats gather from the neighborhood.


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