• Ainsley Carter

Strategic Insights for Instant Messaging Platforms: Research Case Study

As part of Steve Diller's fall 2020 Design Strategy course in the undergraduate Interaction Design course at California College of the Arts, myself and fellow designers Stella Sun, Xiaojie "Scenery" Dong, Weidi "Vick" Qi, and Tian Jiang worked as a team to uncover the current painpoints and desired experiences of Gen-Z users of instant messaging platforms. Our research method was interviews with users, and our interviewees spanned the United States and China.


In this post, I will cover an overview of our research project, our methods, and provide a summary of our findings from the portion of our research with US-based members of Gen-Z.


Infographic visualization of key research findings (by Ainsley Carter)

Objective

Uncover what experiences the category should be evoking in people in order for any company in this business category to reach its full potential. We are looking for opportunities that the companies may not yet be aware of.


Product Category

Instant Messaging Platforms


Questions to Answer or Address

1. What do people want experientially from the category that they are already getting?

2. What else do they want from the category that they're not getting?

3. Write a positioning statement based on that.



Methods

We conducted 20 exploratory interviews with Gen-Z from across the US and China. These interviews were conducted both in-person and online via Zoom or Google Meet. We went in with a few questions to ask, but we allowed enough room to explore new areas as insights would emerge during the conversations.


After comparing notes, we began to compile quotes from interviewees onto sticky notes to find similarities and cluster them into related groups. This helped us identify key opportunity areas with a high level of interest from users, which I expand upon below.


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1. What do people want experientially from the category that they are already getting?

Desired experiences seemed to vary based on one’s location (USA or China).


American participants have many desires that are currently successfully being met by existing features of instant messaging platforms. Community is the most common experience reported by interviewees, and it seems to be very key to the user’s experience with a given product. Interviewees frequently cited things like connecting with family in another country, finding like-minded friends with similar interests online, and networking with people in their field of interest as ways in which their desire for community was being met.


Additionally, creation was another experience that some cited due to the ability to customize one’s experience and tailor things like the app’s user interface to their liking or create their own emojis to more effectively express themselves or create “inside jokes” with friends.


Pleasure was another experience that was cited by multiple participants, namely due to the positive emotions they feel when they engage in communication through these platforms. Participants described instant messaging as something that boosts their mood, makes a bad day feel better, or makes them feel “less alone” by connecting them with people they care about. In a similar vein, multiple interviewees also experience a sense of comfort when using an IM platform. Different people feel a sense of comfort for different reasons. For some, the ability to connect with loved ones naturally brings comfort during an interaction; for others, using a secure platform and knowing that their information is safe enables them to feel calm and comfortable; and for some others, easy to learn and easy to use features that eliminate confusion and heighten convenience brings them comfort.


Less commonly reported experiences were truth, beauty, and security. Truth was evoked when users felt free to speak their mind without the threat of censorship on their speech; beauty was evoked when tools were offered to customize the UI and color scheme to match one’s personal tastes; and security was evoked when users had the peace of mind knowing their messages were encrypted and private.

  1. Community

  2. Pleasure

  3. Creation

  4. Comfort

  5. Truth

  6. Beauty

  7. Security


2. What else do they want from the category that they're not getting?

Desired experiences also seemed to vary based on one’s location (USA or China).


For American-based interviewees, comfort was the most desired experience. While some participants currently do experience comfort while using IM platforms, this isn’t currently being satisfied for other users. Different people derive comfort from different sources. One interviewee pinpointed concerns around lack of security and privacy as something that evoked a strong sense of discomfort in her; multiple other interviewees cited being bombarded with disruptive and irrelevant notifications as being barriers to their comfort and peace while using the app; additionally, multiple interviewees mentioned upsetting or harassing content and other users as preventing them from finding comfort in current products.


Oneness was another frequently sought after experience that current solutions are not delivering. Many participants expressed frustration at the high number of IM products they use at any given time, with most interviewees using at least a few different platforms. People expressed a craving for a streamlined platform that offers many different features and is free and accessible to users around the globe.


Security was another experience that people wanted to feel more strongly. People desire greater privacy and control over their own data and messages, and they do not currently have peace of mind when it comes to their own security while using current products. Truth was another similar experience some interviewees expressed a desire for. For some, this means open expression that is free of censorship, allowing them to speak their own truth.


Beauty was another experience that multiple interviewees desired. There are multiple complaints about the design of current messaging products, ranging from a lack of customization options to an overwhelming amount of features to time-consuming distractions to a user interface that is just generally confusing and not eye-catching. Participants want to use an app that offers a visually pleasing design.


Some additional desired experiences listed by participants were fun, justice, accomplishment, enlightenment, and community.

  1. Comfort

  2. Oneness

  3. Security

  4. Truth

  5. Beauty

  6. Fun

  7. Justice

  8. Accomplishment

  9. Enlightenment

  10. Community


3. New positioning statement based on findings.

Current State:

Instant messaging platforms provide young adults of Gen Z with fast and immediate access to closely-held communities to instill a source of camaraderie and pleasure. In so doing, it evokes community, pleasure, and comfort. It does so through the use of free and accessible internet-based messaging, immediate access to a large and global user base, and multiple channels for alternate modes of communication (e.g. text-based, image-based, and audio).


Opportunity (based on interviews with people based in the USA):

Instant messaging platforms should provide young adults of America’s Generation Z with a tool to fulfill social and emotional needs through fast and immediate connections to closely-held communities and people. In so doing, it should evoke comfort, oneness, and security. It should do so through the use of personalization over time to adjust to the user’s preferences, multifunctional but streamlined services offered in one single location, and heightened safety features in the form of data security and tools to block, report, and mute content.