In June 2015 I took a big step, I quit my fulltime job in The Netherlands to travel to China and start a new adventure. As interaction and visual designer at 百度 Baidu I worked on a design education and certification platform for Chinese interface designers and user researchers. Designing for the Chinese market and designing for users so different from Western users brought me many new insights, a fresh view on the world and it definately made me a better designer.
In 2016 China now has over 688 million internet users - that is over two times more people than live in the United States. Internet businesses are blooming in China and the need for skilled Chinese interface designers is at a historical high, but education-wise digital design it is still in a very early stage. While design is a new and hot major at universities and art schools, only a small percentage of new graduates find a job in the design industry.
According to hiring managers for the design department at Baidu, the biggest reason for this is the big gap between their requirements for candidates and the skills of university graduates. Most universities do not provide systematic UX or UI design programs to students.
While learning more and more about UX design education in China, I interviewed my design colleagues at Baidu. I discovered that many of them do not have an education in interface design or psychology. Most of them do have a major in industrial design, art or computer science, but -especially in China - these majors do not target the digital industry. When these designers got hired, they felt totally unprepared for the job. Baidu knows that they have to invest time and money to educate employees within the company. Designing for digital interfaces is something these designers learned by doing - after they get hired. Too often the talent and energy of the young generation designers is going to waist because of the disconnection between their education and the requirements of internet companies.
In our effort to close this knowledge gap and to be able to hire better skilled designers ourselves, we set up a Baidu design school and certification program for Chinese designers in December 2015.
Within the design department of Baidu there are three disciplines: User research, Interaction design and Visual design. This categorisation seems generic over the big digital companies in China (Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba, Sina Weibo), so it made sense to acknowledge these disciplines in our certification system. There are 9 design levels within Baidu and in 2016 we started with certifying the first 3 levels outside the company. When completing the first three levels, a student is certified as an entry level junior designer.
Students have access to all the learning materials online on Baidu Chuanke. They can watch the lectures and video tutorials and share their stories with us. For the intensive offline courses and offline exams we are cooperating with Tsinghua University in Beijing and a handful of private schools throughout China.
Our team facilitated multiple focus groups, questionaires and interviewed students who were already following the free online design classes on Baidu Chuanke. Apart from the UX research for the bigger picture of this project, I made the interaction and visual designs for the digital certification platform, called 百度设计认证 - Baidu Design Certification. This is the place our students can apply for a certificate and follow their progress.
When I made one of my first designs for Baidu, my colleagues told me my designs looked “too much like Apple”. They said the design needed to be more “fun, cute and more ‘Chinese’”. During my time as a designer at Baidu, I learned what they meant by this. Chinese people are so much more used to complex information than most Western Caucasians are. I’ve read a lot of research about this phenomenon and by designing for this target group, I learned what Chinese design should be like. (And trust me, that wasn’t easy ;) )
Here you see a quick and dirty first version of a prototype I made (due to confidentiality I cannot show the latest version). I created this prototype with Invision (and Sketch) to get the feeling of the interaction patterns and the element sizes on a mobile device.View prototype (opens new window)
Because Baidu products have so many users, Baidu usually makes the choice to create a seperate mobile website from the ‘regular’ website to keep their services up to speed and reliable. While I am still not convinced that that is the best way to go for this project, the desktop version was designed and developed first and later on in the project I created the interaction design the mobile version of this certification system.
When applying for a certificate, the user needs to register, choose a discipline, practise and then register for an offline exam. When taking the offline exam, the student needs to login to the system and upload his or her work. The teachers and judges then review their work and notify them of the result.
The certification system was aired and the analytics data was monitored closely. Right now (August 2016) Baidu is certifying visual designers and by the end of the year they hope to expand the school to also certify User Experience Researchers and Interaction designers. This summer the first students received their level 3 Visual Design certificates and they are ready to start their career. The Baidu design school is learning how to be the front runner in digital design certification in China, because the importance of design education at this moment in time is unimaginably high.
I presented my view on digital design in China on the Human Computer Interaction Conference 2016 in Toronto, Canada. I talked about how I immersed myself in the Chinese design culture and about the things I learned about the (cultural) differences in digital design, about design education in China and the design-certification project I worked on. You can view the keynote of my presentation here:
Next to UX and UI design, I made knowledge sharing a big part of my job at 百度 Baidu. There are little platforms available where Chinese users can watch online video courses. At 百度 Baidu, many of my collegues were still designing with Adobe Photoshop. Some of them heard of Sketch but were hesitant to start using it. Partly because many of them weren’t confident enough with learning new tools from English sources. And there aren’t many Chinese sources that provide digital design courses for new tools. I tought the designers in my team how to work with Sketch and Zeplin. Because it’s quite easy to learn and it improves your work speed a lot (compared to Photoshop) I had a few enthousiasts around me. After facilitating a couple of offline lectures, I created a series of video tutorials for 百度 Baidu Chuanke. You can view the video tutorials at www.chuanke.com/v4272850-184961-1016250.html