Product Design and UX in Myanmar

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The state of the internet in Myanmar? You’d be hard-pressed to find a young person at a teashop not on their phone’s 4G connection. Facebook is still incredibly dominant, but other services are growing fast. YouTube is killing it. In Yangon, Grab and Uber have nullified most of Oway’s and Hello Cabs’ first-to-market advantage. Israeli Viber still connects millions, though Vietnam’s Zalo is coming up strong. The Austin-based walkie-talkie app Zello has been adopted by all 4 of Yangon’s main taxi organisations. Saudi-born flash-in-the-pan Sarahah has given young people the opportunity to send each other anonymous posts that wouldn’t fly on Facebook. Instagram’s growing quickly. Twitter bots abound.

 Where are the successful homegrown services? The international arrivals show that it’s not that hard to get people off Facebook and onto your platform. We believe it’s the lack of serious user-focussed product design, failure to identify a value people actually want, relying on templates, and riddling products with frustrating usability issues. At the moment, many products are making it to market simply because “it’s worked there so why not here”. This approach ignores the needs of this very unique market — no wonder people don’t stick around for long.

That’s why with every project we take on, we help our clients precisely define their goals and test them against their market’s needs. It’s often a novel idea for businesses, to slow down and check their assumptions, but it’s a crucial process. Every part of the product is then conceptualised and designed with those guiding principles in mind. Any experience or feature that doesn’t drive the central purpose is cut. We believe appropriate design is the only way to make a good product.

Designing for Myanmar is the perfect training ground for the next generation of designers — a wide range of products is needed across all industries, and a fast-learning and impatient market doesn’t allow for assumptions or copycat products. At nexlabs, we’ve built our team of product-design thinkers to make sure every project is uniquely suited to its audience.

Want to make something that really shakes things up, no matter what market you’re in? Look at what people are doing offline, look for inefficiencies, see if those people are into the idea of trying something new, and come talk to us about how to make your idea happen.

 

The Transformation: NEX to nexlabs

We are excited to formally announce the cool changes that were recently made to our brand, starting with our value proposition and also covering the change in name from “NEX” to “nexlabs”.

Searching for the right words and elements to best describe what we do, we arrived at a slogan that came from the heart of nexlabs:

Ideas into code into transformation

We combine creativity, innovation and business insights to build disruptive digital products for businesses ready to take on the future.

 

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This accurately describes how we use creativity and innovation to turn ideas into transformative digital products.

As for the name, we proudly retained our original “NEX” brand which has brought us this far but we wanted to display how experimental and innovative our people are so fused “labs” to the name, giving rise to “nexlabs”.

In addition, we are also super proud to reveal our new identity! After going through a series of designs and sketches, we arrived at the final conclusion. You will notice that our new logo is backed by a forward slash which represents the mentality of our company – progressive and always optimizing for better and higher quality results.

 

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The process of designing the new logo, of course, comes from our very own creative team led by our Creative Manager, Ryan Pyae (Left), along with our Senior Graphic Designer, Zarni (Right). They put in their utmost efforts into making this happen and produced a tremendous result with the new logo. While the design perspective is achieved by the creative team, the entire value proposition and the vision was set by everyone here at nexlabs.

The Unprecedented Explosion of Smartphones in Myanmar

July 11, 2017, 3:30 AM

Just six years ago, only North Korea had fewer mobile phones than Myanmar. Now, almost everyone in Southeast Asia’s poorest country is connected.

By Philip Heijmans

Outside the offices of an internet startup called nexlabs, a snarl of honking cars and rickshaws grinds to a standstill on a trash-strewn street lined with crumbling buildings. Inside, though, the scene could be straight out of Silicon Valley.

Programmers in t-shirts and jeans tap away at laptops beneath posters exhorting them to “Innovate” and “Dance Like Crazy.” Local demand for their smartphone apps and websites is exploding, and in the last 12 months they’ve inked marketing contracts with multi-nationals like Samsung Electronics Co. and Nestle SA.

“It’s in the air,” says the company’s 25-year-old chief executive officer, Ye Myat Min. “Yesterday, I was in a cafe and the guys next to me were talking about building an app.”

An employee make notes as she takes inventory of mobile phone accessory at a store in Yangon.

An employee make notes as she takes inventory of mobile phone accessory at a store in Yangon.

What’s remarkable about Ye Myat Min’s internet success story is that it’s happening in a country where most people are farmers, the majority of roads are unpaved, and reliable electricity remains a luxury: Myanmar.

Just six years ago, when Myanmar was emerging from decades of isolation imposed by its military dictatorship, phones were an extravagance available only to the rich and well-connected. Only North Korea had fewer mobile phones. Now, though, after the airwaves were opened to foreign investors willing to bear some of the cost of building a vast wireless network, almost everyone in Southeast Asia’s poorest country is connected.

“It’s amazing,” said Marc Einstein, an analyst at Tokyo-based consulting firm ITR Corporation, who’s advised several telecommunications businesses moving into Myanmar. “I can’t think of another market where things have transformed so quickly.”

The watershed came in 2013, when a government led by former president Thein Sein ended the state monopoly over phone service. A smartly planned tender offer made sure new licenses weren’t a simple giveaway. Investors had to commit to covering the country’s farthest reaches, not just its cities, where population density makes for easier money.

By the following year, Norway’s Telenor ASA and Qatar’s Ooredoo Q.S.C. were starting to spend billions of dollars to cover a land mass the size of Texas, spread over steep mountains and lowlands that flood in monsoon season. Japanese carrier KDDI Corp. and trading company Sumitomo Corp. struck partnership deals with the government’s Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications to invest another $2 billion.

A cell phone tower on the outskirts of Yangon.

A cell phone tower on the outskirts of Yangon.

Now there are thousands of cell phone towers sprouting out of forests and remote rice paddies, running off their own solar-powered electricity. Refrigerated boxes protect their computerized brains from Myanmar’s sweltering heat.

In 2015, Myanmar signed up more people for mobile phone service than any country in the world except China and India, according to the Asian Development Bank. By last June, about 90 percent of the country’s 54 million people had access to a phone with internet service, the Myanmar Computer Federation says. Some 60 percent use Facebook or other social media to get news, state media reported in April. In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, you can now hail a car using ride-sharing apps like Uber or Grab.

Back in the days of the junta, the identification chip that goes inside a cellphone, a SIM card, could run you more than $2,000 on the black market. These days, a data-enabled card sold by Ooredoo, the Qatari company, can be had for $1.50. A smartphone itself can cost less than $20. And domestic calls are about 2 cents per minute.

Left: An Ooredoo employee shows a book containing available mobile phone numbers inside the company store in Yangon; Right: Shoppers look at mobile phones for sale at a street stall.

Left: An Ooredoo employee shows a book containing available mobile phone numbers inside the company store in Yangon; Right: Shoppers look at mobile phones for sale at a street stall.

Naing Win, a 30-year-old man selling waffles from a pushcart in Yangon, says for years he had no way to communicate with his family back home in the countryside, except by post. “It’s much easier” now that everyone has a smartphone, he said.

Thiri Thant Mon, owner of a small investment bank in the city, says she still remembers how magazines from the outside world used to arrive weeks late because censors needed time to comb through them.

“Suddenly because we’re on internet,” she said, “people realize what the rest of the world looks like. Now it’s like everybody on the street is talking about Trump. A few years ago, nobody knew what was happening in the next town.’’

If there is a risk in Myanmar’s mobile phone miracle, it’s to the companies who’ve invested in it, according to Einstein, the telecom consultant. Asia is full of examples, he says, where regulators have allowed cut-throat competition that drives prices down fast, but also puts firms out of business.

"A few years ago, nobody knew what was happening in the next town."

In January, Myanmar may have taken a step in that direction when it issued a fourth license to a group led by Viettel Group, the state-owned carrier run by Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense, which has a track record of entering markets in far flung places like Haiti, Tanzania and Cambodia—and mowing down the competition.

Viettel didn’t respond to a request for comment. Representatives for all three of Myanmar’s current carriers said the companies have always assumed they would have to deal with a fourth competitor. Einstein, the analyst, summed it up this way: “Things are going to get nasty.’’

For the average Burmese person, though, not so much.

Most people in Myanmar still have to carry wads of cash in their pockets — banks are scare and only 5 percent of the population has an account, according to the United Nations — but a crush of new apps may solve that.

One of them called Wave Money, an app developed by Telenor with a local partner, allows people to make payments or transfer money, and even withdraw cash at thousands of general stores using nothing besides their smartphones. Some 450,000 people have used the service since its launch last August, according to the company.

“Myanmar is crying out for better financial services and smartphones make this possible without the usual brick-and-mortar investment,” said David Madden, founder and CEO of Yangon-based business incubator Phandeeyar.

A man carries a Telenor parasol in Yangon.

A man carries a Telenor parasol in Yangon.

Smartphones for everyone means Myanmar’s farmers can now get addicted to online games just like everyone else. Local software developer My Play says it already has one million users for its five games, including one that allows players to race the obstacle course of Myanmar’s roads in a rickshaw. In March, Australia’s Isentric Ltd. said it agreed to purchase the company for $4.6 million.

Myanmar is offering the world an object lesson in how the internet can render obsolete some elements of physical infrastructure, like fixed line phones or even bank branches, but there are still things the internet can’t replace.

At nexlabs, the Yangon start-up, the electricity failed just as CEO Ye Myat Min sat down to talk about Myanmar’s mobile phone gold rush. The young entrepreneur seemed unfazed as the office plunged into darkness for a few seconds before backup generators roared to life.

Doh Eain (ဒို့အိမ်)

By Henry Kyaw Zin Oo

Background

Doh Eain is an initiative that focuses on heritage conservation and urban renewal in Myanmar. Its aim is very clear which is to revivify Yangon's rich historical and multi-cultural city center in a locally-owned, forward-looking and financially sustainable way. It also aims to create a Home Owner Fund through which a percentage of revenues from the renovated buildings is channeled into repair and preservation of common areas and other social projects for instance, roofs and facades and back alleys, and homes of people who cannot afford renovation. As a first project under this Fund, Doh Eain launched its Alley Garden project which plans to turn dirty and trashy back alleys of Yangon's buildings and houses into beautiful garden alleys with children's playgrounds, recycling units, and art drawn on the walls by children, artists and other volunteers. By running this project, it improves the unsightly looks of the back alleys as well as it showcases the talent of different members of neighborhoods. Doh Eain believes in improving not only the looks of the building facades and back alleys but also the lifestyle of the people of Myanmar.

Vision

A Yangon City upgraded in terms of attractiveness, safety, cleanliness and sustainability, and owned and enjoyed by the original residents who actively take part in developing the city's rich and diverse legacy.

Mission

Help Yangon's home owners, residents and local authorities see the socio-economic significance of historical, cultural and natural assets present in Yangon, and help them capitalize on these assets, thereby creating incentives for their future preservation.

Objectives

To upgrade a minimum of 100 properties or spaces in a financially viable way within 5 years, thereby generating at least USD 1,000,000 for other urban renewal projects.

THE JOURNEY

Working with NEX

Doh Eain was initially called Yangon Heritage Homes (YHH). They wanted to work together with NEX for rebranding and renaming of their project, so without any hesitation, we gladly accepted. There is no honor bigger than working with an initiative that wholeheartedly preserves the beauty and elements of Yangon’s heritage to let them shine through the entire city. Bringing these colonial beauties back to life takes a gargantuan effort and we all know that naming is super important because we need to make sure the name captures the hearts of the Burmese people as well as blossom deeper and greater love for the country and for its betterment.

The Thought Process

The thought process of naming for Doh Eain was rather a fun one for everyone involved at NEX. “How fun?” you may ask. For young, creative and energetic people, brainstorming session is always the times we look forward to because all sorts of ideas are splurted out and we get more creative coming up with ideas after ideas and with each moment passed. What’s more interesting is, we even searched for the names in ‘Pali’ – the language of Dhamma. Now that is really something, right?

While researching the names both in simple Burmese language and Pali, it made us learn many things that would be very useful and necessary for branding and brand identity. For instance, creating a rhythmic tagline for a product or a project and the meaning of that name. So, working on brand identity and name is like killing two birds with one stone. We learn where brands’ directions are and we gain more experience in coming up with recipes to cook interesting and original dishes of brand names and identity.

Discarded Ideas

Well of course when it comes to brainstorming, there sure are some ideas that are left thrown in the bin. We cooked up too many ideas that the wok overflowed. Some of them, we feel, are best kept secret because they are just too creatively hilarious.

Some of you may wonder why some ideas were not used, so we will share them with you here and the ‘WHYs’ of them being discarded. Here we go:

Gehathit – it essentially means ‘A New Home’ or ‘A New Haven’ for the people. Homes are used to be called ‘Geha’ in the past, during the colonial era. ‘Geha’ represents an act of providing a safe haven for families and relatives.

So why was it discarded?

Well, while the sound of it in Burmese was pleasing to the ears, it did not really convey a good feeling for the home owners. It was actually more focused on the rental of the homes rather than showing the meaning of the purpose of the project therefore, this was not very ideal to use.

And other names? Well, there are a few more.

EainThit – it basically means the same thing as ‘Gehathit’ except it is in pure Burmese language and ‘Geha” is Pali language. As the name is very general, this does not bring much of a value to the colonial buildings as well as to Doh Eain’s purpose. So this was discarded as well.

Next.

YangonDecors – this is simply a name given with a simple meaning behind it. Yangon – a sense of belonging or rather, commitment to Yangon and with a sense of scalability at the same time. Decors – ornamentation of the interior with a sense of what the business will be doing. A classy yet illustrative name indeed.

Thaha Eain was a name that was also suggested. Thaha, by definition of Pali, means ‘Just/Fair’ while ‘Eain’ means ‘Home’. Sounds interesting, isn’t it? These are the names you could not even begin to imagine in your daily lives because it takes a real deep knowledge of what the word truly means. A thorough research has to be done.

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So this is discarded too? Yes.

Whilst this name may sound interesting to everyone, it ripples more aura of Dhamma than to portray the elements of colonial buildings. We don’t want it to sound like we’re visiting a monastery or a temple now, do we?

Anymore? Sure there are!

YwatThit – it means ‘New Leaf’. The colonial buildings are, as we know, old and timeworn infrastructures. Therefore, it is time they are refurbished to keep up with time and very obviously, to show off what they are – the essence of a colonial building.

“So why was this discarded too?”, you may ask.

We are talking about buildings here. Not just an average building. We are talking about colonial buildings. These buildings were build 100 years back and they don’t just collapse easily till this day. So to compare them with a ‘Leaf’, it would not be very soothing to hear the sound of it, would it?

BawaThit – this essentially means ‘New Life’. Why? They were built in the 1800s which is almost like a past life to most of us – the 21st century hippies. So it would only make sense for them to be revamped and revived to stand out in this century because after all, ‘Old Is Gold’, isn’t it?

Reason for this being discarded?

Truth is, we wanted the names to be only associated with a sense of belonging and architecture. Also, we had to keep in mind the purpose of Doh Eain’s which is to recondition the buildings and to preserve the rich historical values and legacy of the colonial buildings.

The discarded names are not to be mocked at though because they were very meaningful and essence-filled in their own ways. However, we concluded on the one name which would incorporate the values Doh Eain wanted.

Now comes the best part and why we settled with the name Doh Eain.

The Name

After having a series of meetings amongst ourselves, cracking our brains and coming up with loads of names, we settled with ‘Doh Eain’. Why ‘Doh Eain’? In Burmese, ‘Doh’ means ‘Our’ while ‘Eain’ means ‘Home/House’. In this case, we chose ‘Home’ because home is where the heart is.  Hence, the name ‘Doh Eain’ which is ‘Our Home’. This actually gives people of Myanmar a sense of belonging and makes them appreciate what is given or provide for them.

The Logo

The logo ‘Doh Eain’ is simply crafted with a text using the font ‘Akzidenz-Grotesk BQ Condensed’ accompanied by a colonial building engirdled with the letter ‘O’ – Iconography. The slogan comes with the secondary font and different color which creatively supports the primary font.

The Identity

Brand clarity is important thus it’s imperative that the right name is picked to go in line with ‘Doh Eain’ project. The icon shows a colonial building encircled with a ring around it which indicates that the colonial buildings are protected and preserved well. Even the slightest of details such as, the windows in the icon are carefully crafted to show the elements of colonial buildings.

Alternate Usage

Logos in Myanmar Version

The Colors

Turquoise’ and ‘Peach’ are the primary colors used. ‘Turquoise’ ripples out the aura of colonial buildings while ‘Peach’ flashes the strength of the old colonial bricks. These two colors collectively forge emotional aspects of colonial buildings while giving an impressionistic form.

In conclusion, we are very proud to be working together with Doh Eain. To have such many kind people involved in this project, it is really heartwarming and it spreads happiness in everyone. Don’t you agree? We believe you do. We also believe Myanmar and her people will see the values Doh Eain is bringing to them so, let us all appreciate the work Doh Eain is doing and let’s keep our city clean and green!

Beautiful Myanmar, where immense polite culture and hospitality blossom.

Please visit Doh Eain on their website and Facebook page to find out more.

www.doheain.com

https://www.facebook.com/DohEainYGN/