December 01
Is Medium ready for the Next Billion Users (NBUs)?

Is Medium ready for the Next Billion Users (NBUs)?

UX Research
Contributing UX Researcher & Designer
June 2022
UX Research
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Next Billion Users (NBU) : The “Next Billion Users” refers to the big wave of people coming online for the first time in emerging economies.
Currently only 36.1% of Africans have access to the internet, as opposed to the over 90% of UK’s population being connected
“You have far fewer people walking around with their heads in their phones in Lagos than you do in London. This is changing constantly, though, and rapidly.” - Ally Long, Freelance designer and frontend developer
Digital Literacy Assumptions - some icons, terms, mental models and processes we take for granted, an NBU might not understand.
Designing for NBUs is very relevant in Africa
Inclusive design gets products to as many users as possible AND improves the overall design of the product for all.
“Users from emerging markets are increasingly likely to be among the users of any designer's product. Not only is the business opportunity substantial, it's also an area in which designers can have a real impact.” - Rachel Simpson, senior designer on Google’s Chrome UX team
Is Medium ready for the next billion users?

What I did

Conducted a heuristic evaluation of Medium, highlighting 3 issues using Nielsen’s heuristics.
Formed a hypothesis about the existing user problems of Medium and wrote a corresponding research plan (including a discussion guide).
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A Nielsen Heuristic evaluation involves having a small set of evaluators examine the interface and judge its compliance with recognised usability principles (the "heuristics").

Evaluation of Medium using Nielsen’s Heuristics

I evaluated Medium’s usability against Nielsen’s Heuristics and chose the top three usability problems that stood out to me, what heuristic they pertained to and possible solutions to them.
Usability Problem
Nielson Heuristic
Possible Solutions
‘Help’ feature seemed hard to find - As if it was hidden.
Help and documentation
a ‘Help’ pop up or icon on every screen
There were a few pop up descriptions but no Introductory tutorial so a new user could’ve been lost at first glance
Help and documentation
a brief click-through introductory tutorial
I did not know what some icons meant until i clicked on them
Recognition rather than Recall
more pop up reminders for first time users
The usability problems I noted as the most prominent related mostly to help, documentation and guidance. These issues made me think of the Next Billion Users. The app did a good job of matching between system and the real world (according to Nielsen’s heuristics) but I couldn’t help but think about the Next Billion Users specifically in Africa and how they may experience an app like this for the first time. So for example, while I know ‘Help’ should be under Profile > Settings, this flow might not be as intuitive for NBUs. This disconnect between western conventionality and users new to the internet is where I feel Medium (and Nielsen’s Heuristics) falls short.
P.S. I know NBUs may not be a focus point for Medium but as we has seen countless times in design, making things more inclusive and accessible can actually lead to a better experience for ALL (check out the curb cut effect).
Hypothesis: Including more guidance features for new users on Medium will lead to more adoption of the platform in Africa

Research Plan


The purpose of this study is to understand the major pain points new users experience in using Medium and how these may affect Medium’s adoption, specifically in a place like Africa with a considerably large number of NBUs.
We will be using generative research techniques to better understand NBUs and their mental model of Medium. We will also be using usability testing to follow the user’s experience of our website/app and the obstacles and needs they face when using Medium for the first time.

Internal Stakeholders

The stakeholders involved with the project are:
Acquisition team: product owner(s), designer(s), developer(s)

Research Objectives

Our objectives for the research project are as follows:
Get a general understanding of NBUs based in Africa and their mobile needs
Get an understanding of an NBUs mental model (expectations) when using Medium for the first time
Understanding pain points of NBU on first interactions with Medium’s app
Learn what improvements new users might make to their introduction to Medium


For this study we will use generative methods, such as user interviews with open-ended questions to help uncover motivations or more general insights of new users to Medium. Following this, we will carry out UX testing to evaluate the usability and experience of Medium for new users.


The metrics we will be tracking are as follows:
Generative research metrics:
empathy maps
Personas and customer journey maps
UX testing metrics:
time on task
task success
ease of use
Business metrics:
adoption rate
product adoption rate
average usage frequency


n = 30
10 new users who are also NBUs
10 New users who are non-NBUs
10 new users with disabilities e.g. visual, tactile, cognitive (emerging markets are also where 80 percent of people with disabilities live)
Gender & age variety
based in Nigeria

Discussion Guide


Hi (insert name here), I’m Fisayo, a user researcher at Medium, a social publishing platform where you can share and read stories, ideas, and perspectives. Thank you so much for talking with me today; I am really excited to have this conversation with you.
During this session, we are looking to better understand who you are and how you experience Medium for the first time. Imagine we are filming a small documentary on you, and are really just trying to understand all your thoughts. There are no right or wrong answers, so please just talk freely, and I promise we will find it fascinating.
This session should take about 60 minutes. If you feel uncomfortable at any time or need to stop/take a break, just let me know. Everything you say here today will be completely confidential.
Would it be okay if we recorded today’s session for internal note taking purposes?
Do you have any questions for me?
Let’s get started!


Objective 1: Get a general understanding of NBUs based in Africa and their mobile experience and needs
Demographic questions: name, age, occupation
Could you show me your phone? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it?
How often do you use a mobile app?
What is your favourite app? Why?
What are the types of things you do on your phone?
Can you describe your experience with technology and the internet so far?
What are some challenges you have experienced when using certain apps and/or websites?
Objective 2: Get an understanding of an NBUs mental model (expectations) when using Medium for the first time
Again, Medium is a social publishing platform where you can share and read stories, ideas, and perspectives
Have you heard of medium before today?
If yes: What is your perception of Medium?
If no: Do you think Medium will be of any use to you?
Objective 3: Understanding pain points of NBU on first interactions with Medium’s app
I will be sending a link to sign up for Medium in a little bit. Here’s a breakdown of what we’d like from you :
I’d like you to show me your screen so that I can watch you as you complete the tasks we give you. Please don’t click any buttons before we give you the first task.
We would love any and all feedback you may have on how we could improve our app experience. Because of this we would like you to voice your thought process as you navigate through the app. Pretend we’re five year olds that have never seen this app before either and walk us through how you use it - Placing special emphasis on things you notice missing, wish were there, were confusing, etc.
Can you sign up
Can you follow some people, publications and tags that interest you
Now, on your home screen you should see some popular stories on Medium
Could you save one of them to a list
Could you share one of the stories to a friend via messages/Whatsapp
Could you write a response to one of the stories
Could you create a story
Could you find ‘Help’ on the app
Could you ‘Submit a Request’ under ‘Help’
Objective 4: Learn what improvements new users might make to their introduction to Medium
Post Task Questions:
Likes and dislikes?
Was there anything confusing about the app?
If you had a magic wand, how would you change your introduction to Medium to improve your experience?

Wrap up

Those are all the questions I have for you today. I really appreciate you taking the time.
Your feedback was extremely helpful, and I am excited to share it with the team to see how we can improve. Since your feedback was so useful, would you be willing to participate in another re- search session in the future?
You have my direct email, so if you have any problems with the compensation or any questions or feedback in the future, please feel free to email me at any time. Do you have any other questions for me?
Again, thank you so much for your time and I hope you enjoy the rest of your day!


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