It’s important to design for relevance, inclusivity, and engagement, says Randy Hunt, head of design at Grab

Written by Emily Fang Published on     5 mins read

Hunt shares his experience about designing for Southeast Asian users.

Randy J. Hunt is head of design at Southeast Asia’s super App Grab, where he manages a team of designers, writers, engineers, and researchers. Previously, Randy served as head of design at Artsy, a New York based online art brokerage, and was vice-president of design at Etsy, a global online marketplace for handmade goods. Hunt spoke to KrASIA during UXDX APAC about his personal failures, oversights, and lessons learned from leading design practices at large and small firms. 

KrASIA (Kr): What do you personally think of Singapore’s city design? 

Randy Hunt (RH): What I really appreciate about Singapore is the thoughtful integration of public and private services, right where they’re needed. I think it’s exquisite. From recreation to essential goods, to transportation, Singapore does an exemplary job weaving the interconnectedness and accessibility of urbanization with sustainability and livability. It’s high density living, but it never feels that way because you have incredible greenery and flora everywhere. It’s a product of foresight and meticulous planning.

What would I change? I’d love to see Singapore be more bike-friendly. Bicyclists need safe, protected lanes, including Grab delivery partners!

A Grab delivery man rides his bike on the open streets of Tiong Bahru. Photo courtesy of Rayson Tan.

Kr: You are now working on a research project called “Design in SEA”–what is this project about?

RH: This started as a large open question I found myself coming back to again and again: “What is ‘Southeast Asian design’?” I feel a great sense of responsibility leading design at Grab because of the opportunity and potential we have to create a positive impact on communities all across Southeast Asia, including through design. It’s important to me that we amplify and cultivate what exists, rather than attempt to rewrite the rulebook. In order to do that, you have to understand and get to know what already exists and what history it is built upon.

So, I started by simply creating a very general survey for designers of all disciplines—from tech to landscape architecture—to get a view of basic things such as who they design for, what country they work in, and what are the challenges and opportunities they see for designers like themselves. I’m still very much at the beginning of the project, but some wonderful community members have already joined in to help to facilitate conversations more broadly. One respondent shared an interest in creating “more diverse and inclusive teams that are focused on the region.” In some markets, a current challenge is that design is still largely seen as “graphic design” and the larger value is misunderstood by businesses. When I see that difference between markets, I see a great opportunity for us to learn from and support each other.

Designers are proud of their country and of Southeast Asia. At the same time they feel it is common to reference the West and China. It is not clear yet in the design community how to better celebrate and elevate a uniquely Southeast Asian perspective. I hope this little project will help designers across Southeast Asia amplify their best work. My intentions are to use the survey as a catalyst for a conversation among like-minded curious designers. So far, it’s working.

Kr: Coming from New York, did you go through a design thinking process switch from previously working at Etsy and now Grab? 

RH: Absolutely! In my past, most customers I served were in controlled environments such as their office, or home, using fairly new mobile devices.

The landscape and user behavior in Southeast Asia is very different. For example, it’s not difficult to find public WiFi in Southeast Asia, but the connection tends to be spotty, so bandwidth constraints are actually a really important consideration in how we design the app experience. Also, in countries like Indonesia, Thailand or Vietnam, people tend to use lower-end devices, where battery life isn’t great, or the OS isn’t the latest version. So, we gear for simple animations rather than fancy transitions that might look great on high-end devices but appear choppy or delayed on older phones.

Fundamentally the design thinking process doesn’t change. It’s important to design for relevance, inclusivity, and engagement, and to build empathy and compassion into the process. That’s why designers at Grab regularly get out the office to understand what people are doing in the real world.

Kr: Are there any specific Grab features you’re especially proud of or excited about? 

RH: Throughout 2020 I’ve been so proud of the work we’ve done to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 to help our driver partners, merchants, and customers build trust in us as we serve their essential needs. Initially we launched a number of safety initiatives like adapting our selfie identity checks to work with masks, to in-app training and hygiene guidance. We launched improvements to our food experience throughout 2020, such as improved menu browsing, better and large photos, and greater visibility and ease of use of promotions merchants wanted to offer customers to help drive their business. Of course, there are plenty of things I’m proud of that you haven’t seen yet. You’ll just have to wait.

The Grab team conducting on-ground user research before COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Grab.

Accessibility in design is an important theme both to Grab and across the design industry. Being able to see, read, and understand what is intended requires focus on legibility as well as localisation. We continuously evolve our products, our design tools, and our process to regularly improve on this front. We have initiatives internally to help make it easy and effortless for team members to create and implement accessible designs, such as guidelines, reviews, and software that checks designs against standards such as contrast and legibility.

As important, we have a deep respect for meeting with customers and getting the ground truth about their lives and their experiences with our products. We’ve had to adapt do to covid-related lockdowns and travel restrictions, and we’ve been so impressed with our design research team’s ability to adapt and continue to create ways for us to have direct interaction with customers even from afar. We trialled and adopted new remote research tools that have allowed the team to more easily validate interface design choices, value propositions, and product concepts with actual customers. We’ve also started operating virtual immersion sessions, so teams across Grab can interact with customers along with our in-country research teams.

Kr: Life design became popularized when the design thinking framework was applied to the assessment of how people wanted to live their lives. What are your thoughts? 

RH: “Design your life” is an interesting concept. There’s a concept in the professional design space called the Double Diamond. It describes the design process in four stages: problem discovery, problem definition, solution development, and solution delivery.

What’s key is to separate the problem discovery from the problem selection and separating the idea generation from choosing which idea to pursue. Anyone can apply that structured thinking to anything, including your breakfast if you’d like to!

But I’ll turn this back around and say that some of the best life experiences are like some of the best designs. They seem inevitable and natural. Sometimes designers work very hard to make things feel as if they’re inevitable. Sometimes, they choose to do nothing at all. The choice to not do something can be as impactful as the choice to do something. It’s the thinking and choosing that is the design.


Emily Fang


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