Characteristics of App UX in China

iphone7-on-notebookIt is interesting to observe the characteristics of UX/UI design across countries. In relation to China, people living here have their own way of life which is quite different from the westerners. Therefore, the service designed for the large aggregate of Asians naturally possesses special characteristics.

Also published in: Medium@dollyshlin

Apps like Facebook, Instagram, Google apps, Snapchat, and Twitter etc., are not allowed in China, except using VPN, so Chinese are more used to their localized services, such as WeChat, Baidu and Alibaba. I would like to illustrate the specialities from UIUX perspectives based on my daily experiences and observations.

1. “All in one” rather than “Less is more”.

Before coming to China, I’m quite used to “minimalism”, because it is simple and direct to do what I want with each separate app, like Messenger for chatting, Google for searching, and IG for social sharing. However, Chinese people prefers “all in one” design, which combines a variety of services in one app. For example, Alipay is not only for digital payment and wealth management, it also connects 3rd party services such as ticket purchase, top-up, healthcare, and even e-commerce altogether (image1).

image1. Alipay & WeChat aggregated services (official apps).

Regarding to WeChat, it is more than an IM (Instant Messaging). People use it for digital pay, news subscription and service purchase on its public platforms. This inclusive design is quite widespread across industries in China, from travel, entertainment, finance, housing, to e-commerce. The common navigation UI for the aggregated services is springboard, which is also applied by Tmall and China mobile (image 2).

Some of my Chinese friends said that although they don’t use each service in an app frequently, they are quite used to complete several tasks without transferring between separate apps.

image2. 點評/天貓/中國移動 home page (official apps).

2. Login with phone number or CN social networks, not FB or Google.

Due to the restriction of Google and FB in China, most Chinese apps use phone numbers or Chinese social networks for registration. Popular social networks include QQ, WeChat, and Weibo, while the most common use is still phone number. It is better to have a Chinese phone number if you plan to stay here for a period of time.

You will receive a verify code once you register/login with the phone number. It seems to be more secure for local people to become members, but it may be inconvenient for foreigners to use these local services without a local number. Good news is that some of the service have expanded the territory for international users, like Taoba/TmallWeibo, and Ctrip, etc (image 3).

image3. Taoba/Weibo/Ctrip registration (official apps).

3. Chinese 3rd party application platforms

In relation to app platforms, App Store is allowed in China while Google Play is prohibited. Instead, there are major 3rd Android application platforms in the country, i.e. xiaomi360 devAliapp 豌豆莢, and 騰訊. Each of them has its own platform policy and design guideline for designers and developers. Even though these platforms have their own specialities in UX and UI, it seems to inherit some structure and style from Google and Apple still.

image4. 阿里應用分發平台 (official site).

4. Chatbot & voice interaction is immersive.

Chatbot can be interacted with both messages and voice, while voice interaction is applied increasingly. The growth of chatbots requires more personified characters and natural conversation to enhance the interaction with the brand. Chinese companies tend to design a personified “mascot” to build a friendly brand identity, such as 小度 for Baidu Map小咚 for, and 小美 for Midea. When you talk to the bots, they will give you some directions or confirm your demands by asking questions (image5).

image5. Personified Chatbot (official apps)


With the growth of chatbots and CUI (Conversational User Interface) design, the characters and contexts chosen by the brand would have impacts on how people perceive and interact with the product. From my experiences, the bot sometimes cannot truly answer a user’s question or response naturally, bringing anxiety or frustration to the conversation. A more fluent UX design in chatbot shall be aligned with the context and include a brand’s personality, from the jokes it makes to the emojis it uses. Actually, if text interaction or real people conversation works better in the scenario, bot would only be an option.

5. Chinese UI style

It is interesting to find that Chinese apps tend to use bright color, like orange, yellow, red, bright blue or green for app design. Moreover, it is common to see the UI theme connected with animals or skeuomorphic illustration, like fish for auction, pig for booking, cat for e-commerce, or shrimp for music, etc. Chinese style drawing or metaphor might deliver a more friendly feeling to local people and be more easily understood by users, either applying rough illustration or skeuomorphism (image6).

image6. CN style UI & illustration (official apps) 

6. Popular 3rd party payment

It is common not to bring cash outdoor with the use of Alipay or Wechat payin China. Many apps have combined with the digital payment. For example, in the morning, you can book a Taxi on Didi, and buy breakfast by scanning a shop’s QR code with Alipay. If you have to pay rent or topup, you can also pay on Wechat public platform or Alipay directly. In the evening, if you plan to watch a movie, it is convenient to buy a ticket on Alipay too.

Even street vendor has its own QR code for customers to scan and pay. Most of the e-commerce services also has combined with Alipay for users to purchase without using credit card, like TaobaoTmall, and The third party payment has formed an ecosystem which combines finance, catering, entertainment, housing, utility, and transportation altogether in China.


With the booming economics and demands, the internet has been growing fast in the past 20 years in China, almost covering people’s everyday life. In fact, the competition of internet services is quite fierce in China, forcing companies to improve and move fast. While there would be several competitors and imitators in the market at first, it would be only 2 to 3 dominated brands survived, like OfO vs. MobikeMeituan vs. ELE takeout, and Taoba vs.

It is interesting to see that the product design would be approaching a similar direction by following the leading brands in China, but with varied aggressive promotions and strategies, to attract users and increase conversions. For foreign brands, though it is crucial to build a product with unique experience, surviving in China still needs to comply with the Chinese culture and execute trial and error to find what users really demands.

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