For a foreigner first entering Chinese websites, or a Chinese app, the first experience can be pretty overwhelming. Taobao, and Dazhong Dianping provide so many buttons of categories and promotions on one page, as Chinese people prefer this user interface. It’s not only the design of the Chinese app or website, but also workflow and working style of Chinese designers and tools, platforms that they use creates the difference. For foreign startups looking to find Chinese designers, they should first understand these differences before they scan job applicant’s skill sets.

According to the 2015 London Consulting Report, there are 17 million designers in China. Along with the rise of China’s app, website, and digital products, product designers have been increasing steadily in the market, and now accounts for about 30% of the entire designer workforce. The report says product designer is the most promising sector in design.

To assist these increasing designers to develop apps, prototyping tools (原型工具) help startups to design but also manage different versions. We interviewed the CEO of Chinese prototyping tool Mockingbot, Zhang Yuanyi to discuss the difference between Chinese designers and overseas designers.

Beijing-based Mockingbot has observed their user cases since their first product release for international users in 2012, followed by their domestic product launch in 2014. Among Mockingbot’s total users of 600,000, overseas users currently account for about 10%. Interestingly, Mockingbot’s overseas customers are mainly concentrated in BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Indian users currently account for more than 50% of our overseas users, Zhang says. According to him, Mockingbot’s users are 50% product manager, 20% designers, 10% entrepreneurs, 10% small design and developer outsourcing team, and 10% students.

Mockingbot, having both Chinese users and outside of China users, gave a view of how Chinese product designers are different from US product designers.

Mockingbot team (Image Credit: Mockingbot)
Mockingbot team (Image Credit: Mockingbot)

1. China’s app development workflow is product manager-centric

In a previous interview with TechNode, Mockingbot pointed out that the workflow is product manager-centric in China, while the workflow is designer-centric in Europe and the United States.

Zhang believes this difference is actually decided by the product. As an example, he compared Paypal and Alipay. Paypal’s function so simple and straightforward, but Alipay is rather complex.

“Foreign product logic is relatively clearcut and simple, so you can ask UI, UX designer and functional designer to take over the task. But in China, because of the complexity of the product, a person can not take all the work. It needs to be broken down into tasks, which required a position like a product manager who is responsible for product interaction and business logic behind,” Zhang said.

Hao Jie, Senior Designer at Mockingbot, told TechNode what China’s product manager is responsible for.

“Product manager needs to follow up with their boss, designer, developer and participate and control all these stages: product architecture, planning, demand, design, project and management and much more. This leads to the uniqueness of this career,” Hao Jie said. “But in recent years, more and more large companies adopt project manager-centric workflow.”

2. Chinese people prefer using Sketch over Photoshop

While Photoshop still dominates the market with 57% market share, Sketch is catching up. 2015 data on Avocode shows that Chinese users prefer using Sketch to Photoshop. Now more and more people use vector design tool Sketch, which offers a bunch of plugins as well as its own API. Using Sketch, the designer doesn’t have to think about screen densities to make the image bigger or smaller.

“People around me, including myself are already loyal users of Sketch,” Hao Jie said.

According to Zhang, about 25% of Mockingbot users use Sketch. Sketch plugin is one of the popular plugins provided through Mockingbot, and Sketch plugin usage is about 5% among all Mockingbot users.

3. Chinese designers aren’t remote workers yet

“Working remotely” trend has been popular in foreign countries for many years, the concept took off with the book Remote: Office not required published in 2013. However, Zhang Yuanyi sees that because of the differences between domestic and foreign environment, remote work is not very suitable for China market to achieve its biggest output.

“City development the US is more balanced, so the talents are also relatively scattered, but in China, most of the talent, especially internet talent are concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Remote work can lose the advantage of efficiency,” he said.

For example, let’s say you’re considering about hiring a person with capacity of 100 in US. But he and the CEO are based in the different city. Assuming that remote working efficiency is 10% lower than working in the same office, his output will be 90. This is still more cost-effective than hiring a person with a capacity of 80 and working in the same office. But in China, remote workers in lower-tier cities have a capacity of 80, and coupled with the loss of communication efficiency, it really is better to look for a capacity 90 who can work in the same city.

4. WeChat service account and WeChat mini program are on the rise

While developing an app is still norm outside of China, WeChat service account and WeChat mini program have supplemented or replaced mobile apps in China. According to Q2 2017, WeChat mini program monitoring data released by Aladdin, there are now 10,000 WeChat mini program developers and over ten million users using WeChat mini programs (in Chinese). Aladdin founder Shi Wenlu mentioned that there are now over 25 million WeChat service account in the market.

Zhang Yuanyi believes that WeChat’s service account and mini programs are more of an opportunity for them, helping them to broaden the audience and usage of their products.

“Not long after WeChat introduced mini program, we added mini program-related templates to Mockingbot, and this template and our previous WeChat public account template has been the most used among all the Mockingbot templates,” Zhang said.

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at

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