How do we design for localization in an increasingly globalized world?

Designing for emerging markets is becoming increasingly important as companies look for opportunities to expand their user base and become first or second movers in winner-take-all markets. Uber and eBay’s failure to crack the Chinese market are expensive examples proving the need for designers to have a seat at the table from the very beginning of a company’s foray into new territory, whether that’s a country, product or market.

Google’s 2017 I/O included a cursory introduction on designing for emerging markets that can be distilled into these main points under a unifying framework:

The problem is that both the framework and talk neglects the core processes necessary for driving successful products. It feels shallow and acts more like a checklist than a useful tool for guiding the development of meaningful interactions. Most of all, it’s too general. Synthesizing the research into salient guidelines is a great reference point, but hides the processes that drove the research necessary for contextualizing the framework.

Even after all that, I think the biggest problem with the framework is it isn’t forward looking. You can design for what emerging markets look like today, but with so many variables changing and players entering, how can you be certain you’re designing for change? And more importantly, how can you drive change?

I’m going to answer the question in 2 parts. First, a history lesson.

Alexander von Humboldt was an 18th century scientist credited with making the connection between geography and flora growth.

Using determinations of longitudes and latitudes, measurements of the components of the Earth’s geomagnetic field, and daily observations of temperatures and barometric pressure, as well as statistical data on the social and economic conditions of Mexico he provided entirely new lens for how we understand the world by revealing the patterns in flora growth in different locations with similar geographic conditions.

Before his discoveries, scientists still relied on classification; unable to see the system because they only understood each discovery in isolation. As globalization leads us to cross geographic boundaries, we need to look to the other systems around us that anchor us. Together we can develop new ways of localization. As fields in IoT and data science blossom, we need to focus on metadata: data that serves to provide context or additional information about other data.

  • Develop more meaningful meta data 
    Contextualize data by considering how it relates to the entire system
  • Meta data should be shared and understood within an ecosystem 
    Compatibility is increasingly important
  • Develop microservices that enrich communication 
    Democratize data by providing meaningful information

Success relies on compatibility across many platforms and players. Being open to developing new relationships and partnerships is especially important in emerging markets.

The second part is more concrete as I provide you tools you can use to truly start designing for change. Following heuristics like ‘use sufficient contrast’ and ‘design for low end RAM’ is important, but not useful for true differentiation and success.

Use contextual inquiries and consolidated models to understand the influence and trust networks. These hidden systems often impact your game plan for entering the market and reveals layers that could influence stakeholders. It’s easy to forget that your product is a solution, not a collection of features. Uber’s decision to start accepting cash payments in India was still a reactive move that could have been an initial offering if it had recognized the opportunity earlier on.

Consolidated diagrams could also reveal major players that influences the success of your offering. If any of the variables in the system changes, be cognizant of how it impacts you.

Below is an example of a consolidated diagram showing the influences between players to consider when designing a VAD implantation decision support tool.

Even contextual inquiries has it limitations — ultimately, there are always critical design considerations that aren’t surfaced simply through observation. Even when we immerse ourselves in new environments, we interpret what we see and hear against our own experiences discolored by our own biases. Consider contracting a local designer to be part of the team — their conscious and unconscious design decisions will be informed by real experiences rooted in their surroundings.

So in an age of increased globalization, go from following heuristics to relying on process to drive the localization of your product. It’s dangerous to design in isolation when the fact is emerging markets are simply too unpredictable and fast changing.