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Cross Cultural Design: Getting It Right the First Time

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Uploaded on May 10, 2011

Apala Lahiri Chavan talks about the issues in involved in designing for emerging markets - http://www.humanfactors.com/project/p...


Designing for Emerging Markets with Apala Lahiri Chavan, MA, MSc, CUA

I'm Apala, and I had head a practice in cross cultural design and design for emerging markets. Some people think that you just need to translate the language of your design, switch currencies, and maybe reformat some fields, but actually it usually does not work like that.

For example, if you sell deodorants and count the over four billion armpits to be deodorized, that is between India and China, you might feel it's a done deal as long as the product is available in those markets. Yeah, maybe with local language text on the packaging, but, alas, the reality of the ecosystem of your consumers in India and China are very different and very complex and, hence, need much more to be done to actually get the two billion consumers to use your product.

I worked on a dialysis unit to be used at home, which worked in America just fine, but in Columbia and India,
the story was different. Why? Well, the caregivers who were critical to the successful use of the dialysis unit was so much more relaxed just
as a cultural attribute. So what was the impact of that relaxed attitude?

Instead of heating the solution to the exact temperature, they would often keep the bag with the solution on the roof to heat in the sunlight or wrap the bag with a blanket for some time. Of course, using the solution heated in this manner would often send the patient to hospital.

Now, the designers who had designed the original dialysis unit never imagined that their existent caregivers in any part of the world who could be so relaxed or was semi-literate, or perhaps that the power went out ever so often, and that the water was dangerously dirty.

Our teams have actually faced daunting cross cultural challenges. Like you might suppose that the design of a wine cooler would not be hard, except in China where traditionally wine has not been a popular drink and cold drinks are considered unhealthy. The only way we succeeded was to recognize that the Chinese customers do have a passion for stylish furniture.

Recently, I was working on a banking system for people from low-income segments in Africa, and it looked to me like the original
design had copied the Indian banking system for similar segments, which, of course, works well in India. But in Africa where there is no caste system like there is in India, and overall there is less hierarchy than in India, this Indian system made customers feel like they were being disrespected, and that is not the ideal brand position for a bank.

We've learned that the only solution is to design for the local customers' ecosystem and for the local customers' feelings.

I remember working on one of the early micro finance systems, and we initially had grand visions for advanced icon driven and sound driven applications for our illiterate or semi-literate users. But in the end, what worked was only a legible, yes, a physical legible and a mobile phone with camera because that is the solution that fit.

We know a lot about differences between cultures, but in the end, we have to use advanced and customized research methods so that our designs are informed and validated. There is no shortcut to success, and it's an endless journey of discovery. For example, I've been wondering about how to law of reciprocity differs between cultures. How the supposed universal obligation one feels in receiving a gift may be different across cultures. If you have noticed cultural differences in obligations, do drop me an e-mail, and I'll share what we find on HFI Connect.

Download a free white paper on innovative solutions for designing for emerging markets at www.humanfactors.com/ccDesign.asp

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