Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Designing for emerging, non-Western markets

During the recent Designing for User eXperience (DUX 2005) conference, Ashwini Asokan demonstrated a coffee preparation ritual of Southern India during which coffee is poured back and forth between tumbler and cup several times. As she explained, alternative means of coffee preparation imported from other parts of the world haven't caught on, because they do not support this graceful ritual which is filled with "social, religious, traditional, emotional, and cultural significances related to the daily event." However, attending to and understanding the ritual enables identification of new opportunities for coffee product design more likely to succeed in India.

Also during DUX 2005, Neema Moraveji described "fundamental and broadly-applicable issues of designing for the Chinese" that surfaced during an exploration in interface design for the Chinese migrant worker population. These issues included "difficulties in Chinese character input, interfaces on a Chinese scale, and the Chinese people's sense of privacy." As in the case with India described above, attending to and understanding these issues should enable identification of new opportunities for product design more likely to succeed in China.

Other DUX 2005 presentations addressed related issues, such as in the context of designing an Arabic user experience, and even in the context of redesigning General Motors websites in differing world markets.

I visited Neema at Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing abit more than a month ago, and while there was able to attend demos they prepared for attendees of the Design for the New China Markets Conference sponsored by IIT's Institute of Design. As stated on that conference website:
"Western companies interested in selling products and services to the new China market are discovering that, as Chinese consumers become more sophisticated, their development teams must compete more aggressively to create offerings that better fit the Chinese culture and living patterns. Companies who thought it was sufficient simply to understand 'the China market' are shocked to find there are actually several China markets, and that their offerings need to be created with the same care and sophistication as the offerings they create for the sophisticated and diverse markets in the West."
And as Ashwini and her co-author state in the paper they prepared for DUX 2005:
"Technological innovation and development has reached a high point in the world today. In this context, people all over the world demand for more value addition and meaningful experiences. Demands for novel and fancy experiences with technology are being replaced by the need to return back to the roots of their culture. Organizations ranging from small companies to big nations are struggling to redefine their identities by finding a balance between technology and culture, and innovation and experience."
Clearly, great dividends await those companies who put ample resources in understanding the culture and living patterns of emerging, non-Western markets, and in applying that understanding to identifying new opportunities for design for user experience.