Currently one quarter of global population owns a smartphone and by the year 2018 the estimates are that 50% of people will use one, so it is needless to say that mobile communication has become an essential part of modern life – a necessity.
Feature phones have been used for over 20 years and a lot of research and beta testing was done to ensure best user experience for each country’s users and their needs. Nokia, for instance, the leading manufacturer of feature phones in developing economies, has put years of research into the local markets by keeping a full time design staff dedicated to studying the practices of users at work and at play. They were the first ones introducing simple, but innovative solutions, that helped users with everyday tasks like adding a flashlight or creating a scratch and dust resistant phones.
Since the boom of smartphones, Android and iOS, there have been some stepback regarding versioning of operating system based on cultures, markets and especially writing system differences.
In a research conducted on participants of three biggest markets (American, Chinese and Indian) usage of iPhone highly varied since the iconography was primarily designed for US market and the users from Chinese and Indian market failed to identify more than 50% of basic functionality icons.
Even with iOS 9, Apple’s designers used USA freeway signs of the Apple Map icon. The same icon is used globally regardless that other cultures have no correlation with American motorway signage.
Most popular applications used on iPhone are designed for a global market, as the OS at hand, but when speaking of design for a specific culture, taking the same starting point should be revised keeping the cultural and users preferences as a baseline.
If you’re working on a global market, and nowadays most developers and designers are, you’re probably wondering what considerations should you take when working on the design for an audience you know very little about. The key is to create a product intuitive for a specific culture and that it feels as if it has been specifically designed for that local target. I hope these next few tips help in achieving just that.
Spend as much as time as necessary to learn more about the background of the users. Most of our clients have test groups that are willing to give us insight. Also the client, if having a well prepared documentation of the project, should have some guidelines. If working on a redesign of an app, first take a look at the feedback of the live version of the application. Most iOS users frequently send feedback and rate the application with each published version.
It is important to fully understand color association since it drastically varies from culture to culture, and within different possible audiences.
For example, red in Western cultures is the color of passion and excitement. It has both positive (excitement, love) or negative associations (danger, fear). In Eastern and Asian cultures red relates to purity, happiness, celebration and joy.
If working on a design closely related to a specific culture, study the cultures architecture, heritage and traditions. These elements create a subtle sense of familiarity and a connection with a product.
If designing a product with different writing system like cyrillic, arabic or logographic, pick a font carefully and before selecting a specific one import a shortlist of candidates into the project since iOS can render the font quite differently than it’s seen on other devices.