Steve interviewed for “Innovative Solutions” book
My thoughts on understanding and designing in emerging countries has just been published in Apala Lahiri’s Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today’s Emerging Markets.
Q: When traveling through and experiencing emerging countries, do you feel that designing for users in these countries needs to be done with any different methods than those used when designing for users in developed countries?
A: The answer is yes, but there are two different cases: design by insiders and design by outsiders. Obviously design by outsiders needs to be handled very differently. As outsiders, we so clearly have no clue as to what is going on: how do you design personal grooming accessories for a society where someone might have trimming or cleaning done by the side of the road? That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but that simply exporting existing solutions, or making small localization tweaks is probably not going to be enough. I know that as recently as 2 years ago mobile phones in India were a shared household item (although I wonder if increased penetration is changing that); there are tremendous implications for the interface design (from login screens to privacy management). Existing Western models for pricing, usability, features, and so on won’t apply. So there’s a real effort that outsiders need to make to really get at those core differences. From the inside, I suspect that the designers are often not going to be designing for themselves (an approach I discourage, anyway), but for another class or culture within their own society; and while they’ve got a leg up on understanding their fellow citizens over us foreigners, there’s always going to be use cases, mental models, and meaning that is new to the designer. By the same token, for categories that are being imported from the developed world (i.e., mobile phones), the designer will have to do some cultural translation, say discovering that mobile phones are not shared among household members in the West. This is probably here more about an approach to design than an actual method, but once you’ve got the approach down, then the methods can follow easily.