Designing products for users around the world

Posted by on October 23rd, 2018

At Melewi, we like to work with a simple concept in mind:

“Our view is global: we travel to get inspired, gain perspective, and build products and businesses that speak to everyone, everywhere.”

As a team of designers, product managers, and business strategists living in six different countries, we know how important it is to understand the region you’re designing for.

We thought we’d put together a collection of our insights from designing digital products for millions of users all over the globe.

While we’re still working on the full guide that contains insights from everyone on the team and information about all of the different regions we’ve designed products in so far, here’s a quick teaser to get you started.

The smartphone craze is changing

And it’s crucial to understand which devices your users are on.

Don’t fall into the trap of designing for you and your team.

Unless you’re working on a project for another high-paid group of techies, keep in mind that not all mobile users are on the latest iPhone. Mockups on feature phones may not get you hundreds of likes on Dribbble, but smartphones only make up a fraction of device sales in emerging markets.

Smartphone adoption is slowing down because wealthy regions already have all the latest devices.

In the United States, 95% of Americans have a mobile phone and 77% own smartphones.

That’s almost 67% higher than the percentage of Nigerians who have smartphones.

Proper research is everything. If you’re expanding into a region with a wide range of devices, it’s imperative to optimize your app for multiple screen sizes.

This is where mirroring comes in. We use Marvel and InVision for a ton of our design projects, but they don’t support older smartphones. You can’t beat testing your designs on real devices.

Always put yourself in your users’ shoes and design accordingly. Don’t default to complex animations and high-res gradients if the popular devices in your region don’t have the screen size or processing power to back it up.

It’s difficult to use an app that can’t run on your phone.

Don’t rush it

Expanding your business from Germany to Nigeria requires a lot more than a simple translation.

While the internet makes it easier than ever to scale across borders, many companies struggle to make their product feel local.

That’s why it’s even more important to practice proper discretion these days. If you’re launching a digital product in multiple regions simultaneously, it’s even more important to take your time during the design phase.

Always use the longest translation in your designs and wireframes. If you pick all of your sizing based off of shorter translations, you’re going to be doing a lot of cleaning up later in the game.

Understand the importance of localization

You want your product to feel new, but instantly familiar.

It’s a balance between pushing the boundaries, creating a memorable experience, and designing your product to feel natural as soon as a new user picks it up. Moreover, users won’t engage with user interfaces that push them too far out of their comfort zone.

Always take a close look at the most popular apps and websites in the region you’re targeting.

Hamburger menus (and hamburgers) are popular in the US, but in China, pinning your navigation buttons to the bottom is the norm.

That’s because everyone browses apps and websites differently. It’s important to understand how your users engage with their favorite apps if you want to craft an interface that feels natural to them.

You can’t replace real diversity

A boutique design agency from Los Angeles might be great for a luxury e-commerce website, but you wouldn’t choose them to build a digital wallet for the underbanked citizens of Myanmar.

It’s hard to design international products if everyone on your team looks alike and lives in the same location.

You need to work with a team who understand the regions you’re targeting.

If you don’t empathize with the people you’re designing for, it’s a recipe for culture-mismatch. Understanding the nuances of a foreign culture is impossible without going there and fully immersing yourself in it.

As a team of digital nomads, we spend a massive chunk of time immersing ourselves in foreign cultures all over the world. Whenever we’re approached to tackle a project in a new region, there’s a high chance someone on our team has already spent some time there.

We pride ourselves on our ability to relate to users all over the world — regardless of what language they speak or what devices they’re on.

Feel free to send us an email with some of your questions about designing products for users all over the world and we might answer it in the next edition of The Melewi Standup.

About

Melewi

Melewi is a travelling product, UX, and UI design studio working with passionate people from around the world. We work remotely and travel to be inspired, gain perspective, and build products and businesses that speak to everyone, everywhere.

Interested in collaborating with us? Get in touch; we promise we're friendly!

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