Design Globalization: Part 4

by Luke Wroblewski December 20, 2006

Part four of Design Globalization: a conversation aabout the impact of large scale global changes, outsourcing, and international design training/firms on design and designers (be sure to check out part three first).

Luke Wroblewski First of all, let me acknowledge Dirk’s point about needing to look beyond design for global business success. Product Design, Design Thinking, and Design Principles all are an important part of the equation but they are not the only variables involved. As I mentioned in the Lifecycle of Design conversation: “sometimes a strategic business partnership is what enables a superior customer experience”. In the case of global markets, this is very often the case.

It’s also true that the design community has a tendency to discuss the importance of issues like context and culture amongst themselves but not with a broader audience. As evidenced by a recent quote from the Silicon Valley Product Group:

“[the design community] does a good job communicating among themselves, but in general I think these guys spend a lot of time preaching to the choir, and that the message about the value they deliver needs to get to those teams that need them the most, and these are the teams without designers.”

If you amplify this problem globally, it’s great if we get an international contingent of designers talking amongst themselves –but will that really address the state of global flux in which many companies find themselves? Let me suggest an additional approach.

A number of California-based user experience professionals (including myself) just attended the SHiFT 2006 conference in Portugal. The Portuguese attendees were quite eager to learn about the state of user experience design and strategy in the United States. At the same time we were eager to hear what made Portuguese and European design considerations unique. This state of mind was echoed an in-person conversation I had with Joseph. He pointed out that designers outside the United States are hungry for our domain knowledge (based on experience) and we have keen interests in their unique contexts (culture).

This was made quite transparent in a talk by Celso Martinho from Sapo (Portugal’s number one Web site). Martinho outlined Sapo’s inability to compete with the resources of global Internet companies. Due to the design and development talent of companies like Google and Yahoo!, Sapo was losing email, social networking, and instant messaging customers. To address this competitive situation, Martinho encouraged Sapo to focus on their key strength: understanding the language, culture, and Internet users of Portugal.

It seems to me that this situation is ripe for a partnership. Local companies may not be able to match a global corporation’s resources, but they can manage local implementation of those resources and adapt products accordingly. This type of collaboration might provide a sense of co-ownership that the current situation does not.

It was apparent at SHiFT that the Portuguese that spoke up had a strong distaste for their dependency on Microsoft software. They wanted to implement homegrown open-source solutions. Perhaps if they played a role in transitioning Microsoft products to need the needs of Portuguese language and culture, they might feel more like partners and less like technological colonies.

Joseph O'Sullivan I want to bring this to a close by revisiting the original question: What do designers and design firms need to focus on and be aware of to be successful in this changing hyper-global market? We started with Dirk’s definition of "Globalization" that was driven by words like "create" and "extend". But what I find interesting about our conversation is that it has been dominated by the ideas of flux, understanding, and sharing.

I agree with Dirk's earlier comment that design is not uniquely positioned to take advantage of the current surge in globalization. But, I do believe Design has the ability to reframe the issues and opportunities regarding globalization. This conversation is a case in point. Countries and culture became “context”. Rapidly growing markets in unstable economies became “flux”. Additionally, “open source sharing” became a tool to manage our lack of knowledge about user needs and behavior in countries we may never visit.

Ultimately what we are talking about, and I’m glad you got us there Luke, is all this work we do will eventually end up in the hands of a person in a singular location having an experience with a product or service that they will enjoy or dislike. They will decide at every click, flavor, color, smell, etc. The product will either need to address their local sensibility such as the example from your time in Portugal, Luke, or it will need to connect to a world far away like the influence of the U.S on Korean youth.

And who knows how to deal with this flux in context?

We will.

And we will do this through understanding and sharing. Just like we always have, except now the world will take advantage of it.