Kairavi Chahal
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International UX: A Blog

Week 8: Developing for Emerging Economies


  • At-home Exercise: Single-story advice 

  • Winter & Govindarajan, Engineering Reverse Innovations

  • Sathikh & Kumar, Global Product Design

  • Frazier, P&G diapers in China

  • Gillette Spent a Fortune on a Razor

  • Chavan, Washing machine that ate my sari


Single Story Advice

I couldn’t really think of a profound anecdote about a time when my perception of someone was shaped by a ‘single story,’ but a couple examples popped into mind — assuming all Indians / South Asians can handle spicy food; or having a bias against country music before learning that country music is actually what led to rock music being formed (now my bias is just against contemporary country music :P).

Some steps to minimize single-story biases:

  • Be humble and open to learning about different cultures

  • Don’t be afraid to be wrong

  • Ask questions but respectfully

  • Don’t be defensive


Sathikh: Global Product Design

  • “[…] the world has become a global market place, or a ‘global village,’ where each and every consumer shares similar values, lifestyles and desires for product quality and modernity.”

    • Dangerous assumption. I think designers should be prioritizing user needs, and not business ‘needs’ of expanding.

  • “[…] ‘globally-oriented-mass-produced goods’ believing that the homogeneity of global culture, the similarity of thinking and the cost increase in accommodating design nuances of foreign cultures into products would be good reasons for encouraging such ‘global’ products worldwide.”

  • “[…] the emotional and cultural backdrop against which the users perceive the products and make their decision to buy.”

  • “[…] culture has been used as a method to exploit the sales and consumption side of products being designed, rather that study how technology and products may affect culture and user behavior.”

    • Exactly!

  • “In adopting this transitive culture, modern Indians reconcile their traditions and practice […]”

    “How does one that a transitive culture will bring about behavior changes to users? Which of them will be permanent? When does transitive culture become culture?”

    • From what I gather, transitive culture is a local culture picking and choosing what parts of other cultures to adopt into their daily lives. At least this way, the target culture has a choice, even though it may be unconscious. In the Pampers article, it just seemed like the Chinese consumers weren’t really given a choice.

Frazier: P&G diapers in China

This article just rubbed me the wrong way. It was less about the actual P&G approach, but just how it was written/presented. Maybe both.

  • “The disposable diaper — a throwaway commodity in the West — just wasn’t part of the cultural norm in the Chinese nursery.”

  • “[…] wrongly assuming that parents would buy them if they were cheap enough.”
    “It took us a while to figure out that softness was just as important to moms in a developing market.”

    • I was slightly offended by this notion of these ‘multinational companies’ just assuming that cost is the most important factor in an emerging market and that they’d be able to sneak sub-quality product by consumers in emerging markets.

    • “softness was just as important to moms in a developing market” Puh-lease. That should have been the assumption to begin with, and then do research to prove otherwise.

  • “There’s still the challenge of making disposables a habit.”
    ”We really had to change the mindset and educate [mothers] that using a diaper is not about convenience for you — it’s about your baby’s development.”

    • This idea also made me a little uncomfortable. Capitalism being forced upon emerging markets, guilting parents into using diapers…I don’t know — I’m not convinced. Humans have been getting along just fine for millennia without disposable diapers? I know they did some studies, but that’s like big tobacco funding studies that say cigarettes don’t cause cancer.

    • Anyway, I think my main gripe is with the way the article is written (maybe not so much with the companies’ approaches). “making disposables a habit” — why do you want to force a culture to change? Ethically, should you? Even if you think you’re doing the right thing?

Gillette Spent a Fortune on a Razor

This is a classic example — read this article in two other classes already! Haha.

  • “[…] companies must tweak them so they’re relevant to the people who live there. And often, that means rethinking everything from the product’s design to the its cost.“

  • “[…] widespread poverty present challenges for companies used to customers with more disposable income.“

  • “We asked them what their aspirations were […]”

    • Asking the real questions! There are so many underlying factors that affect how and why people do things, that in turn affects how they use products — the deeper a researcher goes, the better they’ll be able to design.

Chavan: Washing Machine That Ate My Sari

  • “But consumers and users are always local.“

  • “Designers need to gain a deep, almost tactile awareness of the culture and context of their target market […]“

  • “[…] understanding who you’re designing for, what the needs of those users are, how you hope to enrich their lifestyles and well-being, and why the enterprise wants to reach that target market.“

    • I think the last two points were missing from the diaper article, which is what bugged me a little bit.

  • “[…] conditions are different, use patterns are different, the thinking is different.“

  • “How will the product or service help people improve their productivity or lifestyle? Will it answer health-related issues or even be considered healthy? Will its content, function, or design run into cultural norms that will impede its adoption?“

    • These questions are important to ask before even (re)designing the product, I feel. This should be taken into consideration when making the decision to target a market.

  • “They may need to delve into a country’s history, religious beliefs, climate, geography, languages, aesthetics and, sometimes, its popular culture.“
    “[…] subtle nuances like speech protocols or the ways dining implements are used.“

  • “[…] designers did not broadly, deeply, and fundamentally understand specific target markets […]“
    ”[…] assume that needs are the same across emerging markets.”

  • “[…] products were designed locally.“

  • “[…] there are many Indias. ‘[What] confounds people about India is that everything you say about it, the opposite is also true.“

    • Can confirm, lol.

  • “what is cheap ends up being expensive.”

    • A lesson not only for consumers, but also for manufacturers.

  • “The trouble is that the emerging consumer […] is looking to be seduced rather than patronized.“

  • “If the failure to understand the target market is the cardinal sin that causes so many other emerging design missteps, it is using traditional methods of design that causes designers to misunderstand their target market in the first place.“

Winter: Engineering Reverse Innovations

  • “This process called ‘reverse innovation’ because it’s the opposite of the traditional approach of creating products for advanced economies first, allows companies to enjoy the best of both worlds.”

  • “[…] the problem stems from a failure to grasp the unique economic, social and technical contexts of emerging markets.“

    • The ideal situation would be if designers could live in the market they were designing for…or you know, actually be from the country they are designing for. The issue here is lack of training/education in other countries, combined with it being too expensive to hire a new, local designer for every market. A compromise could be to work alongside local researchers and designers.

  • “Define the problem independent of solutions.”

    • Currently struggling with this in Capstone!

  • “Trying to reduce the price by eliminating features.“

  • ”[…] optimal solution […] using the design freedoms available in emerging markets.”
    “[…] the engineers wouldn’t have thought of using it if they weren’t trying to achieve high performance at a low price — a requirement specific to emerging markets.“

    • I think it’s less about “freedoms” but just that the constraints are different. Which does help a lot when trying be innovative.

  • “In addition to asking who the end product user will be and what he or she needs, companies must consider who will make the product, distribute it, sell it, pay for it, repair it, and dispose of it.“

  • “[…] users expose design flaws that only they can notice.“

    • That’s why testing and iterating is important. Which I feel like a lot of Gillette and Pampers didn’t really do? Gillette just did the research (even though it wasn’t in the local market) and then rolled out the product without testing it in the local market first. Seems like a big oversight.

  • “Western companies tend to assume that consumers in developed markets, who are brand-conscious and performance-sensitive, will never want products from emerging markets, even if their prices are lower.“

  • “Thus, while the constraints in Eastern Europe forced Renault to create a new auto design, the result was a product that delivered high value at low cost to consumers in Western Europe as well.“

  • “Gillette had identified a latent need.“

    • I like this article as it went into more detail about the Gillette case study and provided a broader perspective about it. Like, the things that Gillette did right.

    • They also identified a need, not like Pampers, which tried to change consumers, rather than addressing their needs.

Kairavi Chahal