Design for Global Citizenship - Part 1

Apr 22, 20195 mins read


The increasing trend of people moving across countries and adopting other cultures poses significant challenges to companies and product designers. The only way to survive in this globalized world is to think as a global citizen.

Photo by Andrew Butler on Unsplash

People move and adapt to changing environments. Moving or traveling to different countries is extremely common nowadays. Looking at your Facebook friend list, you can easily spot a Japanese Chinese who studies in the US, or a Vietnamese German who works in Singapore, or anyone who can be introduced in the following way - I'm a [Country of Origin] [Country of Identity] who lives in [Country of Residence].

We all are literally mixed up

The World Tourism Organization1 reveals that 1 in 6 people travel to a different country every year. And the fact that this number is increasing drastically means that we spend less and less time in our original country and culture. What’s more, with the advancement of technology, even the remaining 5 people can easily adopt foreign culture and lifestyle through the Internet. A person who lives the American life does not need to be an official US citizen, while a person who speaks fluent Mandarin may have never been to China.

According to Legatum Institute2, 1 in 30 people were living outside their country of birth in 2017. This makes up the fifth largest country in the world. By 2050, the ratio will be doubled to 1 in 15. And over time, most humans in the world will be multiracial. In the near future, we can no longer be defined by our country of birth or residence. Our value, identity, and behavior will be much more unique and multifaceted.

All of these people are in the group of global citizens, a big single market consisting of at least 1 billion people.

What could possibly go wrong?

While the world is becoming so diverse and mobile, products that we built seems not catching up with this trend.

My product supports 32 languages and serves people in different ethnic minorities. Isn’t it enough?

It simply isn’t. Building products for global citizens is a lot more than i18n and diversity. In simple terms, it is about taking the increasing movement, exchange, and integration among the global population seriously when designing products and services. It is about removing assumptions that are made based on naive understandings of demography or a particular culture.

Remember the last time you couldn’t sign on your bank account outside your country, just because your local bank doesn’t support 2FA using a foreign phone number? WeChat Pay and AliPay have been available in many countries. But if you’re not living in China, you have no way to give them a try because you need a Chinese phone number and bank account to sign up or receive payment. Moreover, you can’t use the same Starbucks app and account to order drinks across different countries. The same thing applies to McDonald’s and most international banks’ app. Meanwhile, a lot of apps offered by local shopping malls and transportation companies aren’t even available in international App Stores.

I hope the mentioned cases are convincing enough to show you how naive the assumptions can be when designing and developing products in the age of globalization. Let’s face it. We are surrounded by crappy designs that do not fit into the modern globalized world.

Why should I care?

Needless to say, 1 in 30 people is a huge market. Ignoring the entire market of global citizens alone is already very costly. But there are even more implications of the rise of global citizenship.

In the early days of globalization, it took months or even years for people in the other parts of the world to even hear about your products. Only until the popularization of television and radio broadcast, products could be advertised to people around the world in days. In this Internet era, there is an important paradigm shift. People not only proactively hunt for newly launched products, but also test and evaluate them instantly. With such instant global interaction between people and products, your product has to be usable, or even user-friendly, to customers across the globe. If your product failed to impress them, you would lose a huge group of early adopters, who have the power to spread the words everywhere without charging a single dime.

Designing with a cosmopolitan mindset not only helps your products to gain more tractions, but also increases its stickiness. Some companies are already taking advantage of this global phenomenon. TransferWise enables users to transfer money not just into others’ accounts, but also among their own accounts in different countries. Airbnb has been an essential tool for people who constantly travel and work across countries. Uber allows you to use the same account to hail rides across the globe as long as its service is available. Citibank global account enables customers to manage all of their accounts across countries in a single user interface. These are all successful examples of capitalizing on the rise of global citizenship by designing a cosmopolitan product.

Bottom line

Everyone in the world deserves the opportunity to enjoy your product. You can hardly claim your startup to be revolutionizing the world if only people in a particular region or culture can be enjoying your products. Getting it right for everyone is hard but rewarding.

In the next part of this article, more concrete principles and practices will be discussed in the context of Design for Global Citizenship. Stay tuned.


  1. World Tourism Organization - Tourism Highlights 2018 Edition
  2. Guardian - Migration: how many people are on the move around the world?