Design for Global Citizenship - Part 2

Jun 04, 20194 mins read


We are surrounded by products and services that do not fit into the modern globalized world. Common design pitfalls in the context of globalization are often caused by over-emphasis on nationality, and naive generalization of people living in a region. To design a product for global citizens, all assumptions about locations and races have to be removed.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

In the last post, we have discussed the importance of designing for the growing number of global citizens. Now, let’s discuss the design principles that could help product designers think as a global citizen and embrace the beauty of a globalized product.

Principle 1 — Where users live doesn’t matter anymore

You can segment a market in million ways, but region-based division is not one of them. What perceived as a stereotypical image of a country’s citizen can always be more accurately expressed in a mix of other ways — religion, personality, occupation, and education level, to name a few.

In such globalized world, tens of millions of Latinos read New York Times. Ed Sheeran has a huge listener base in Africa. You can even find a Buddhist temple in catholic Dublin. Naive country-based generalization about one’s preference is simply a brutal way to customize services for users. Imagine Whole Foods promoting premium frozen pork to a Muslim based on the fact that she is an American, or Uber Eats suggesting a Hindu to try out a new beef noodle restaurant just because his GPS location is Taiwan. How pissed off these customers would be? On the other hand, by paying more attention to users’ real persona instead of location, customer loyalty and retention could significantly increase.

Principle 2 — Race and location doesn’t imply language

Nowadays, the connection between where we live and what we speak has been significantly weakened. There are hundreds of thousands of expats in Japan —accessing a site via a Japan IP address does not mean that the user knows Japanese. Also, many websites combine “Hong Kong, China” and “China” in their region list, ignoring the fact that Hong Kong Chinese use Traditional Chinese instead of Simplified Chinese. India, despite being the second-largest English speaking country, has an English literacy rate of 10% and over 24 official languages. However, if you have a look at, Apple treats all Indians as English speakers in their online store.

Multilingualism is another interesting phenomenon that product manager and designer can take advantage of. Facebook and Quora utilize the variety of languages that users speak to enrich the types of content that a user see, rather than assuming that everyone from a region only speaks the most popular language there.

Principle 3 — Global marketplace over naive differentiation of markets

Setting up an internationalized Shopify store is just as easy as snapping your fingers. Instead of selling different sets of products to people in different regions, it is way more efficient and humane to serve the same set of products to everyone, highlight those they are more likely to buy, and let customers choose what they want. One of the reasons that makes Amazon spend internationally so quickly is that shows every available product to everyone, no matter where they are. You can buy stuff from Amazon from literally anywhere in the world. In comparison, countless developers and startups have left big piles of money on the table, just because they brutally forbid users in other regions from downloading their apps by limiting the list of available countries in App Store.

Principle 4 — The path with least assumption

While it is difficult to cater to every language, every cultures, and every lifestyle in the world, product globalization can often be achieved simply by taking “the path with least assumption”. For example, a lot of banks now offer 2FA by SMS. While supporting all country prefixes may require extensive development and setup, email-based 2FA can be developed easily as an alternative. Pretty much everyone in the world owns an email address, but not everyone has a phone number that works everywhere. People who occasionally stay or travel in multiple countries will definitely choose a bank that gives them access without roaming, over a bank that sends SMS verification code to their home number. By providing a service that assumes nothing about location, companies can significantly improve the user experience and “portability” of their product, ultimately gaining competitive advantages in market.

Bottom line

Hope that the above ways to think about cosmopolitan-friendly design could inspire you to design better products. In this hugely globalized planet, adopting over-simplified product and marketing strategy can be as deadly as making crappy product. And more importantly, everyone in the world deserves the opportunity to enjoy your amazing product.