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Designing for Emerging Markets: Cultural Considerations And Adapting to Local Infrastructures

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When companies look to expand into emerging markets, simply translating existing products and services is often a recipe for failure. To truly succeed in these regions, it’s critical to deeply understand and design for the local cultures from the ground up. Cultural sensitivity and locally-relevant design can make all the difference between a product or service that resonates with users or one that falls flat.

What Are Emerging Markets?

Emerging markets refer to countries that are in the process of rapidly industrializing and adopting. Some of the major emerging markets include China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, and parts of Africa. These markets are attractive to businesses due to their large populations, economic growth potential, and an expanding middle class of consumers.

While emerging markets hold immense opportunity, businesses can’t simply transplant their offerings from developed nations and expect success. Emerging markets have unique cultural contexts and constraints that require localized design approaches.

Developing Cultural Understanding

The first step in designing for emerging markets is taking the time to deeply understand the local cultures in granular detail. Don’t make assumptions – invest in ethnographic user research through surveys, interviews, and embedded observation. Immerse your team in local rituals, traditions, belief systems, values, and day-to-day lifestyles.

Develop context-specific user personas and journey maps. Identify pain points and unmet needs that your products or services could address in a culturally-relevant manner. Look beyond surface-level differences and strive to understand the deeper underpinnings that shape local behaviors.

Designing for Different Value Systems

In many emerging markets, cultural values can be quite different from Western individualistic value systems. For example, many cultures emphasize collectivism and prioritize family/community needs over individual priorities.

Products and messaging focused solely on individual achievement or status may not resonate. Instead, emphasize how offerings can holistically benefit the extended family or community group. Leverage peer influence and integrate sharing/collaboration functionality.

In high “power distance” cultures where hierarchy is respected, design solutions that are inclusive of all users regardless of authority or social standing. Offer appropriate permission controls but avoid highlighting socioeconomic divides.

Adapting to Local Infrastructures

Emerging markets often have infrastructural constraints and technology gaps compared to mature markets. Power grids can be unreliable, internet and mobile data rates may be much slower, and older hardware/software may be prevalent.

Design mobile apps and websites with this in mind – optimize for low bandwidth, offline capabilities, minimal storage requirements, and compatibility across a wide range of devices. Pay close attention to load times and data consumption costs.

In markets with high illiteracy rates, incorporate visual guides, audio/video support, and intuitive iconography over text-heavy interfaces. Voice recognition and conversational UI may be preferable input methods over typing.

Contextualizing Visual Communication

Visual languages and metaphors vary across cultures – symbols that are universally understood in one context may be lost in translation elsewhere. Red, for example, represents good luck in Chinese culture but danger/prohibition in the West.

Use familiar visual vocabularies by conducting design audits with local users. Scrutinize color palettes, icons, imagery, character illustrations, animations, and spatial orientations. Seek out any inadvertent inappropriate or confusing messaging.

Respecting Cultural Traditions

Many emerging markets have unique cultural traditions and protocols to take into account. Religious practices like prayer obligations, clothing requirements, dietary restrictions, and gender norms should all be considered in product design.

Allow scheduling flexibility for religious obligations and incorporate reminders if relevant. Mirror modest clothing standards in avatars and character designs. Accommodate different ingredient needs in recipe apps and culinary experiences. Provide opt-in toggles for displaying gendered iconography or splitting experiences by gender lines.

Understanding these nuances demonstrates inclusive respect for local traditions. Failing to do so risks coming across as culturally tone-deaf at best, and outright offensive at worst in some contexts.

Localized Content and Languages

One of the most visible aspects of localization is translation of text and audio content into local languages and dialects. Use context-appropriate phrasing rather than just literal translations.


Designing for emerging markets requires a deep understanding of cultural considerations and a commitment to cultural sensitivity. By conducting thorough research, adapting your designs to local preferences, and engaging with the local community, you can create designs that resonate with your audience and drive success in these dynamic markets. Remember, cultural awareness is an ongoing process, and staying informed about local trends and changes is key to long-term success.

Devoq Design is a renowned UI/UX design agency in Washington with a strong presence in both Virginia and Washington. As a leading UI/UX design agency in Virginia, Devoq Design offers innovative and user-centric solutions that cater to a diverse range of industries. Their expertise extends to Washington as well, where they deliver exceptional design services that enhance user experiences and drive business growth. Whether you are in Virginia or Washington, Devoq Design is committed to providing top-notch UI/UX design services that meet the unique needs of your business.