Singapore Design Week: Reflections on designing products across markets

A reflection on our recent localisation focused event with Carousell, GOJEK and Economic Design Board Singapore as part of #SingaporeDesignWeek.

As a business, we work a lot with bringing products and services to life across markets.

In partnership with the Economic Development Board (EDB) for Singapore Design Week, we convened three speakers—specialists in Design Research—to share their stories about the challenges of scaling products and services across different markets while fitting this to brand, business and experience strategy.

These valuable experiences were shared by Foolproof Senior Consultant David Khoo, GOJEK Design Lead Jane Saputra and Carousell Head of Product Design Keith Oh.

Our evening focused on design research as a practice and delved into the nuances of gaining actionable understanding and the critical distinctions between the success criteria of bringing a digital product to a new market.

Three challenges

To start off, David described how to conduct research regionally for an international brand. Next, Jane outlined her challenge at GOJEK where she needed to find insights to repeat the success of a home market elsewhere. Finally, Keith spoke about his dedication to finding the balance between what works universally versus what adapts locally.

The realities of the market tell you what you can and cannot change:

David underscored that there is a general understanding that a traditional model of creating a product that fits a business objective might not be enough to ensure a market fit. He proposed that a practice like Design Research can offer insights into what changes are required for a product to fit that market better.

What is less understood, however, is that it is never a one-size-fits-all. Often, the pieces of the business-product-consumer puzzle are invisible to anyone until we conduct which deep dives into the consumers’ world to reveal what invisibly influences their behaviours, habits, attitudes, across (and even within) geographies.

David drew on our work with a global brand who looked to Foolproof’s expertise to scale its B2B e-commerce offering. On the surface, the product offering made perfect sense and had seemingly obvious advantages in terms of order and supply management.

When comparing two markets, Vietnam and Russia, David highlighted that Design Research doesn’t just explore the facts, but the realities of a market which includes larger infrastructural constraints to the users’ deep-seated cultures and mental models. It is those realities that will guide what can and cannot be changed. This informs brands of the most appropriate change for that particular market.

It’s about more than just changing the ‘flavour’

Perhaps the only app outside China to merit the “super-app” status of Alipay or WeChat, GOJEK’s strategy for Southeast Asian expansion is designed to capitalise on lessons and skillsets gleaned from its home turf. 

The interesting challenge for Jane who heads up design on the Consumer Transport and Drivers’ app is that the service offering is the same in every market; pick up people at point A to bring them to their preferred point B. The core function of the app seems to be a given.

Jane narrated this expectation as ‘the instant noodle’ assumption: use the app that was successful in the home market, change the flavour to make it palatable for the local taste, and voila – done… wrong!

As Jane pointed out, even instant noodles are different in different countries, it is not a matter of changing the flavour. What about the mental models’ of users, their cultural context and the environment in which they live and move. Uncovering these when entering new markets are little moments of ‘who knew?’

Where Jane adds her value is in bringing to life GOJEK’s vision by understanding the minimum change required that assures the experience of the service while minimising the need for single market-specific solutions.

Identify and focus on the fundamental needs across different markets

Keith, the Head of Product Design for Singapore’s Carousell, closed the evening. Carousell is an online marketplace that strives to make buying and selling simple so that unwanted or unused items can find new owners.

Keith shared that design research conducted in markets including Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan, has revealed different attitudes and perceptions towards second-hand goods and the concept of a consumer to consumer marketplace.

However, he challenged that instead of customising the product to each and every market - which requires a huge amount of effort and resources – we should be looking out for fundamental needs that underlie these differences in behaviours and preferences.

For Carousell, trust was identified as the common need that has to be met to drive the adoption of their services. With that, creating features that support trust-building became central for the brand.

Organisations looking to scale would find efficiencies in tackling these common needs first, rather than understanding each market as a different user entirely and devoting time to build a unique product for each of them.

Summing up

This event allowed us to reflect that big players in South East Asia and all over the globe are thinking about why intimate contextual knowledge of different markets matters. If you’re working across markets you need to understand the power of Design Research to expose nuances. This informs design changes which will have ripples in your users’ world.

Related articles