Trading off efficiency with effectiveness in international UX

Here Amy and Louise explore personalisation and how organisations manage design differently across locations based on trade offs between efficiency and effectiveness.

At Foolproof we work with a host of global brands which operate across multiple markets. This comes with many challenges, one of which is having to balance different consumer attitudes and expectations across multiple territories.

Brands that operate multinationally eventually collide with a familiar problem: to what extent can or should my UX be standardised internationally?

On one hand, building and maintaining a separate user experience in each county is expensive and may be at odds with brand strategy. On the other hand, if local needs and attitudes are not respected sales and growth in that market could suffer.

In our experience defining some global standards for user experience is valuable, with ultimate success driven by market-by-market localisation.

Finding the balance between global and local

Consider these models, which show three ways businesses approach this issue, each is on a scale of effectiveness to efficiency:

Nation state: Each country manages and creates a bespoke UX

Federation: The basic UX structure is designed centrally and tuned locally

Global: All UX aspects are controlled centrally. 

We would suggest that following either the ‘nation state’ or ‘global’ model means a trade-off between efficiency and effectiveness.

A global model will rely on a central authority that believes minimum variation is more efficient in terms of both management and expense. At the other end of the scale, a local authority that sits within the nation state model will believe that better business results come from a bespoke, local experience.

Most multinational companies eventually gravitate towards the ‘federation’ model to some extent. Here, brand vision is maintained internationally, but the local authorities are empowered to use their knowledge and on-the-ground resource to perfect the localised customer experience.

Getting the local perspective

It’s important to note that having a local presence does not necessarily mean you have deep customer understanding in a market. When we are asked by multinational companies to evaluate local user experience we often see that very little formal insight has been used to drive important decisions about localisation. Local UX Managers are happy to talk about customers but lack the insight and tools which give them the ability to speak for them. Localisation is often driven by instinct and received wisdom about customers rather than evidence. This can sometimes undermine the business effectiveness case which underpins the argument for local control of UX.

Core tasks are likely to be fundamentally the same across multiple territories however the drivers (e.g. educational, cultural and socioeconomic) and expectations of users within those territories can be very different. Here's a quote from a client in the FMCG sector to this effect: 

"Each market has (subtly) different content needs in terms of convenience, quality and value. We needed a platform that would reflect local tastes while preserving consistency in brand and interaction design."

User research is a way to mediate the tension between the central and local authority. It’s a tool that can be used to examine the experience across different markets, exploring the similarities and differences. There will be consistencies globally, but there will also be inconsistencies which need to be assessed and given a priority based on the influence they have on the customer experience and business outcomes.

Which model of UX management a business chooses to adopt will depend on their brand strategy and maturity across multiple markets. It’s more important that you do something to improve your customer’s experience, and this shouldn’t be held up by over-analysing market differences and trying to create overly-localised strategies.

Equally, one size fits all is unlikely to be the answer. Most of the mature multinational companies we work with like Shell and Sony have gravitated towards some version of the ‘federation’ model. Setting a global vision and design principles for user experience is often good place to start, but customer insight should refine and tailor experiences to local customer realities.

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