Design thinking: why it matters in global growth and localization

Design thinking is a non-linear way of developing original products and services through an iterative process of understanding users, challenging assumptions, and redefining problems. It involves continuous prototyping and testing, and in its best application, even has the potential to uncover latent needs.

Design has been adopted by organizations in all sectors of the economy. But its main application can be found in software development, where the end destination can be murky at the outset and adjustments are required continuously. 

So why is design thinking relevant to the localization industry? The methodology is incredibly useful to manage product development in the face of rapidly changing customer, supply chain and competitive demands. It’s therefore ideal for products meant for a global market that can be sold in multiple locales with varying demands and applications.

Since it puts human beings first in the current environment of big-data AI analysis, it is, however, surprisingly radical. In the past, the discipline of design so often has been decoupled from the people it serves. 

This non-conventional way of creating innovative products passes through five phases — empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test — and is most useful to tackle ill-defined or unknown challenges. These phases are not innately hierarchical or linear, but part of a journey toward an end goal. Although reasonably new to the business world, designers have probably been using this method intuitively all along. So how can we best translate these phases with localization in mind?

Empathize: As localizers, we often stand on the empathy soapbox to proclaim our knowledge and experience of international markets, but do we really have our finger on the pulse? No matter how much experience we have with other cultures we must be careful we are not projecting our own feelings and prejudices upon consumers. The first order of business to design great localized product is therefore to deeply understand the consumer’s attitudes needs, barriers and aspirations. Are we truly observing and analyzing human beings without assumptions? It is essential to consider all cultural aspects. Keep Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension guidelines close by and pay attention to nuances in power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, and short vs. long-term orientation.

Define: Once we have collected the consumer’s needs, cultural influences and barriers we can begin to think of defining the right solution. Be aware of unexpected patterns or shifting barriers that might have been uncovered. Are we asking the right questions? This stage should be a creative brief that can unlock the best solution and builds consensus within the organization. It will outline the international priorities, challenges, and opportunities. 

Ideate: Now that we have gotten a better understanding of our customer and have articulated a brief with well-defined direction, we are ready to design and develop a solution. This is probably the messiest part of the process. Before we dive in the deep end, it’s a good idea to assess the challenges as well as the opportunities. We need to make sure we work in a team environment where constructive dissent is encouraged. Likewise, it’s useful to leverage our combined intelligence with a S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of all paths forward.

Prototype: In the prototype stage, ideas are meant to be transformed into tangibles. It’s all about experimenting and making sure that we are overcoming any consumer gaps or barriers. Innovation is central and throughout this segment. The solution should be improved upon and redesigned through a series of reviews by the broader team. 

Test: It’s time to get feedback from actual consumers in both quantitative and qualitative ways for each locale. Make sure to test in-country. It’s important we question those that have a vested interest in the problem we are solving.

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stefan.huyghe@icloud.com
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.

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