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You don't need to read many newspapers or listen to many State of the Union speeches to predict the future of economic growth.

Even back in October of 2009, the Los Angeles Times could easily say in a Consumers Section headline: "U.S. firms look to sell wares in emerging markets. As sales wither at home, manufacturers see China, India and Brazil as a customer base of new affluence".

The question, then, is "how does this challenge affect my user experience responsibilities?"

Answers will vary. What is your situation? As a web site designer do you already advise, design, or support international market efforts?

As a "user experience" person, should you be thinking about user personas from other cultures who can benefit from your product?

As a graphics person, do you wonder about metaphors and symbols to engage the attention of persons whose life style differs from your own?

As a creative employee of your organization, would you like to open the door to new product scenarios based on your entrepreneurial investigations into customer needs?

All of these questions stem from reading the fine print in articles such as given above:

"The size of these potential markets dwarfs the domestic markets of most of the economically advanced nations. China, India, and Brazil have a combined population of more than 2.6 billion people, many of them young and increasingly affluent, in contrast to the aging and far smaller populations of Western Europe, Japan and the United States.

"The push overseas is taking place among small American manufacturing firms as well as giant multinational corporations. And it reflects what may be the beginning of a shift in the global economy, a rebalancing in which the world relies less on U.S. consumers and more on consumer spending in places such as China."

Have you wondered yet, "OMG, what should I know in order to fulfill these responsibilities?"

lf so, then breathe a sigh of relief. Help is around the corner.

Toyota Prius

Getting market savvy

What's there to know about user experience in "emerging" markets? That's the question answered in the book "Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today's Emerging Markets." The book reflects the experiences of user interface designers who have proven themselves by answering challenging design questions within the "emerging markets" like Brazil, India, China, Brazil and others (see chart). Figure 1

The editors and contributors, Apala Lahiri Chavan and Girish V Prabhu, gained their experience on consulting projects at the India offices of Human Factors International and elsewhere. An award-winning designer, Apala is Vice President of HFI Asia, managing offices in India, China, and Singapore.

Girish now serves at Srishti Labs as Director, UBD Innovation and Strategic Development. Prior management positions include new business development, research and product commercialization at Eastman Kodak, HP labs, HFI, and Intel.

With other authors, these editors present a compelling methodology you can read, understand, and use out of the box. Chapter titles quickly outline their case:

Chapter Titles Your take-away (as I see it)...
1. An Introduction to Emerging Markets – Warren Greving Where the money is and how to earn it – even in emerging markets.
2. Key Themes of Working in Emerging Markets – Apala Lahiri Chavan Emerging countries have differing personas. And your experiences with developed countries fail to prepare you for understanding opportunities in emerging markets. But fear not. You'll read how to deal with it.
3. Aspects of Innovation: Research and Technology –Beena Prabhu and Sarit Arora Up close and personal glimpses into methods for discovering potential users (and profit) even in low-income emerging markets.
4. Usage Ecosystems: Dynamics of Emerging Markets – Girish V. Prabhu How skillful product innovation must discover workflow relationships and dependencies to insure consumer acceptance and ROI.
5. Understanding Users in Emerging Markets: What's Different? – Apala Lahiri Chavan Interviewing and discovery methods in emerging markets must evolve beyond what you found successful in developed markets.
6. Case Studies Inspiring stories about product design amidst your challenges of understanding an emerging market.
7. Interviews Designers who have walked the walk tell you their recipes for succeeding in counter-intuitive, emerging markets.
Schematic Drawing
Schematic Drawing

Your glimpse into market ecosystem thinking

I found Chapter 5 especially instructive regarding the challenges of product innovation. The author and his HFI team researched the system of retails outlets in India where operating margins for are so thin as to discourage hope to gain a piece of that action with any automation product.

They are characterized as "FMCG" (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) retail outlets. Here's the challenge and resulting design insight in a nutshell.

  1. 18% of India's retail business occurs through about 6 million outlets, one store for every 200 people. 95% are smaller than 500 square feet. These smaller outlets are "mom and pop" shops. All are a part of India's annual growth rate of 47% for the retail sector.
  2. The government recognizes them as an important sector, providing 6% of overall employment and 11% of the country's Gross Domestic Product.
  3. Unlike FMCG in developed countries, these retail outlets are called HFR (High Frequency Retail). Intel's emerging markets platform hoped to find a solution that would allow these HFR outlets to compete against the pressures of "modern retail" outlets.
  4. HFI's contextual innovation team investigated the "ecosystem" of HFR including customers, store owners, FMCG manufacturer, distributors, and service providers.
  5. The methods included interviews, observations, focus groups, and most importantly, clear understanding of the "pain points" and benefits connecting the players in the HFR ecosystem.
  6. Research revealed that shopping for FMCG goods was as much a social activity as it was a mercantile transaction. Buyers needed to touch and feel the products. They needed change to supplement their wad of paper money. The FMCG saved them time on bill payment, banking, and ticketing for movies and travel.
  7. Some HFR stores extended credit to customers, an important side-function.

Different solutions for different situations

Automation solutions had to fit different HFR sub-ecosystems to motivate acceptance.

Store Size & Equipment Store Owner Needs
(bold = primary need)
Ecosystem Value for the Automation Offering

<6 employees (small)

Minimum technology

Reduce dependency on distributors

Generate extra income

Track customer credit

Reduce theft

Increase efficiency

HFR store owner had doubts about how technology could help them. They saw no ROI from technology.

FMCG companies that provided products benefited by subsidizing the technology to track the HFR data and access it regularly.

Theft reduction and credit records were attractions, as well.

3-10 employees (medium)

Cash register, digital weighing scale

Assist inventory management

Generate extra income

Track customer credit

Attract new customers

Increase efficiency

Store owners perceived records of sales transactions as a means of reducing theft.

Recording credit transactions motivated adoption of technology.

6-10 employees (large)

Some owners have a personal computer

Proactive inventory management

Track customer credit

Reduce billing effort

Attract more customers

Increase customer satisfaction

Where a PC was not in use, store owners understood and appreciated the benefit of inventory tracking technology.

If PC already in use, then customer satisfaction through adequate inventory was perceived as a benefit.

Owners found tracking credit transactions valuable.

Bringing home the bacon

We explored the changing economics of world trade. It may cause you to wonder if your performance objectives should include successful design for "emerging markets".

If so, then check out this book. It's new (2011) and contains tested methods, viewpoints and experiences that served their authors well when solving emerging market design problems.

Understanding the phrase "Bringing home the bacon" requires insider's knowledge of culture, food preparation, and even lore from the manly art of fisticuffs. Likewise, understanding your emerging market requires insider's knowledge of the cultural context and usability methods adapted to the new challenges.

This volume provides a lot of punch in a compact form. We covered one chapter to give you the meaning and impact of designing for your customer's "ecosystem."

Next issue we'll share more of what designers need to know for today's emerging markets.


Chavan, Apala Lahiri and Prabhu, Girish V. (2011). Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today's Emerging Markets. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, New York, London.

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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