“Navigating the Digital Spice Route” - Terry Ma at EuroIA 2011

 by Martin Belam, 23 September 2011

Over the course of the next couple of days, I’ll be blogging my notes from the sessions at EuroIA in Prague. Not necessarily, it must be said, in the right order. I’m starting with my notes from a session that has just finished - LBi’s Terry Ma talking about localising web design to compete in the Middle East and Asian markets.

Download all of my EuroIA 2011 blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks

Terry Ma - “Navigating the Digital Spice Route – 10 Experience Principles to Bridge European User Experiences with the Rest of the World”

Terry Ma used the metaphor of the “spice route” in the 13th century as a lesson for how western companies can tap into the eastern market. As Terry pointed out, this is a market of 3bn people.

The old challenges were physical - distance, means of travel, language barrier. Fast forward 800 years and some, like distance have gone, but some like language still remains. The problem now is the focus on information.

Terry outlined ten “experience principles”, including:

Always work with local knowledge. Check with local diplomats, use local market experts, and use local papers and magazine. Treat information on the internet with caution. Examples shown included getting details of Middle Eastern dress wrong during a pitch, or finding images from Getty claiming to be of a Saudi man when the dress isn’t Saudi.

Cater for multiple demographics. The “Tier 1” demographic of China is an area with 65 million people - when you think you are targeting China, you need to be more specific about “which” China you are targeting.

Respect is a different concept in the East. Don’t assume everybody does business in the same way - China is more based on relationships than transactions, the Middle East is more hierarchy oriented.

Understand the language. All of them. Terry pointed out that asking her “Do you speak Chinese” is wrong - Cantonese, Mandarin, Traditional and Simplified need to be accommodated on a website. Hong Kong and Taiwan, for example, have different typography and dialects. As she says, “It looks similar to most people”.

Typography is crucial. Written Arabic is more than just letters, it is an expression of Arabic culture. Arabic pages have to be totally reversed, pagination order has to be reversed. Chinese being written vertically is more of a calligraphy style than the norm on the web. Content needs to be localised too. Terry identified IBM as having a great execution - with a UK site that focuses on the current Rugby World Cup, which the Chinese site is totally ignoring.

Pay attention to visual language - choose images to appeal to local culture. China sees red as a colour of good luck. The Gulf has an obsession with gold in design. And Flash and “Skip intro” still exist in these markets. Sites are also designed for clicks - what looks overwhelming to UK designers overlooks that in Chinese it is quicker to scan dense information than it is to type in.

Use the right platform. There is superfast speed in Kapan and Korea, but snail-paced connections in parts of China and India. Also identify the right payment preferences - the credit card is not a mainstream medium because of a reputation for fraud and a cultural perception that you are spending “future money”. Alipay is emerging as PayPal-style middle men, and Taobao was described as “eBay plus MSN”, used by many big brands.

Take censorship seriously - and imagery selection. In Islamic countries there is a lot of sensitivity around images of women. Terry says “when in doubt, show scenery”. Although Terry did also show a picture of pole-dancing in Saudi Arabian dress...

She finished by going back to the spice analogy - getting spices right in a dish is about picking, mixing, blending and trial & error.


I’ll be publishing my notes as and when they are ready - so who knows which talk will be next, but I have so far attended Bob Royce and Luke Wroblewski’s sessions. And I’m trying to gather all the slides and blog posts at my now traditional “All your EuroIA 2011 slides are belong to us” post.

This is one of a series of blog posts about EuroIA 2011 in Prague. You can download all of the blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks.

All your EuroIA 2011 slides are belong to us
“Designing today’s web” - Luke Wroblewski
“The IA of /Culture” - Martin Belam
“Navigating the Digital Spice Route” - Terry Ma
“Extending the Storytelling - Blending IA and Content Strategy” - Boon Sheridan
“Pervasive IA for the Sentient City” - Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati
iPads, kids and design lessons for adults - Wouter Sluis-Thiescheffer & Brian Pagán
“Understanding the Nature of Resistance” - Alla Zollers
“Does a Rich GUI Make the Bank Richer?” - Haakon Halvorsen & Kjetil Hansen
“Designing for Everyone, Anywhere, at Any Time” - Anna Dahlström
“Truth and Dare – Out of the Echo-Chamber, into the Fire” - My critique of Jason Mesut at EuroIA 2011
“The Rise and Fall...and Rise Again of Information Architecture” - Bob Royce
“Fill in the IA gap” - Mags Hanley

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All your IA Summit 2011 slides are belong to us
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