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We were doing a study/survey recently on an app which is expected to be launched globally (North America, Europe, South/East Asia).

The current design favors cleanliness, white space, and muted colors.

The feedback seems to be that North American and European users find the design appealing whereas South East Asian users find the design bland and boring. Looking more closely, the whole thing about clean design and ample use of whitespace seems to be common in apps coming out of EU/US, and apps popular in India/Indonesia etc. seem to be very colorful and cluttered in general.

Even though we are a cross cultural team, and would like to design for all geographies, it is difficult to decide.

  1. Should we have two different design styles based on geography?
  2. Is it even relevant that surveyed users seem to prefer a colorful/busy design? Perhaps usability is higher in clean designs, regardless of what people think is more appealing.
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  • There is no middle ground? Maybe if you put some visual sample it can be useful to find an answer
    – Danielillo
    Jun 19, 2021 at 15:29
  • Can't share mockups on this one.. I am not a big fan of middle grounds because they end up leaving everyone slightly annoyed and slightly pleased. I think it is better to make one group very happy, but others disagree, hence the debate.
    – dakini
    Jun 20, 2021 at 4:00

2 Answers 2

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I find the question very interesting, although I think it's a bit conceptual to analyze it only from the UX design point of view, I would lean more to a study of marketing or design.

I try to reel off the question to outline an answer.

Should we have two different design styles according to the user's taste?

(I allow myself to make a small change in the statement to organize the answer)

This is nothing new at all. In fact, in the statement made in the comment - I think it is better to make one group very happy, but others disagree -, it's not just a debate, it's the "eternal debate". In other words, this approach has several other variants exposed in other questions frequently:

  • Does the design have to respond faithfully to the user's requirements or should they adapt their taste to the new design?
  • Should design educate with new visual formulas or should it only be an interpreter of a social requirement?

In other words:

  • Do we design for the company or do we design for the user?

The painful answer is that there is no answer. It depends on many factors such as the magnitude of the design, the immediacy of the response, the type of user, the type of company and even the budget. Better explained in this answer.

At this point, more than an answer I would give advice: doing a functional analysis of how a design should work from a personal point of view is unsuccessful, it does not lead to any conclusion. You are right and so are your work colleagues.

Is it even relevant that surveyed users seem to prefer a colorful/busy design? Perhaps usability is higher in clean designs, regardless of what people think is more appealing.

Perhaps unconsciously at the moment of being asked, this question is conditioning a possible answer. More than a doubt, it's a statement that supports only one of the points of view. The real question should be, in my opinion:

  • Should usability be above the graphic design guidelines with respect to the cultural habit of the user?
  • Can a design omit the user cultural background?

Or, in depth:

  • Should functionality take precedence over aesthetics?

Well, the eternal debate once again, although in this case the balance leans to one side, I guess. In a design study, when the analysis of the emitter and the receiver is carried out, one of the key points is the cultural background of both, especially the one of the end user of the product, being something too important to ignore.

Should visual communication be tailored to the cultural baggage of the end user?

Finally the attempt to answer the question: it depends, mainly for all the points stated in the answer linked above. But, in order not to leave the ending open, I did a little analysis with two cases.

We all know IKEA: a large global European company, established internationally, with an important visual presence based on the philosophy of the product and with immediate accessibility to the end user, among other points. IKEA (apparently) doesn't need to adapt its design to different cultures, it's large enough so that its final products are interpretable in any culture. This is the Japanese site and this is the UK site where the same design appears with subtle differences.

Muji, being also a global company, Japanese in this case, DOES have a different design for each country or continent. I think the reason is the origin of MUJI design is Japanese, so perhaps they have seen that its design should be re-adapted to the European and American habit. This is the MUJI site in Japan, this is MUJI USA and this is MUJI UK. In my opinion, a very exaggerated example where practically the only thing in common is the company logo. Opening the links in different tabs shows that even the favicon is different. And of course de usability and design.

That is why in my comment I refer to a middle ground, neither one extreme nor the other.

In terms of design, what can be useful is the following procedure:

  1. The design of the app is already done as I understand it, adapted to a western audience.
  2. Forget the final app for a day and design drafts taking into account ONLY East Asian users
  3. Once this is done, check both designs

I'm sure an optimal final solution will come from here.

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1. Should we have two different design styles based on geography?

If it's within your possibilities, YES, absolutely. Many global companies do this, and it's pretty much one of the basics of Universal UX (and by extension, Inclusive UX Design)

2. Is it even relevant that surveyed users seem to prefer a colorful/busy design? Perhaps usability is higher in clean designs, regardless of what people think is more appealing.

Completely relevant. Cross-cultural differences should be accepted and embraced. They will only help you provide a better experience for your users.

As an example from the link above, look at the photo of China's stock markets where rising stocks are shown in red (which in Western countries would mean falling share prices). There are many ways your project can be successful or a complete failure, just depending on cross-cultural differences.

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  • "clean designs and white space enhance usability (ignoring aesthetics)" - could this statement be non-universal ? Could a busy design also enhance usability in many cases?
    – dakini
    Jun 20, 2021 at 4:06
  • Point taken about the colors though. We'll get a more colorful palette for South East Asia.
    – dakini
    Jun 20, 2021 at 4:12
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    To agree with Devin: you don't have to go to China. Standards, language and expectations vary with culture. France is 21 miles from the UK. But you still have to localize for it ( eg they don't use miles )
    – PhillipW
    Jun 21, 2021 at 12:10
  • @Yogesch , To answer your question about white space, yes, there are a lot of cultural nuances in the perception of white space. They should be measured accurately, of course, but the fact is that you will find many differences on this particular topic. Remember that cultural changes are constant and it wasn't long ago that western companies had very busy pages
    – Devin
    Jun 21, 2021 at 18:17
  • Agreed: as Devin says some of it is just fashion. And fashion changes over time.
    – PhillipW
    Jun 22, 2021 at 18:45

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