02 Feb 2023 Frank Spillers


Why you need a ‘Red Envelope’ localization UX strategy

Why you need a ‘Red Envelope’ localization UX strategy

From cultural practice to interface metaphor

Cross-cultural design or Localization UX Design requires an understanding of local norms and behaviors you can leverage in your design. The Red Envelope is an example of a UI (user interface) metaphor example for China. Finding your equivalent is the focus of this upcoming Miniclass on Cross-Cultural design.

The Lunar New Year, celebrated throughout Asia, aka Chinese New Year is always a good reminder of cross-cultural design. Chinese exchange red envelopes or ‘hongbao’ with money for good luck. It exists digitally as well: the most popular app in China, WeChat, attributed its rapid growth and user adoption to the use of the red envelope metaphor (a virtual red envelope acts as the confirmation of money sent/received).

wechat app red envelope

Image: Apimages

WeChat’s red envelope is a very real example of cultural fit, and a reminder of why so many American companies have failed to compete against local solutions in China and India, the two largest populations in the world.

Localization UX strategy

If your main focus for localizing products or services is translation, you’re missing half the opportunity. Sadly, localization vendors offer little to no expertise on this subject. Worse, they overfocus on “translation is the primary challenge”. It’s not.  The closest localization vendors get is to provide transcreation which localizes phrases and wording to amplify their cultural meaning. Transcreation is essential but does not help UX strategy.

UX strategy for global markets needs cultural sensitivity

According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion adults in the world are unbanked or underbanked, and the majority are women. How would you design for this localization opportunity?

First, you would need global user research, or user studies in the various locales your product or service will enter. These Ethnographic Interviews will illustrate cultural norms and behaviors and would help you understand if mobile, blockchain, physical banks, Internet banking etc are even practical. Your global user research would give you a grounding and appreciation for the lived experience, histories, context, and practical needs of these user groups: from cities to the countryside. Next, you would prototype solutions, involving users in those decisions using Participatory Design techniques (where you bring users in and help them steer your thinking).  Finally, global user testing, in the target locales of use is essential. Once the UX strategy has been de-risked, you can proceed with development and translation/transcreation.

If your “localization” strategy is to throw Machine Learning (ML) at this problem, your risks are heightened. Bottom line: things that feel local, work locally.

Learn more at this short Miniclass on how to tackle UX design for cross-cultural audiences…

About the Author

headshot of frank spillers

Frank Spillers

Founder - UX Inner Circle

Frank Spillers, MS, founded the UX Inner Circle to share his knowledge and skills with his students from the Interaction Design Foundation where he has provided select trainings for the past 8 years. He leads UX and Service Design consulting at Experience Dynamics, an award-winning consultancy. He works with the world’s leading brands to deliver cutting-edge strategy for products, services, and experiences. Starting out in the mid-’90s in social VR, Frank has consulted on 600 UX projects including enterprise web applications, nonprofits, government and more. He’s an Inclusive Design evangelist, and expert in Accessibility, Emotion Design, VR/AR, Cross-cultural Design and UX Management. Frank brings 25 years of experience as a Sr. UX Director and Service Design leader. He has lifted conversion rates by 88% and enhanced revenue by 300% for firms like Nike, Intel, Microsoft, the City of New York, Global Disability Rights Now!, Four Seasons, Capital One, the World Bank, Women Enabled International, and many more.

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