top of page

International UX: how to make your product make sense worldwide

Designing a one-size-fits-all product experience does not fit global consumption. Users in different countries have a different brand perception of your product; they have different performance expectations fitting different market gaps and needs that often require a repositioning of your value proposition. Your design logic for US UX may not apply for non-US UX.

It is, therefore, necessary to experiment upfront international usability tests on early-phase product prototype in your priority markets to learn about the local brand bond perception, the local value prop wants, and the expected usability. Some simple UI adjustments can significantly lift your success metrics.

Here are a few examples of product geo-customizations and considerations that impact product performance for global adoption:

  1. Data-collection: select vs type

In the US we are used to typing in text to enter our input in online fields—from query entries in search bars, to online forms in signup and profile pages. However, across Asia, users are used to selecting pre-populated entries in text fields and in typeahead. This is partly because in mobile-first countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, users primarily interface on mobile devices, and selecting text, rather than typing it in, is a friendlier thumb-tapping experience. But there’s also a cultural factor at play here. In Asia people expect to be guided into action. Users in Japan, for example, would be in their comfort zone selecting from a pre-filled list, as it confirms they’re on track taking the expected action. However, they would be less inclined to take a proactive action, like typing in their own input text. This could result in a lost new signup, in low profile completion score, or in high abandonment rate in a search query flow.

  1. Guided search: recommended vs open-ended

When Airbnb ran upfront UX research in international markets, they discovered an interesting pattern unique to users in Asia. Rather than entering their desired destination in the central search bar on Home Page, lots got “lost in the neighborhoods.” They clicked through the compelling location images below the bar, and never surfaced back to take the one action designed for this page—book their vacation home. “Guided search” significantly increased bookings in the region. The geo-customized experience was to display compelling images of “three top destinations most traveled to from Japan,” and enable booking directly from these entry point tabs at the top of the page. The open search bar for user input was simplified and made smaller. This is what Airbnb’s Home Page experience looks like for users in Japan (by IP):

In comparison, the prominent search bar is still top of page for users in the US:

3. Optimized onboarding flows for international signups

Small UI changes can trigger big impact on success metrics for international growth. For example, when Facebook initially launched Hindi, it did not hit the expected growth rate. But when they tested these two UI adjustments for mobile Registration page in India, the impact was a four fold lift in incremental new signups within a year:

  • Changed “preferred language” display order from this default setting: 1. en_US, 2. en-UK, 3. Bengali (alphabetic order) to this geo-customized logic: 1. en_US (aspirational in country), 2. Hindi (most promient), 3. primary Indic language based on user geo location (by IP address).

  • Changed terminology in signup fields from US convention (“First name”/“Last name”/”Birth date”) to local convention (“First name”/“Surname”/”Date of Birth”).

Other examples for enhancement treatments designed to maximize international signups:

  • Location picker: suppressing zipcode field in geos where zipcodes are not commonly used, and replacing them with the relevant granularity funnel, eg: country/province/city selector (in China); City/District/neighborhood (in Japan); or Emirate/City (in UAE and Saudi).

  • Title typeahead: enabling multilingual standardized and indexed job titles for user selection.

4. “How-to” tooltip: explicit vs implicit

In the US we’re used to an implicit UI experience, but that is not the expected behavior worldwide. For example, German users like to get the “how to” drill once, (say during onboarding welcome mat), then be given the freedom to drive their own actions. Japanese/Korean users expect detailed “step-by-step” instructions and appreciate an ongoing guided product experience. For this segment, a tooltip (on hover-over) or an instructions side bar can be turned on (and left on) for existing members on key action pages. In China, users will be more likely to take an action if they understand its purpose. This is where a tooltip like this can come in handy for profile completion score: “By filling in this data field [your full name, job title, industry, seniority, skills] you are 30% more likely to be discovered in search for a professional opportunity.”

5. Copy treatment: the power of words

Product performance goal is to delight users to take actions, to engage with the features for their value gain. The right word choice plays a key part in this equation, positioning the right message to triggers interaction. In international experiments of different copy treatments in warm signup funnels (member-to-member and member-to-guest), “invite to connect” outperformed “add me to your network” for users in Indonesia, where a purposeful personal invite intent resonates with the hardcoded local culture.

6. Gamification and visual delight

It’s one thing for new users to sign up, but quite another for them to show up and engage with your products. To that end, you’ll need to create brand bond: an emotional connection that builds product trust. What defines brand bond and product trust varies in different cultures and countries. In Germany that translates into a more formal voice and tone and into a clean, simple, minimalistic layout look. In Asian countries, however, users expect a more noisy and playful interaction. Use of emoji, rewards, and visual digests are part of the delight in product experience and the foundation for brand bond.

What were your upfront international UX experiments and how did these insights impact your product performance for worldwide users?

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page