Local Flavours, Global Designs

Periodically, we encounter instances where successful products do not achieve the desired success while entering new markets or demographics. McDonald’s, a global expansion leader, shares half the market in China compared to KFC. The reason? McDonald’s failed to adapt to the local Chinese market, where burgers were unfamiliar, but fried chicken was welcomed since fried chicken or other meats are more aligned with Chinese taste preferences compared to hamburgers.

Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign customised cans and bottles with the top 150 popular names in each native country to entice new customers. While broadly successful, the campaign stumbled in Israel, where cultural identities and names are deeply significant. Coca-Cola faced backlash for not including any Arabic names among the popular Israeli ones. 

These product failures share a common theme: a lack of adoption of the local culture. Industrial designers strive to create physical products that boost sales, enhance margins, expand market share, increase brand value, and improve returns on investment. These products are launched across diverse locations and demographics, necessitating a deep understanding of local culture, language, tradition, and audience. 

By considering cultural variations, industrial designers can craft products that are not only functional but also culturally suitable, potentially resulting in increased adoption, sales, and brand loyalty. Designing products with cultural sensitivity and inclusivity can promote greater understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures.

A straightforward way to observe the influence of culture on design is to examine basic items like notebooks and stationery across various regions worldwide. Most languages are written left to right, and Arabic is written right to left, altering the design of pages and notebooks used in the Middle East. Another significant market, Japan, uses a top-to-bottom writing system. Considering such cultural distinctions during product design enhances the product’s financial and social performance. 

The evolution of industrial design is profoundly shaped by culture, as product designers must account for cultural values, beliefs, and preferences when developing products. Cultural differences can impact product design regarding aesthetics, materials and functionality. A product suitable for one culture may not resonate with another in the same context, depending on local tastes, customs, and lifestyles. Designers must acknowledge these cultural variations and adapt their designs accordingly to ensure their products remain relevant and appealing across different cultural contexts. 

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