Design is one of the most important forces in our lives, sometimes so seeped into our lives that it is non-existent. The first design around us can be experienced in nature. The most common feature of the design is that they are responsive to the specific set of users designed. This basic feature allows us to use it time and again in our routine.
When we look throughout history, the most human-centric designs have stayed with us, whereas the ones which came up with just the need of providing solutions have fizzled out with time. For example, when Myspace was launched it created a lot of hype in the market with people flocking to use it, as it was the 1st social networking site on the market. But when Facebook was launched it overtook Myspace, the reason being it was easier for users to navigate through it in comparison with users hunting through information from multiple screens to perform a task. Facebook adapts as per its users or simply it is a human-centric design. Human-centered design refers to building deeper empathy with our users, finding the best possible way to help them reach their goals while making the process simple and enjoyable.
Putting this in perspective, for regions that are slowly growing their digital advancements, the need for user-centric digital solutions has gone up day by day. Specifically, the MENA region, where with government support on diversifying economies, they are slowly moving towards establishing a robust digital infrastructure that will support innovations and economic stability not dependent on just being the world powerhouse. According to a report, the region is likely to reach 150 million 5g subscriptions by the year 2026. At the rate at which the region is advancing digitally, the need for a good Arabic UI/UX design, which is specific to the regional users, is something that will give a much-needed push, benefitting users in the process. But why do we need to design an experience which is specific to the MENA region? We can surely follow the same design principles and methodology as are followed by the rest of the world. This is where we are placing the loophole, which might cause our design to fail.
Let’s further understand why we need to have a regional mindset while designing the UX/UI of a product based locally.
Since historic times, the Middle Eastern countries have acted as a bridge between Western and Asian countries, resulting in a rich cultural heritage. In today’s time, the region is moving towards development and global connectivity while being mindful of deep-seated traditions. The culture in the West is more open and outgoing, whereas even daily life in the Middle East is dominated by a variety of religions existing in the region. These factors need to be kept in mind while designing a product that we want to do well in the Middle East as well. For example, while designing a website, special care has to be taken on the imagery, colors, and language which will attract more users to enter the platform. The imagery should be respectful of the local culture. People in the Middle East prefer mellow, aesthetically pleasing graphics instead of loud noisy ones. In the end, any product should aim for loyal, paying customers.
The population in Arabic culture tends to be more family-oriented, with decisions often influenced by elders. Often, while using a new product, emotional aspects give more traction to a product than traditional aspects of functionality and usability. To be able to tap into the Middle East market, a product needs to fit into the expected mindset of achievement, be easy to use, understandable by all. For example, in a country that taught the world to drink coffee as we know it, Starbucks, being a US chain, made its footing here. This could only be achieved by making the product more local. The mindset of a middle eastern consumer has shifted to upscale affordable products, which traversed well into in-store experience, costing, and variety of products offered.
Arabic script varies from other languages as it is written from left to right. It is one of the topmost things which needs to be kept in mind while designing Arabic interfaces for the Middle East market. The simple solution of creating a mirror is not a solution to be relied upon completely. When users have difficulty understanding the language, it leads to user dissatisfaction. The headlines, labels, product descriptions, command buttons, and language play a huge role in determining user experience. Arabic tends to be more wonderful than English. Something which could be explained in only a few words in English might take 2-3 lines in Arabic. Digits are written left to write in Arabic, unlike letters. Arabic needs a bigger font than English. A report by the International Data Corporation (IDC) indicates the worldwide IoT market will reach a worth of $1.71 trillion by the end of 2020, of which $6.6 billion will come from the Middle East and Africa. If the technological advancement of the region is at such a fast pace, the companies need to adapt to the local culture to succeed.
When we look at the MENA region in general, the languages spoken vary from place to place. If taking only the Arabic language into account, spoken Arabic also varies in dialect according to the areas where the language is spoken. Everyday phrases which are completely normal in the West may turn the Arab population the wrong way. There is no single Arab culture. An Arab country’s common practice may be foreign to another’s. To make it easier for designers, the modern standard Arabic (MSA) dialect is used in digital space which is relatable to all. The designers will still need to get everything proofread by an Arabic-speaking person, to ensure that the true sense of the design is achieved by the consumers.
According to a report, 98.99% of people in the Middle East use social media platforms. Despite such a huge population being online, digital advancements in terms of banking, online shopping, and digital healthcare remain towards the lower end. This can also be attributed to the fact due to variance in socio-economic strata in the middle eastern population. People are comfortable with social media, but other spots put them in a fix. This can be attributed to the slower growth of these sectors digitally in the region as well as a lack of trust in people doing it digitally. As UX/UI designers what we should keep in mind is that our design is easy to understand and use by the users. The need is to develop trust through our design, whether it’s by using the right experience, next steps to be taken, visual elements, or the end goal.
While designing for the Arab users of the Arab world, we always need to keep in mind that the principles applied will vary from the rest of the world. At the end of every product, the users are going to be real and not just some statistics which need to be ticked off a checklist. The first interaction with the product and its visual appearance is what predominates the success of the design. The next step is how easily and quickly the user can reach its target goals. Every interaction a user has with the product, should essentially communicate with the users and gently guide them towards the next step. While designing something, as UI/UX designers, we should always keep in mind the usability of every button and action. For example, when designing for the West, usually people do not have very long names, which will fit into normal size name fields; but when designing for Arabs, usually their names are long. The name field needs to be big enough for real users to be able to fit their names in. These small things might feel irrelevant at the start, but it does differentiate between okay and awesome products.
With Middle Eastern markets opening themselves to new avenues of business, both regional and international, the one major element they need to succeed is the right story – how do you position yourself in the market? The story their service makes (or the recall value) in the minds of consumers relies heavily on the targeted user experience for regional users. Cultures as they are, ever-evolving with the physical world, we need to understand and research the user to provide a holistic experience of the product. The above points, when kept in mind while designing the UI/UX of a product, will not only create an experience for domestic users but also make the world more aware of what they need to take in terms of learning. With Lollypop creating a niche in the markets of the world and having worked with big players from both Arab countries and the world, we understand the gap and are ever emerging to make experiences worth remembering.
In conclusion, the onus of business success of technology in the Middle East lies in its UI/UX design, which will not only give users a personalized feeling but also be quick and convenient for them to use.