[ 5] Chavan, A. L. and D.
Gorney. “The Dilemma
of the Shared Mobile
Phone —Culture Strain
and Product Design in
interactions 15, no. 4
[ 6] Bhan, N. “The World
Enters the Indian
Market.” Case study.
[ 7]Coleman, G.
in Emerging Markets.”
inform designers about the
• How will the product or service help people improve their
productivity and lifestyle?
• Will it answer health-related
issues or even be considered
• Will its content, function, or
design run into cultural norms
that will impede its adoption?
Designers need to adopt an
entirely different mind-set about
their target market. Only that
way can they develop products
that are truly resonant with the
market—successful over the
long term and genuinely enriching to customers’ lives and to
society as a whole.
That kind of research is a
nontrivial undertaking. Design
teams need to observe both
distinct cultural practices and
subtle nuances. They may need
to delve into a country’s history,
religious beliefs, climate, geography, languages, aesthetics and,
sometimes, its popular culture.
Standard economic measurements like expected growth rate
are certainly useful in evaluating an emerging market, but
the history of emerging-market
design is littered with the
wrecks of product launches that
foundered on subtle nuances like
speech protocols or the ways
dining implements are used [ 5].
Each question that designers,
marketers, and corporate anthropologists ask—or don’t ask or
ask in the wrong way—may have
multimillion-dollar consequences. When it comes to emerging-market product launches, the
devil is often in the details.
global strategy, the Whirlpool
Corporation designed a single,
stripped-down washing-machine platform for emerging
markets. Dubbed the “World
Washer,” it was launched in
Brazil, Mexico, China, and India,
with slight feature design and
styling modifications for each
market to reflect local tastes.
Exterior accents were added
for China, for instance, where
washing machines sit right
in the living room and are
something of a status symbol.
“Delicate” was relabeled “Sari
Cycle” on the Indian model.
The washing machine ended
up doing very well for the company—everywhere but India.
Sales in South India were notably abysmal.
With tens of millions of
dollars at risk, Whirlpool dispatched a team to the subcontinent to find out what
went wrong. They finally realized what was going into the
Indian clothing such as lungis,
dupattas, mundus, angavestrams…
and, of course, saris. Little more
than sheets of very fine cotton or silk, six to nine yards
long, the garments were getting
caught, entangled, and shredded in the millimeter-wide gap
between the machine’s agitator
That single millimeter forced
Whirlpool to completely restructure its business model and
abandon its joint venture, in
addition to designing a new
washing machine for India.
It took the company years to
recoup its losses and regain
significant market share in the
subcontinent [ 6].
Because its designers did not
broadly, deeply, and fundamen-
tally understand specific target
markets, the World Washer
failed to live up to its name. The
basic mistake Whirlpool made—
in a variant of not understanding its target market—was to
assume that needs are the same
across emerging markets.
The World Washer had been
given a single, generalized,
emerging-market reference point
by designers with limited understanding and direct experience
of the customs and modes of
dress in South India. They did
not ask the right questions of
target users—if they talked to
them at all. So critical details,
like the thickness and dimensions of the clothes that would
be washed, went unnoticed.
Cautionary tales like
Whirlpool’s have prompted an
increasing number of multinationals to “get a clue” and leverage local expertise to develop
contextually appropriate products. In a 2006 Deloitte study,
40 percent of the executives of
companies competing in emerging markets said their products were designed locally [ 7].
Unilever alone has established a
network of more than 68 “
innovation centers” in 20 countries.
January + February 2009
[ 8] Rama Bijakpur, R.
in Prasso, S. “Lessons
For the Indian Market:
Legions of big-name
companies have failed
in India. Here’s how to
avoid joining them.”
Entrepreneur. April-May, 2008. <http://
The Fallacy of
the Global Platform
As part of an aggressive
the Deluxe Diapers
While navigating the Scylla and
Charybdis of design for more
than one developing economy,
designers also need to remember
that segments within markets
differ. Rama Bijapurkar, author
of Winning in the Indian Market,
has said that there are many
Indias. “[What] confounds people
about India is that everything
you say about it, the opposite
is also true. There are five-star
hotels and abject poverty [ 8].”