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Designing the right user experience for the Middle Eastern customer

Designing the right user experience for the Middle Eastern customer

No business can afford to ignore the traditional and cultural values of the customer and region, says Clinton O’leary, of Yvolv

By Clinton O’leary, Chief Commercial Officer of Yvolv

Have you ever rushed to the app store to download an app that you’ve heard so much about, only to be put off by a horrible design or a complicated interface?

Consumer behaviour has been drastically evolving over the past couple of decades, and part of that evolution is their demand for a better experience.

This much-demanded experience takes many forms, both physical and digital. Customers nowadays demand a certain level of treatment from their suppliers, be it how the cashier greets them at the store, or the color palette of their favorite app.

In recent years, websites and web applications have undergone significant changes and have experienced a fundamental shift in their assessment of user-product interactions. Emotional aspects are becoming more important than traditional aspects such as mere usability and functionality. How and what is the user experiencing with the product? A once one-way static medium has evolved and advanced into a very rich and interactive experience.

Design professionals use the phrase User Experience Design to describe certain user-centered design methods, design mentality, standard tools, and techniques used to produce desired effects in a person or persona.

Websites have transformed from looking like a simple with the products elementarily placed, to having a user-centric design and being much more accessible.

The number of web users has increased globally to roughly 3.4 billion users. The increase in access to the internet via various devices like mobiles, tablets, laptops, desktops, TVs and even gaming consoles along with additional browser options and various internet connection types has resulted in this surge of accessibility.

Products are no longer restricted by glass showcases and are roaming freely between devices and can be bought and accessed from virtually anywhere. This mass availability of products makes it difficult for brands to attract loyal consumers, and this is where user experience comes into play.

A study conducted by IEEE gives a better understanding of the criticality of user experience design and on why software fails. The result shows that organisations spend almost $1 trillion on Information Technology (IT).

15% of these IT projects are estimated to be abandoned or failed because of poor user experience. Failure of these projects is avoidable. Some of the reasons why software fails are: Unrealistic project goals, inaccurate assessment of needed resources, poor reporting tools, unmanaged risks, commercial pressures, and use of immature technology.

Focusing on user experience by way of stakeholder interviews, user research, user-centered design, and experience design can help resolve some of these issues.

Building a great user experience requires research and planning to determine what the customer needs, where each element should go, and what the design should convey. It is also extremely important to take different demographics into consideration, localising the experience and tailoring the content to specific audiences is key to success.

Language has always been the backbone of every culture and so it is the lifeline for communication on any interface. Difficulty in understanding the content affects the usability of the interface. Arabic is the pre-dominant language spoken. Below are the important aspects to be considered while designing the user experience for the Middle Eastern customer:

Translation can affect usability

Languages spoken in the Middle East tend to be wordier than the English language. A direct translation would affect the usability. Words used should not only be precise but also free from any linguistic disparity.

Cultural values

No business can afford to ignore the traditional and cultural values of the customer and region. To deliver a great user experience, the local culture needs to be understood first. For example, the Arab culture is traditionally conservative. A direct translation of common words or phrases from English is not a good option as they might be considered offensive. The design should be sensitive to the behaviour of target users, and behaviour of the general population should not be the only driver behind user research.

Formal or local

There is no single Middle Eastern culture. Different regions have different customs and unique habits. What works for one, doesn’t work for another. The easiest solution is to use the standard language taught in that region. For example, Saudi Arabia teaches Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in most schools.

Multilingual features

Based on the needs and objectives of businesses and users, providing multilingual functionality plays a major role in the usability of a website or application. It not only reflects a sense of out-reach to the customer but also increases the size of the target market.

Visual design

The visual design for Arabic interfaces is challenging due to the right-to-Left layout.

Correct images

Using appropriate images for the website or application that represents the targeted user, increases usability and user experience. It reflects the service/goods provider’s acknowledgement of the target market’s characteristics. For a global brand, this aspect shows awareness and sensitivity to the target market.


It plays a significant role in the usability of any interface. For example, Arab characters are wider and shorter than Latin characters, which means they require more space when written. As a standard practice, Arabic fonts are four points larger than English fonts.

Users and their experience are the two primary benchmarks of user experience. As the benefits of user experience are becoming more clear and evident, the way businesses cater to their customers’ needs are changing. Organisations with highly effective UX have witnessed a 37% increase in their revenue.

We have seen examples of users who have stopped using an application because of its poor performance and problems in its functionality or design. Meanwhile, market studies have shown that users will always pay extra for a better customer experience.

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