How good design can be an accelerator of the Middle East economy?

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Introduction

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, businesses need to differentiate their products more than ever before. Design proves to be an able yardstick; more often than not, customers perceive well-designed products as more functional and useful than others. As digitization in the Middle East gathers pace, successful companies must incorporate design in all aspects of their business in order to achieve a competitive edge and maintain their dominance.

Understanding the Middle East

To understand the business value of good design in the Middle East, let’s understand the region itself first. The Middle East is often classified into two economic groups. The first group consists of the six countries in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), namely - Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi, Oman, UAE while the second group encompasses a broader MENA region which includes Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern parts of Africa like Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.

The variation in the GDP per capita of the richest countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia compared to the GDP per capita of the poorest countries is a staggering 100-120%, almost synchronous with the GDP differential between rich and poor countries in the European Union. That said, the disruptive and volatile economic growth observed over the past two decades has transformed traditional user behaviour in the Middle East; the company leadership must have a granular growth strategy to target individual markets and acquire customers in the region.

Needless to say, the region is geographically, economically, linguistically, ethnically, socially, and digitally is very different from other developed markets. To grab market share and win users, companies have to define and develop unique strategies for the Middle East. Simply plugging in technologies and capabilities that have worked a different part of the World into the Middle East will prove to be futile.

Changing User Behaviour in the Middle East

Many economic and political factors have had a massive impact on consumer behaviour in the region. Moreover, the outbreak of the pandemic has also led to a monumental shift in the way people consume products and services in the region, especially in the domain of eCommerce & digital payments. In addition to the widespread health crisis, the virtual lockdown has disrupted the normal way of life for many locals.

This period of adversity has also led to the creation of formidable opportunities amid pandemic. While digital transformation in the region was on a steady rise, Covid-19 brought about two years’ worth of change in two months. The adoption of new technologies among the working-from-home population increased almost three-fold while brands innovated profusely to capture a larger market share. There has been a radical change in the user patterns observed in various sectors of the region and each is often observed to be pretty distinctive compared to its neighbouring countries. For example, the market behaviour observed in Saudi for e-commerce and digital payments could be entirely different as observed in Oman and the UAE.

Factors favouring the Middle East digital economy

In the midst of various whirlwind movements in the economy, two sectors within the Middle East have received considerable attention and acceptance by the consumers; one is e-commerce and the other is digital payments. Increased adoption in these domains has had a ripple effect on other sectors like F&B, Healthcare, SCM, among many others. Ease of payments complemented with social distancing to uphold safety measures and a growing sense of trust and security in performing digital transactions have propelled a massive wave of acceptance, usage, and growth in these sectors. In order to capitalize on this, it is important to ideate and execute a good design strategy across all the products and services in the portfolio. Over the years, businesses like Apple, Microsoft, Google have realized tangible positive results of good design.

The Middle East is a market of experienced digital users and the design for Arab companies has to be in line with these tech-savvy consumers. Irrespective of the sector and legacy competencies, most businesses in the Middle East have realized an immediate need to go digital to make their products and services more accessible to their customers. Even businesses that have traditionally been associated with brick-and-mortar storefronts and in-person sales have to adopt a hybrid strategy to appeal to the next generation of digital natives. The pandemic has accelerated the usage of e-commerce and digital payments in the region and hence all businesses from SMEs to the multinationals have now considered user experience design services and a key inclusion in their digital transformation strategy.

SMEs across sectors like F&B, SCM, real estate, and hospitality that have experienced the largest dip in the region and are still struggling to sustain operations in the midst of the pandemic, have now realized the growing importance of a solid digital strategy driven by good design in order to serve customers facing mobility restrictions in the COVID-19 crisis. The screen is the most accessible customer touchpoint, storefront, and point of sale across industries, businesses have to bridge the digital divide to stay relevant.

The business value of good design

A good design is like the atmosphere, you don’t notice it until something’s out of place. The present-day utility and relevance of design cannot be understated. A good user experience design helps companies cut down development and maintenance costs, increase conversion rates, reduce drop rates, and aid innovation at scale. Ultimately, if the user adoption and retention rates spike, the company can look forward to an increase in revenues and shareholder returns, brand awareness and loyalty, customer satisfaction, and engagement. The opposite is also true; the bad design is the first obstacle in the path of conversion. In addition, bad word of mouth can do exponential damage to a company and their future sales projections, hence, the bad design could prove to be detrimental to the long-term prospects of the company.

Finding the right design partner

Now, deciding the right design engagement can be a taxing measure and often, an incorrect one, if not discussed with a design strategy expert. Most c-suite executives of companies or leaders of crucial business function struggle at this crucial juncture. This is where we at Lollypop can help you make an informed decision. We are a globally acclaimed design studio possessing the design expertise and end-to-end delivery capabilities that can help you set a roadmap for your digital transformation. Our services are tailored to your expectations and our design process ensures a well-measured mapping of your expectations and the delivered experience.

Conclusion

Functional design is the need of the hour. Most business leaders fail to see the value in design beyond that of a refreshed look or exaggerated fonts, but the debate is not about “design” vs. “business”. It’s largely about - what can design can do to ensure sustainable, consistent, and accelerated growth. Design is no longer about how a product looks but rather, it’s about how it works. Design thinking, when integrated at multiple levels of product ideation and implementation thought-process, can do wonders. Globally, the top-performing companies with a consistent increase in revenues have integrated design across all their business units. In order to revive economies, all sectors in the Middle East need to embrace this rapid transition to digital across their products and services by adopting industry-leading design best practices. Businesses in the region must take prompt advantage of the developed consumer patterns and behaviours towards digital adoption inspired by factors like immobility, increased public health & safety measures exercised during the phase of the pandemic, we never know when the opportunity passes us by.

To know in detail how UI and UX Design has become the core value proposition for many digital products, you could check out our blog - Growing Importance of UI UX Design in the Middle East region

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