Before I became a UX designer at Rocksauce Studios, I literally lived and worked all over the world. I was born in Singapore, but I moved to Beijing, China when I was two. I was there for about 15 years, but then I moved to Savannah, GA to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design. Although I’ve spent most of my time since then living and working in the United States, I spent two of those years working in Singapore.
If you want to run a successful company, you’re probably going to have to deal with clients and customers from other countries. Business is global and while learning how to work on such a large stage can be bumpy, it’s not as difficult as you probably think it is!
During my two post-college years in Singapore, I got a job at Estee Lauder under the Clinique side, where I was their only 3D design person (my background and education is in product design). If you asked me to break it down, I’d say I was doing 90% 3D design and 10% graphic work. Singapore was the pacific design hub, which meant that we oversaw the company’s work everywhere except the United States! That’s a lot of work!
I was put in charge of making all of the display merchandising units for Russia, Japan, China, Australia and Korea. Naturally, each of those countries has its own native language and they each read and write differently. This meant that I had to learn to deal directly with these various languages and how to present them properly in my designs. Kerning text is design 101, but have you ever had to kern Korean letters? I speak Chinese, but not Korean, so I had to learn!
I had to go back and forth between the different countries and their heads and their designers to figure out the best way to do something. It was a trial by fire, a crash course in figuring out what would resonate in a culture that was not my own. Naturally, what was acceptable in one culture would seem completely wrong in another!
Case in point: there used to be a small thing that really irked my American boss (the only American in the entire Singaporean department). One of our Japanese clients would physically mark his work with bold red pens and, well, he did not take that well at all! Many Americans view red ink on their work as condescending and “teacher-y,” but this is common in Japan! Since I was one of his few employees who spoke as much English as him, it became my job to assure him things were fine an defuse any potential culture clashes before they happened.
Honestly, you are going to encounter culture differences like this if you pursue work on the international stage and there is no real way to prepare yourself: it’s going to be a trial by fire. You make mistakes and you learn and you go forward. You dealt with it. A meeting with a Russian designer or businessman may feel more aggressive than a meeting with an American, but from that Russian’s perspective, they’re being just as polite as you (not to stereotype, but trust me…I worked with tons of Russians!). Although many westerners think of many Asian countries as being interchangeable (boo!), my family experienced a bigger culture clash when we moved to China than when they visited me in the United States. You may think two cultures are similar, but trust me: they’re not. Either you’ve got to have that trial by fire or you have to hire someone who has already gone through it!