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Integrating Cultural Uniqueness in a Global Product

April 12, 2022

Rachel Carruthers shares insights on working with high velocity / high growth companies and how localization influenced Canva’s product development

When entering the global arena, one key thing to remember is this: you need to adapt to certain cultural nuances. When you go global, you need to go glocal. Rachel Carruthers and her localization team helps develop Canva for local cultures where their product is currently present in. During our call, she shared interesting insights on working with high velocity and high growth companies, and how localization influenced product development in Canva.

Exploring the Road to Different Cultures

Rachel started her career as a paralegal. Back in 2010, she was invited to explore a Project Management position by a localization agency in California. Having taken language studies for her undergrad, the agency thought she’d fit the role. Like most of us, she had little idea what localization was, yet a little research on localization sparked her interest in taking this role. Several years later, she decided to take her Master’s in Digital Media Practice in Sydney, Australia and eventually sought employment at a digital agency.  During this time , Canva was expanding their team and reached out to Rachel to spearhead their localization program.

From 100 to 2600

Rachel joined Canva back in 2017 and at that time, she was the 110th  employee who joined the company. Fast forward to today, Canva has exponentially expanded to 2600 employees worldwide. Being able to witness and experience the company’s hyper growth is an enriching and unique experience to Rachel. She recalls the numerous challenges she faced during the time when the company is growing in APAC and Australia. One of which is the lack of peer products or similar start-ups within the region. Thankfully, the tech industry within the region has grown for the past 5 to 10 years. Rachel describes the current startup scene in Sydney to be almost similar to that of Silicon Valley where one can feel the growth of startups because of the presence of several venture capitalist firms within the city.

Building Relationships in a Hypergrowth Setting

In such a high velocity hypergrowth company, Rachel’s advice to first time managers is: 

“Build trust with the people that you mentor. At the really early stage of a startup, this could be really difficult to do when everyone is usually wearing so many hats. On the other hand, building trust creates stronger relationships that really help down the line.” 

Intimacy and familiarity helps develop a better work environment. It helps teams to communicate easily, to become more productive and most of all, to become more agile. Along the way, Rachel learned how her team likes to work and what their motivations are. Knowing and understanding employees’ needs as individuals is how managers invest and build relationships with the people they coach or manage.

Leading with Humanity and Empathy

Bearing in mind cultural relevance and localization, Rachel shared some simple practices to   support different people to become elevated versions of themselves. She encourages people to get as many face-to-face meetings as they possibly can. These in-person interactions add more humanity in the way we work today, especially with people across the world living in different time zones. These interactions give people awareness of everybody’s living situation. This makes people mindful before dropping a Slack message in the middle of the night. It respects other people’s time off from work, wherever and whenever; not giving them a reason to respond goes a long way.

Leading with empathy is the best advice Rachel has ever gotten in the last few years into her career and still puts into practice until today. She believes that it empowers teams to do almost anything. Moreover, it paves the way for a fruitful and trusting relationship which allows people to deliver the best of their lives.

Colours and cultural interpretation

Localizing a product is more than adapting text and graphics from one language to another; it is about understanding the uniqueness of the culture of the market and integrating this element within the product. Rachel highlights some of the cultural uniqueness her team has learned and how they influence Canva’s product development and strategy.

“First, we learned that different people have cultural biases and we need to put these biases aside when designing for different cultures. Colors, for example, influence style and color palettes in a certain way. The color red is often associated with anger or passion but in some cultures, it can mean good luck. We have to understand how different cultures associate with different elements in order to come up with designs that appeals for that market.”

They also learned how different people around the world use the exact same product. Different people have different goals when designing; there are some markets where people use Canva to create content for social media while there are markets who use it for more than that.

“Some markets are designing content more for Instagram while others share more designs via Whatsapp, sending it to their family andin friends. In Japan, printing business cards is still a thing and the tradition of giving New Year’s Eve cards is still very much alive. People should be able to identify their own culture through the lens of your product.”

Curiosity is key to localisation success

Since localization roles are hard to come by, there are a few misconceptions about this line of work. When asked about her role in localization, the first question that people ask is:

“Oh, so you must speak a lot of languages?”, I get this question 99 percent of the time.”

Rachel assures that you don’t have to be a linguist to do this kind of work. To succeed in  a role in Localization, it requires  an interest in different cultures and languages and to be curious about it.

Final Thoughts

Understanding cultural uniqueness and how you include this element into product development and strategy is pivotal for global products in order to adapt it to the local market. As a leader, Rachel inculcates localization in her team with the aid of values such as empathy and humanity.

  • What concrete steps could you take to build trust and create stronger relationships across your team?
  • How might you help your reports recognise the significance of face-to-face interactions?
  • What cultural biases do I currently hold?

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