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Indian and MENA markets: how good product design can help

Neglecting a user-centric product design can lead to devastating consequences for your brand. 

8 March, 2024
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There has been a substantial rise of tech startups recently in both Indian and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) regions, offering all kinds of digital products. 

What do they all have in common? 

A growing realization is that, in order to reach broader markets and establish themselves on par with their Western counterparts (and even better), they must pay attention to good product design. 

The challenge of designing for a diverse user base with varying levels of tech literacy and internet access.

That, and, of course, evolving customer demands and the pursuit of digital innovations, being the usual reasons all startups start to focus on UI/UX design to enhance their customer experience​​.

Neglecting a user-centric product design can lead to devastating consequences, including developing products that cannot meet customer needs and, eventually, fail in the market completely. 

If you have a startup looking for ways to thrive in the Middle East market and beyond, we’d like to have a talk. 

A talk about design.

Want your product to attract, engage, and keep customers?

Merge is here to help.

Learn more

Middle East startup boom

The whole startup ecosystem in the Middle East has shown significant growth and development over the past couple of years. A range of startups across various sectors has demonstrated exceptional innovation and attracted substantial investment. 

In 2023, several startups in the MENA region have emerged as key players. The top 50 most-funded startups in the MENA region have collectively raised nearly $3 billion in total funding, highlighting the substantial investor confidence in the region's innovation potential. 

Notable examples include Postpay, a buy now, pay later platform with $63.5 million in total funding, and MaxAB, a B2B e-commerce platform that has raised $62.5 million.

Indian Startup Ecosystem has also seen huge growth over the past few years -  a 15x increase in the total funding of startups, a 9x increase in the number of investors, and a 7x increase in the number of incubators.

The addition of over 16,000 new tech companies in 2020 and a total funding of $8.4 billion in 2023 showcased investors' confidence despite funding challenges. Key sectors driving this growth include retail, fintech, and deep tech. Bengaluru, Delhi-NCR, and Mumbai are now the top cities for startups. India also welcomed its 100th unicorn in 2022.


The case of bad UX

A so-called “bad UX” nowadays has a few common themes, such as a lack of user-centered design, prioritizing functionality over ease of use, budget constraints leading to insufficient investment in UX/UI design, and sometimes a lack of awareness about the importance of good UX practices.

For example, this thread discusses various reasons for the perceived poor UX in many Indian websites and apps, highlighting issues such as a lack of tech culture in banks, the mentality of "just make something and ship it," and the reluctance of government and some private sectors to properly invest in UX/UI design. 

Most common design problems in Indian and MENA tech markets
Most common design problems in Indian and MENA tech markets

Numerous experiences with poor UX across various digital services, including banking and government apps, highlight issues like transaction failures, security concerns, and inefficient customer support. There's also a critique of the development and design approach, reliance on outdated technology, and a culture that undervalues design.

We have analyzed many issues customers have with poorly designed websites and applications in the region, and here’s what we found.

Our key points include a lack of focus on UX design as a priority, the mentality of deploying functional products without fine-tuning their user experience, and constraints in hiring or retaining specialized UX/UI design talent. There are systemic issues like the reliance on outdated technology and the bureaucratic mindset affecting digital initiatives. 


  • Poor design and usability. Users find many apps and websites, including those of banks, government services, and airlines, to be poorly designed and hard to navigate. There’s a tendency to prioritize cost-saving over user experience.
  • Outdated elements. An obsession with outdated HTML elements contributes to a cluttered and dated appearance. For example, <marquee> tags.
  • Overloaded apps. The "do-it-all" apps are criticized for trying to incorporate too many features, leading to a cluttered user experience.
  • Technical issues. Some users report specific technical frustrations, such as IRCTC's insistence on captchas for fingerprint unlock, and the difficulty of conducting basic tasks due to bad UX design.
  • Accessibility issues. Some highlighted challenges of updating a photo on a government website due to restrictive design choices.

Want your product to attract, engage, and keep customers?

Merge is here to help.

Learn more

Reasons for poor UX:

  • Lack of technical talent retention. Banks and other institutions struggle to retain top tech talent, as the work environment is not as appealing as in leading tech companies.
  • Budget constraints. Government companies are unwilling to allocate sufficient budgets for good UI/UX design.
  • Outdated technology stack. Some users point to the outdated tech stacks and the reluctance to update due to the risks involved. There’s also a misconception that good UX requires heavy resources.
  • Minimal incentive for improvement. There is little motivation to improve UX because many apps and services have a monopoly or face little competition.
  • Design undervalued. A common theme is the lack of value placed on good design, with companies preferring to allocate minimal resources to UX/UI.

There are many commendable apps and websites that have good UX in the Middle Eastern market, such as Swiggy, Zomato, PhonePe, CRED, etc. They don’t get enough credit. However, we’re here to pinpoint the issue of bad design and how to mitigate it. 

Let’s now focus on why design matters in the first place.

Why good design matters

Reduce your acquisition costs. Positive user experiences, reflected in metrics like lower bounce rates and higher time spent on the site, act as a powerful form of advertisement, drawing in new users at lower costs.

Boost customer satisfaction and retention. A satisfying user experience fosters an emotional connection with the brand, encouraging repeat use and recommendations and leading to better customer retention.

Lower customer service costs. By anticipating user needs and problems, good design reduces your need for customer support, decreasing associated costs and streamlining the user experience.

Make a stellar first impression. Users form opinions about your product within seconds. A well-designed interface encourages exploration and engagement, reducing the chance of users leaving prematurely. 

What else?

  • Reduce bounce rate. Effective UX design can address common reasons for user departure, such as slow loading times, complicated navigation, and difficult content.
  • Prevent project failure and redesign costs. Investing in UX/UI design from the start can prevent costly usability issues, reduce the need for future redesigns or bug fixes, and detect problems during the prototype stage, saving money in the long run.
  • Elevate your brand value. A design that meets or exceeds customer expectations can significantly enhance brand perception, turning satisfied users into advocates and contributing to a positive brand image in the marketplace.
  • Increase competitiveness. In a market where customers are quick to switch to competitors if their expectations are not met, a focus on good design as a core aspect of the product offering can be a key differentiator.
  • Attract investments. A well-designed product with a clear use case can impress investors and secure funding. The trend of venture capitalists focusing on design shows the importance of UX/UI in the investment decision-making process.

Solutions and best practices

To not beat around the bush, here is how to bridge the gap between user-centered design and the Indian and Middle Eastern markets and the solutions we found to be the most effective and promising:

Personalize the user experience. 

Matching the UX to meet the specific needs of the regional audience is vital. This could mean adjusting content, design, and functionality to align with local customs, traditions, and consumer expectations. 

Invest in user experience design

Investing in professional UX design from the start will significantly enhance customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and, ultimately, the success of a product or service in these markets.

Ideally, don’t wait till you have to redesign. Save time, money, and stress - start with a good design. 

Adopt Agile

Incorporating UX design early in the product development process and maintaining flexibility to make iterative improvements based on user feedback can reduce development costs and time. 

Focus on branding and marketing

Effective branding and marketing that resonate with the local culture and values can increase brand awareness and customer retention. Create marketing campaigns and brand messaging that speak directly to the local audience's preferences and lifestyles.

Emphasize customer retention

Enhancing the user experience to increase customer retention means designing user-friendly platforms that encourage repeated use and loyalty by making customers' interactions with the service as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Stay informed about the latest market trends, technological advancements, and consumer behaviors. 

Getting started

First of all, the quickest solution right now is to hire a professional agency or a dedicated design team.

A specialized team will make sure every design decision from now on is made with your user's needs in mind, which means you’ll get a more intuitive and accessible interface. 

Companies often overlook the importance of specialized UI/UX professionals, expecting developers to handle design work. This leads to subpar outcomes since good design requires a specific skill set.

Investing in dedicated design teams involves recruiting professionals whose sole focus is on the user experience and interface design. Hiring a professional team focused on design leads to innovations in how information is presented and interacted with, ultimately improving customer satisfaction.

Want your product to attract, engage, and keep customers?

Merge is here to help.

Learn more

How our agency can elevate your startup?

If you caught a glimpse of your company and your product today when we discussed all the current issues of design, you need UX/UI services that have it all - focus on business and the users. 

Our approach here at Merge is simple - we learn what YOU need as a business and then turn it into a design that people find enjoyable to use. 

We get the challenges of catering to diverse users while bringing global design practices and mixing them with local insights. And we always bring our previous experience with us, making sure every next project benefits from what we've learned so far. 

Getting started is easy:

  1. Reach out. Share your vision and challenges with us.
  2. We'll take a close look at your current design, pinpointing areas for improvement.
  3. Based on our review, we'll suggest a design strategy made just for you.

Ready to make your startup stand out with design that matters? Reach out to us for a no-strings-attached consultation or design review. Let's work together to create a user experience that sets you apart.

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CEO and Founder of Merge

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

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