Cincai: Building for Southeast Asia

Yoel Sumitro
4 min readOct 20, 2016
Moto “Gangs”

When designing within a global organization, we are aware that different countries/markets/cultures have different needs and expectations. But then should we build different product/UX for every country/market? I don’t personally buy that notion. Instead, I believe that we need to introduce the consideration of an additional layer (similar to accessibility) into the ideation and design process.

One of my role is to help build HQ and my regional growth team’s collective knowledge of, and empathy for, our South East Asia users. To do that, I use Hofstede’ cultural dimensions to paint the stark difference between US and SEA culture.

In 1991, Geert Hofstede wrote a book from his study on how cultures influence values in the workplace. There are 6 cultural dimensions which are stemmed from that work. They are Power Distance (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculine (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), Long Term Orientation (LTO), and Indulgence (IND). We can use this framework to understand more about countries’ culture.


how cultures influence values in the workplace. His 6 cultural dimensions stemmed from that work.

US vs Indonesia vs Singapore

From above picture, you can see the 6 cultural dimension scores for US, Singapore, and Indonesia. I will give two examples on how we can use this framework to paint the cultural differences between US and Southeast Asia market.

  1. Power Distance

This dimension measures how a society handles inequalities among people.

SEA Countries tend to have high PDI, meaning:

  • Being dependent on hierarchy
  • Unequal rights between power holders and non power holders
  • Superiors inaccessible
  • Power is centralized and managers count on the obedience of their team members.
  • Employees expect to be told what to do and when.
  • Communication is indirect and negative feedback hidden

In the company I work, this phenomenon can affect our users behaviors. For example, UberPOOL can present an unexpected challenge in SEA — drivers are reluctant to refuse riders’ request to not accepting second ride because of their socio-economic status which is low relative to their riders. Or if our riders are unhappy with the driver, instead of resolving face to face at the start of the ride, they will tend to stay silent but give a 1-star rating.

2. Individualism

This dimension measures the degree of societal interdependence among its members.

SEA Countries tend to have low IDV index, meaning:

  • “We” is more important than “I”
  • Individuals are expected to conform to the ideals of the society to which they belong
  • Children are committed to their parents, as are the parents committed to them all their growing lives
  • The harmony of the society has to be maintained
  • Open conflicts are avoided
  • The face of others has to be respected

In my employee’s context, we can see how our drivers’ heightened need to feel safe by being part of “something bigger”. This is reflected in the tendency toward Uber Moto “gangs” and individual drivers also registering under fleet managers so that they can belong into a ‘family.’ Drivers then using this support system of other drivers for education, communication, and recruitment. A product that is related with collectivism concept such as family profiles, family payment plans may also work very well in this region.

So, what’s next?

Communicating this cultural dimensions to your product team is pivotal for them being able to empathize to our regional users — Not all of our drivers are as literate, tech savvy as US drivers. Also, thinking within a different culture can create design opportunities and ideas that never occurred to our product team before. And furthermore, it can strengthen a notion that localization is different from translation.

Of course, there are many other factors (other than cultural dimensions) that can mold our users behaviours, such as political unrest, religious divisions, media and internet accessibility, etc. By triangulating these factors and cultural dimensions, hopefully we can get the full picture on our users behaviours.

Lastly, don’t build cincai product for Southeast Asia! :)



Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of “凊彩” (chhìn-chhái). When applied colloquially, it means “anything” or “whatever”. Used in situations when one does not feel like making a decision and wants another to help him/her make a decision. Can also be applied to situations to do something in a half-heartedly manner.



Yoel Sumitro

Senior Director, Product Design at Delivery Hero I, Bukalapak, Uber, adidas I Berlin I Tweet @ SumitroYoel