Global Design vs. Local Design

Short Read

In our daily lives, we continuously interchange between local and global without even realising it, from checking the news on our smart phones to grabbing a coffee at our favourite café. However, when it comes to design, how ‘Global vs Local’ is interpreted can be very different.

Global Design

Global design follows a generic creative blueprint that appeals to a wide variety of people – it’s focused on accessibility rather than targeting one set market. It creates an inclusive identity based on the analysis of multiple data sets in order to enable a global visual language that everyone can relate to and understand. Clean and simple graphic systems and layouts can create a clear interface, so a wide variety of different cultures and nationalities are all able to understand the same visual language.

Some obvious examples of global design can be found in public transport systems and in road signage. In cities and towns where way-finding and signage is clear, public spaces and roads are more practical and functional, and their services and city as a whole are more user-friendly. If an individual is able to understand and navigate a city easily, this in turn improves the quality of their everyday life. If there is a lack of clear signage, this makes the city much harder to understand and interact with, leading to a negative experience.

Local Design

In comparison, local design is more personal. One of its main purposes is to emphasise differences between individuals. This is typically portrayed through small details and enables diversity. Local design moulds to the identity of a smaller community, and develops its own design rules. Individual analysis is at the core of its identity. Small coffee shops are a good example of how local design works. Each of them strive to be different than the other one and each shop aims to offer customised services in order to define the perfect client range to work with.

These identities are often developed giving more space to design trends than design principles. Even though the design process and strategy for local design is the same as global design, the generated output is a product of something that we usually call “experimental”.

There are some brands, such as Starbucks, which find themselves somewhere in-between local and global. Starbucks is a global company that operates within local spaces with a strong glocalisation strategy. From a design viewpoint, all stores follow a very similar global brand style – from typography and signage through to the language they use for coffee sizing terminology. However, they also integrate into the local markets through tailored food menus and interior design touches. For example, a Mumbai outlet will offer a Murg Tikka Panini whereas a New York outlet will offer a chicken and hickory bacon sandwich. They have been incredibly successful with this glocal approach; so no matter the outlet, you know you’re in a Starbucks.


What establishes an identity as global or local is dependent on the size of the market sector and what the approach to the product and the purpose is. In both cases, design has the important role of communicating the best way of telling a story, whether it be big or small.