5 lessons in designing inclusively – A spotlight on GrabFood’s UX design in Southeast Asia


Wei Ni Neo

January 18, 2022 | 4 min read

Jay Demetillo, Lead UX Designer at Grab shared his four tips for breaking your design biases at our recent CX Circle APAC event. Here, he deep dives into digital accessibility and inclusive UX design in Southeast Asia.

Firstly, what is Grab?

Grab is a superapp based in Southeast Asia which provides everyday services like deliveries, mobility, and financial services in markets such as Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. GrabFood, a subservice of Grab, is a food delivery service connecting local food businesses to people. As well as catering to their own users, Jay’s team also had to consider different government regulations, socioeconomic statuses, and laws in each country to ensure their offering was accessible to all.

Get the Digital Accessibility Handbook

Download our handy guide to creating better user experiences for all.



Having worked in Southeast Asia for a number of years now, here’s what he had to say about designing for this part of the world.

1. Southeast Asia is complex when it comes to technology

“There is a digital divide between countries”, Jay begins. Most people are unaware that the majority of the market share in Southeast Asia uses Android phones, contrasting with the IOS experience in the West. So they need to ensure their designs are optimized for old Android phones to give their users the most comfortable experience on the app. 


2. To create a smart and impactful product, you must localize and understand the culture

Jobs to be done in the US

Instacart, an American eCommerce app

A clean-cut design works on platforms such as the American app Instacart with an emphasis on promotional items. The discounts are displayed via colors and words to attract and entice users. 


Using Jobs to be done for inclusive ux design in SEA

Tiki, a Vietnamese e-commerce app

In contrast, the Vietnamese app Tiki uses colors and lots of information to drive customer purchases. This brings back the point of inclusive UX design; unpacking biases and assumptions to understand that a clean design will not work for every market. 


3. Focus on the customers’ journey and habits to deliver a better experience

Jay and his team needed to understand how their customers in each country were ordering meals in their day-to-day lives. They talked to locals who had never used food apps before and observed how they ordered food and interacted with waiters.

An image of a group of locals talking to Grab's UX team over a meal

In most Southeast Asian countries, locals would often ask for waiters’ recommendations and photos of the food, which affected their purchase decisions. Jay’s team prioritized these elements into their product, such as recommending complimentary food items and having photos next to the name of the food items.


4. Iterate, iterate, and iterate again

The ux design evolution of Grabfood's Home

In 2017, GrabFood was “a mess”, says Jay, with little to no localization of each country’s culture in the app. After many iterations of GrabFood’s homepage (which has kept evolving since the last image) —backed up by strong insights from their user research sessions and A/B tests— the team has turned their app into one that’s now scalable in each country. 

Creating a scalable, inclusive app experience

Creating a scalable, inclusive ux design app experience

For Singapore (far left):

  • The homepage had the Singaporean flag as the icon for their “Islandwide Delivery” category.
  • Next to it, there was a “Local Heroes” category due to insights that showed that Singaporean users are more likely to click on the button to support local F&B businesses.  

For Indonesia (far right):

  • The “Halal” category was prioritized at the top due to the large Muslim population in the country.
  • A “Nearest to you” carousel section showed restaurants near the user’s current location. This was especially important in Indonesia where delivery times could span between 2-3 hours due to bad traffic, and so indicating the restaurant’s proximity to users with the shortest delivery times made it more inclusive for the Indonesian market. 

The constant effort to improve their UX has certainly helped the superapp’s growth, placing GrabFood as Southeast Asia’s #1 most used food delivery platform* with a steady 10% increase in their user base every month.

*According to research by Kantar on consumers claiming their most-often used app-based food delivery platform brand in 6 SEA countries (SG, MY, TH, VN, ID, PH).

5. Designing around limitations

Designing around limitations for inclusive UX design

When designing for content, it’s vital to ensure design systems are scalable to languages other than English. Jay recommends speaking to your on-the-ground operations team to determine character counts and collaborating with content specialists to understand local lingo. 

During one of their user research sessions, some participants raised their concerns with the robotic-sounding language on GrabFood’s previous interface and guided the team on how to change it to suit their local lingo. With real insights from real individuals, the application was developed to be more inclusive to the users and their culture.  

Examples of limitations in SEA countries

As Jay noted earlier, it’s important to consider that the majority of Southeast Asia possess older Android phones and are dependent on Wi-Fi and unstable connections. Having loading skeleton screens to show progression in the app shows mindfulness of cultural differences that are commonly overlooked. 

“We’re all different, in different ways. We are not just one identity, we’re multiple identities especially in Southeast Asia. For the rest of the world, ask yourself: how do you make sure you don’t come in with assumptions and unpack the privileges and biases you may have? Really consider minor details when designing and scaling for different markets.”   


Key takeaways for designing inclusively

  • Treat every user as if they were your grandmother, not data points. Make sure that your app is designed to be a comfortable experience  
  • Don’t get attached to your findings or designs; be objective. Creative iteration and learning through proper insights is the nature of inclusive UX design and is part of the evolution of inclusive web experiences. 
  • The content is the design. When designing for the rest of the world, not everything will be understood across every country. 
  • Design has always had a seat at the table, we just haven’t sat down yet. “There are designers, strategists, and researchers. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to communicate with our product partners, engineers, and business stakeholders to showcase that we have sat down.”

For more on Grab’s approach to inclusive UX design, you can catch the full talk here.