In today’s article, Cross Cultural UX Design, we will cover how cross-cultural design affects the overall product’s success. This is a topic that UX designers all over the world should be aware of as cross-cultural design is a crucial ingredient in understanding fully who your market is outside your country, culture, and language.
This topic will also cover the following subtopics:
For global companies, UX designers usually work hand in hand with global teams worldwide. However, there are still some companies that forget there’s a wider audience out there, and designers continue to live in their bubble, focusing only on their own culture, language, and traditions.
When we are handling something like the cross-cultural design, we should expect a lot of complex challenges in both language and culture. As a UX designer, you should be aware of these challenges. Do not assume that designing products for different cultures only require different languages translation or switching currencies. The road to a successful cross-cultural design with UX is far complicated than this.
Real examples of brands who failed their cross-cultural product designs
In 2018, Amazon faced a serious problem caused by a lack of cultural insights and comprehensive UX research during its first launch in India.
The problem: they could not understand why local customers were not using the search feature to locate and buy products on the homepage and mobile.
They figured out eventually that the magnifying glass icon was not the right symbol locals were associated with as this made no sense to them.
After undergoing some UI tests, most locals thought that the magnifying glass represented a ping pong paddle. So Amazon’s solution was to keep the magnifying glass but added another design, which was a search field with a Hindi text label to let people know the section can be used to initiate a search.
Proctor and Gamble
This is not a digital product design example, but still proves the point that we should consider cultural differences when it comes to design and marketing.
A Proctor and Gamble TV ad that was so popular in Europe was shown in Japan. This ad was about a woman bathing and the husband entered the bathroom and started touching her. Unfortunately, this ad created controversies in Japan, where locals thought this is an invasion of privacy, inappropriate behavior, and created in such poor taste.
American Motors launched their new car called “Matador”. However, in Puerto Rico, the word means “killer”, which brought a bad notion to locals.
FedEx (Federal Express)
FedEx tried to widen its market outside the United States after realizing that the market is very saturated. However, the company failed to successfully apply its “hub and spoke” delivery system outside the country.
They also failed to consider cultural differences. For example, in Spain, the workers preferred working late hours. In Russia, the workers' tool truck cleaning soap due to consumer shortages. This caused FeDex to shut down its international operations.
With these examples, we’ve learned that there is more to consider when it comes to introducing a digital product in different countries. Cross-cultural UX design is something that we should all consider.
How does a difference in culture influence design?
In different parts of the world, people behave differently. The same is true when it comes to interaction. People all around the globe interact in different ways.
Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist identified six aspects of cultural differences in his Cultural Dimensions Theory. These are:
Is a degree to which a society accepts a hierarchical order vs a flat hierarchy. This is what we also call high power distance vs low power distance.
Individualism and Collective
In an individualistic society, people take care of themselves. In collective societies, people take care of their in-groups.
A masculine society is where there is a high masculine score. This prefers achievements and assertiveness. On the other hand, a feminine society prefers cooperation and quality of life.
This is the degree where members of the society feel comfortable or uncomfortable with the sense of uncertainty and ambiguity.
Long term orientation
Societies with long-term orientation have a sense of encouragement for the future. Different cultures with a low-term orientation oftentimes value quick results and prefer to measure performance on a short-term basis.
This is a degree wherein a society enjoys life and tends to have more fun versus suppressing gratification of needs.
Cross-cultural UX design guidelines
According to Dainne Cyr and Haizley Trevor-Smith cross cultural research, cultural differences affect eCommerce trust, marketing, technology, and communication. It also affects the UX/UI of a product.
Thus, if a product does not adapt to cultural differences, it will not meet the market’s needs or even create a business value to them.
Here are some set of cross-cultural design guidelines designed for international teams when working on successful cross-cultural products:
Research for cultural differences within close proximities
When it comes to two neighboring countries, it is always easy to assume that these two countries are culturally similar. In many ways, this is true.
However, when it comes to cross-cultural user experience design, it is essential to fully understand the differences between cultures, even if they are geographically close in UX research.
For example, TravelBird is an online travel agency that operates in 17 countries. Its first step in the checkout is for users to choose a travel package date.
However, depending on where the user is accessing its website, the UX would be different.
For example, in Germany, the users have specific expectations. Germany has a high score of uncertainty avoidance. The system should provide an overview for the users to proceed, and details are very important to create that certainty.
Thus, what was added after this insight is a list of inclusive and exclusive items. As a result, TravelBird increased its conversion rate
Research for local UI patterns
There are certain parts of the world where specific design patterns are accepted. Like for example, Facebook and Gmail UI designs such as the hamburger and kebab menu designs have become the common choice for showing navigation links and other options.
But those icons applied in the East can be confusing for the users. And thus, these symbols do not universally appear in UI designs around the world, and not in China.
In a research conducted by Dan Grover, it became clear that the most popular Chinese apps like WeChat and Weibo, hamburgers, and kebab symbols do not exist.
Instead, a “discover” button that is represented by a compass icon is commonly used for the not-so-essential extras. The reason behind this is Chinese users see apps as an ecosystem instead of a single functioning product.
To the Chinese, the act of discovering sparks intrigue and curiosity. This apparently has more value than straightforward functionality.
Understand the users’ way of interaction with information
Always refer to Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions for insights when it comes to differentiating behaviors.
For example, Mozilla Firefox based its localized landing pages on cultural psyches. The US landing page looks minimalist and clean with just one clear CTA. In the Chinese version, the landing page has more content like banners, news, and ads.
The difference is due to the vastly different individualism scores of the two countries. America is a highly individualistic country. In contrast, China is more of a collective society.
Language is also a differentiating factor when it comes to how users interact with information.
Mozilla’s design strategist, Bram Pitiyo, commented why the Chinese Firefox landing page is so different, “Typing in Chinese takes a long time, and finding the precise word is not easy. Overall, the search sucks, so why not optimize the page for information and browsing.”
What we should all learn here is referencing UI patterns from local culture and different languages is far more efficient than introducing a new pattern that is known in the West and making users in the East adapt.
Without this strategy in the phase of product development, you are placing your business at risk. Designing something that is not effective is a huge risk in the local market.
Understanding the users quantitative and qualitative data
Conducting quantitative and qualitative cross cultural research is an effective way to understand local behaviors.
Deskbookers is a Netherland-based online marketplace for workplace rentals. The company planned to expand to the rest of Europe, specifically Germany.
The company made successful phone and in-person sales. However, their German market is not converting well. To find out the reason behind this, the company conducted usability tests, interviews, checking Google Analytics data, heatmaps, etc.
The data gathered in the UX research showed that the website is not meeting its users’ needs. It showed that the German market needs to feel confident in the entire product experience.
The website was thought to lack details and comprehensive information that show proof that the site is trustworthy. This contributed to low conversion rates.
Thus, the website added helpful information like customer reviews, trust badges, etc. This resulted in an increase in conversion rates and more satisfied customers. And over the period, Germany is at number one in the countries with the strongest market presence in Europe for Deskbookers.
Doing quantitative and qualitative cross cultural research may sound very challenging, costly, and even unnecessary. However, these methods help reveal things that are not always obvious to UX researchers and designers' need. These unknown things can help improve the user experience and overall ROI.
Localize your marketing copy and terminology
English is used very differently in each country. For example, one terminology for the same thing can be said in different ways. Americans say “candy”. Brits call it “sweets”. And Aussies say it “lollies.”
You need to gather insights when localizing your copy. Always base the terms on the commonly used words for each country. You may also use Google Trends to cross-related these log user data.
One efficient way to create an effective copy is to communicate with local users with user data by using their own terminology.
Do not rely on machine translation
We understand the use of machine translation because it saves time and cost. However, you also need to understand those machine translations are hard to get the words correct.
We can see a huge difference in using Google Translate vs consulting the proper translation by a person who speaks the local language. While Google Translate is very helpful, it also lacks proper usage of terms and grammar that when translated to different languages, the message is often lost in translation.
So, when it comes to writing copies for different cultures, it is best to consult a local copywriter. Simply relying on machine translation puts your business at risk, making your product appear questionable and careless.
Identify your market’s primary devices and connectivity
The type of device and connection is also important when it comes to marketing outside your region or country.
For example, Smart is one of the leading telecom service companies in the Philippines. So, when it comes to apps and mobile usage, it is best to investigate Smart’s market usage of mobile phones, which appeared that 41% of its users use the versions of Samsung Galaxy, which have similar screen sizes. Also, important to note is that most of these phones were on WAP phones, which have a low connection speed.
This means that high-fidelity designs won’t work perfectly for phone users with low connection speed. If you have the right analytics, then you can develop a product that is right for the screen size and design it to load quickly, even with minimal connection speeds.
Cultural differences and product usage
While there are cultural differences, we should also be aware that not all these influences affect people’s interaction with digital products.
How would you know? Here are the factors that you need to consider:
How frequently does your target audience use your product?
Keep in mind that the lower the frequency of use is, the less localized the product will be.
But if your product violates the local mental model and people use it very rarely, there is a higher chance that they will make the same mistakes repeatedly in several instances that they will use it.
Where and how do your target users use your product? Do your users only visit and browse your website on a computer? Or do they need to check it on the go, using their mobile devices.
Remember, the more complex the context in which your users utilize your website or app, the more localized your design should be.
Does the task involve collaboration and communication between users? If yes, then localized designs should more likely be helpful since cultural differences highly impact the organization's structures and hierarchies.
Like for example, an app that facilities teaching may need more localized elements compared to a single user learning app. When it involved the engagement of multiple roles, then a localized design approach is best.
You can get some insights into what interpersonal cooperation is between your users by conducting a task analysis.
Local competitor’s vs yours
You may conduct a competitor’s analysis to find out how your target market use of digital products that are like your product.
Find the differences between your product and the competitors. Check whether they are culturally specific so you can uncover cultural mental models for common interaction patterns.
Like for example, India and China are countries where most people prefer one-time password login features when it comes to checking out. Furthermore, it was also found that email registration is not convenient for users from these countries.
With this analysis, Farfetch, a British-Portugues eCommerce site added a signup feature, where users can register using their WeChat ID. This feature worked conveniently for users in India and China.
That said, it is a general rule that the more digital products or services you offer that affect the daily lives of the users, the more appropriate to have a localized design.
In light of this, the decision of whether you apply a localized design in your product or not, website or app, depends on which elements need to be localized. This task requires a better understanding of how people from different cultural backgrounds use your product in their day-to-day lives.
Did you know that branding also influences your decision of localizing a product design? This is because designs evoke emotional responses. And these emotional responses help in appraising a product and at the same time helps form an impression about your brand.
Let’s take an example Bose website in China. It has the Chinese version of its website, but still carries the sense of personality to its Chinese market.
One user commented that the website looks foreign with a sense of selling high-end products. The user did not purchase on the site because the site did not give him enough information compared to its Chinese brand counterparts like JD and Taobao.
Another apparent problem too is the website did not give any purchase options as well. Instead, it directs users to third-party stores.
All these insights appeared that Bose’s goal is to make an impression that they are a high-end, luxury brand rather than wanting to sell their products to people.
Now, let us take another example of a brand that took time to do cross cultural research the local market. The Australian pharmacy website, Amcal+ has a QR code feature that makes it easier for its Chinese users to follow them on WeChat and to alert them with their ongoing promotions. This made people trust more the brand and overall, it increases its credibility to the local market.
The target marker’s potential value
It is important to understand that localizing your design means more costs involved as opposed to just mere translating your design to the local international market.
Also, localizing design requires commitment and communication between researchers, designers, writers, developers, and even the marketing team.
Before you decide to localize a product, it is important that you carefully calculate your ROI. Also, try to prioritize localized components. This is a crucial part of localizing your product design.
Test your target market
At the end of the day, you are not the user, even though you’ve spent so much time learning about your market.
The best time to conduct your field study such as contextual inquiries is at the beginning of your cross-cultural design process. By conducting user testing, you can identify the role of your products or services in the daily lives of your users.
By observing the local environment and the context of use for your products vs to that of your competitors can unhide several cultural differences and potential localization directions.
Another important test you can conduct is usability testing with your international market. This is useful once you already have your product or prototype ready.
Also, when combines with interviews, international usability testing can also identify several fundamental usability issues and cultural-specific practices, expectations, and mental models.
Cross-cultural design resources
Here’s a list of good cross-cultural resources that we’ve gathered if you want to learn more about the research-practice from talks, books, and online resources:
Designing for Global Audience by Chui Chui Tan
This is a great free resource that covers market insights, behavioral insights, and cultural insights. It discusses the design for global audiences and tackles why it is challenging to apply different cultural dimension models in the design process.
Chui Chui Tan also discussed the Three Levels of Culturalization, which is a great structure to follow when it comes to planning international design research and design localizations.
Build bridges, not walls — Design for users across cultures by Jenny Shen
This is another insightful talk on cultural differences manifested in UX and UI Design. Jenny Shen also reveals how it is useful to refer to Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions model for localizing designs. She also discusses the reasons why it is important to conducting research local UI patterns and measure the data to uncover local unexpected behavioral patterns.
Another good thing about her talk is the real-world design examples she gave like the differences between Dutch and German travel booking forms, a replacement for the hamburger menu in Chinese apps, increasing conversion rates by increasing trust with German users, etc.
Cross-cultural UX by Zaid Al-Dabbagh & Andrew Peterson
The talk addresses the challenge of designing for an evolving audience who have different languages and comes from different countries. It also addresses the need to ensure that the product design is appealing, relevant, and non-offensive to anyone.
Gastvortrag Aaron Marcus - Cross Cultural User-Experience Design
It is a great talk on what one can expect in a cross-cultural user experience design. It tackles the five dimensions of culture with great examples of each dimension, talking about how these cultural dimensions affect the design process for the international audience.
Designing Digital Experiences Across Cultures | Google Interaction Designer | Min-sang Choi
The talk is about the differences between designing apps for Google in Tokyo and San Francisco that address cultural differences when designing digital products. It also reveals how our digital experience and expectations are connected to the way we live.
The semiotic perspective of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) can give you insight into the values, beliefs, and reference systems of the users that often go unnoticed when using traditional HCI approaches. The book shows you how to leverage these insights when creating useful, usable, and appealing user interfaces.
The book covers the theoretical background of HCI semiotics with emphasis on the interaction elements present in the user interface, the methodology to work with them to achieve useful insights both for design and evaluation, and the results obtained compared to traditional UX methods.
The book reviews the essentials of cognitive UI perception and how they are affected by socio-cultural conditioning, as well as how different cultural biases and expectations can work in UX design:
· Teaches how to optimize design using internationalization techniques
· Explores how to develop web and mobile internationalization frameworks
· Presents strategies for effectively reaching a multicultural audience
· Reviews the essentials of cognitive UI perception and the related effects of socio-cultural conditioning, as well as how different cultural biases and expectations can work in UX design
With its extensive review of cross-cultural theory and cross-cultural design literature, it is also a resource for those who are interested in research on cross-cultural design. The book presents an overview of the dimensions of culture that have implications for human information processing and effective response. It examines a set of user interface design guidelines grouped into five areas: language, use of color, icons and images, navigation, and information architecture. Also, it addresses physical ergonomics and anthropometry issues. The text translates theory and guidelines into a practical methodology and discusses how to integrate methods of cross-cultural dimensions design into a standard engineering process for product development.
Illustrated with five in-depth case studies of mobile text messaging use by college students and young professionals in American and Chinese contexts spanning years, the author demonstrates that a technology created for culturally localized user experience mediates both instrumental practices and
social meanings. She calls for a change in cross-cultural design practices from simply applying cultural conventions in design to engaging with social affordances based on a rich understanding of the meaningful contextualized activity. Meanwhile, the vivid user stories at sites of technology-in-use show
the power of "user localization" in connecting design and use, which Sun believes is essential for the success of emerging technology like mobile messaging in an era of participatory culture.
This is the first book to examine the challenges and rewards experienced by the world's leading communication professionals when handling assignments outside their own cultures. The solutions to these marketing problems are documented here in 309 stunning full-color images, accompanied by the creators' provocative descriptions of their setbacks, triumphs, and discoveries. The works shown range from designs for advertisements, corporate identity programs, annual reports, films, packages, books, magazines, posters, and signage to currency, postage stamps, and environmental graphics. Among clients represented are banks, print media, software companies, airlines, governments, and manufacturing firms
This course helps develop the skills and acquire the knowledge needed to meet the global challenges in today’s world. You will learn to succeed in a diverse workplace and appreciate the value of cultural differences.
- Basics of intercultural competency
- Importance of intercultural competency
- Openness and cultural diversity
- Curiosity and intercultural relationships
- Self-awareness and behavior with cultural differences
- Worldview frameworks and different cultural backgrounds
- Cultural differences in non-verbal communication
- The skill of non-verbal communication
- The skill of verbal communication between diverse cultures
- Intercultural empathy and outrospection
- The skill of intercultural empathy