Cross-Cultural User Experience [#UXChat Roundup]

cross cultural user experience

Photo credit: Massimo Ankor via flickr

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison,” they say. This saying is especially true once we enter the fields of cross-cultural user experience (UX) research and design.

Yes, we know there are best practices and frameworks, like Geert Hofstede’s 6 dimensions of national culture. And although they’re useful, they shouldn’t be taken as gospel in every situation. As we know, UX without research is not UX.

Nonetheless, Usability Geek has written a great article about how Hofstede’s dimensions can be applied to UX design across cultures – if you want to read more about that.

  1. Power distance – how much do less powerful members within a society expect power to be distributed unequally?
  2. Individualism – to what extent are individuals integrated into groups within society?
  3. Masculinity – what is the distribution of emotional roles between genders?
  4. Uncertainty avoidance – how much does the society tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity?
  5. Long-term orientation – how much does the society promote down-to-earth values, which promise future rewards?
  6. Indulgence versus restraint – how much does the society permit unrestrained gratification of primal human drives, relating to sensory pleasure?

Rather than rely on frameworks like these as gospel – Hofstede’s dimensions have their limitations – we decided to get the views of working UX professionals, about the topic of UX across different cultures.

Hopefully, this provides good guidance on what to stay aware of while performing cross-cultural research and design.

This #uxchat discussion can be split into two parts:


  1. What do we need to consider when performing cross-cultural user research?
  2. How does the fact that the world is getting more connected impact cross-cultural UX?

If you’d like to join our next #uxchat – a 1-hour session, every Thursday, where pros discuss a problematic or interesting UX topic on Twitter – follow the WhatUsersDo page. You can follow the rabbit hole for each tweet by clicking on it and reading the entire thread.

What do we need to consider when performing cross-cultural user research?

Elizabeth Chesters, a UX consultant, rightly notes the overwhelming amount of variables at play.

I think this perfectly highlights why we shouldn’t rely solely on third-party research, best practices and so on. They’ll never be updated often and quickly enough to keep up with the changes in societal and individual idiosyncrasies.

Following up, Elizabeth notes that context is the name of the game.

I think there’s also a question regarding how granular you should get about context. Do you just want to observe the differences in context between university students in Country A and Country B? Or do you want to observe the context of universities in semi-rural regions, with majority female students in Country A, and then contrast with Country B?

It may be that this degree of hair-splitting analysis is irrelevant… but it’s a thought that’s been bouncing around in my head.  

Joe Pendlebury, a senior mobile UX architect, reckons knowing your way around synonyms for idiomatic or slang expressions is essential.

This is sooo true. There’s no shortage of advertising translation fails, for example. Like when, “Got Milk?” got translated to say, “Are you lactating?”

“Why, yes, I am lactating… No, you may not have some of my milk – it took me months to make! Creep!”

Once you enter a cross-cultural arena, language isn’t always logical – it pays to look into the nuances and bastardisations that may exist.

How does the fact that the world is getting more connected impact cross-cultural UX?

Jackie Mellor Brownlee, a UX process specialist (“Yes, that is a real job,” she says), reckons the level of internationalisation within a company affects how it defines UX to begin with.

I can see where she’s coming from. Jeremy Thomson – a former lead UX designer at EA Sports who moved to Japan – suggested as much during our chat. Good UX at EA Sports has different connotations from good UX at a Japanese game developer, dealing solely with local markets.

Our product manager, Morag McLaren, shared a nifty illustration with us, which explores the topic of cross-cultural product design.

Get a load of that bad boy – it’s got wisdom for days…

Joe Pendlebury drops another doozie with this gem. 

That is definitely true. No point designing something that requires high-speed internet and huge download allowances, if the people who’ll be using it have access to neither.

It all comes down to the first commandment of good usability (according to some hypothetical person I just made up) – “Know thine users.”

Enjoyed reading this article? Follow us on Twitter and join in during our next #uxchat – maybe we’ll feature your gorgeous mug and cutting commentary in our roundup.

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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