Web 2.0 Expo: Cross-Cultural User-Experience Design

Notes from the Web 2.0 Expo. This is on the Cross-Cultural presentation.

Presenter: Aaron Marcus (Aaron Marcus and Associates)

  • Waiting for presentation, have heard several languages besides English (in a hands-up poll, over half the audience speaks English as a second language)
  • Watched slideshows for Indian deities, and then art cars; music was primarily Indian
  • Room doesn’t have many people in it; could be due to being a first day workshop
  • Aaron likely the oldest guy here at the expo — goes to show you don’t have to be young to get it
  • Conf next year in San Diego — HCI International (doing globalisation, localisation, and cross-cultural issues — Martin, you paying attention?)
  • Aaron has worked with DARPA on visualisation, AM + A has worked with several Fortune 500
  • Doing quite a lot of UI basics review, which presumably is needed as a basis for the rest of the presentation
  • If you are changing metaphors in the Web 2.0 construction, you will need to train people to understand them (e.g. converting SABRE from text-based to visual interface)
    • Can create training in terms of games to help people begin to understand without going through tedious training
  • Is a proponent of personnas, although he calls them user profiles; even half-chastised the people in the audience who aren’t doing them
  • Anthropology becoming increasingly more useful in design
    • e.g. using local cultural ethos to design a Chinese PDA
  • UI design fairly well-understood; UX much more challenging
    • “interaction design” is not UX design
  • Good usability testing done outside of labs — set up stories to engage the testers in a plot to raise issues (e.g. groom needs to fly great distance for wedding, but not sure if he can make it in time — book his ticket ASAP)
  • UCD already well in use, cross-cultural design (CCD?) seems “inevitable”
    • meaning derived from what the designer AND the user bring to a given artefact, neither can define it on their own
  • The web is a cultural artefact
  • Weekends are different around the world — some Moslem countries have Thurs/Fri, not Sat/Sun
  • Hofstede’s 5 Dimensions of Culture
    • Power Distance describes how people view the power structure of their country (e.g. dictatorship, democracy)
      • high-power structures are often symmetrical (e.g. White House) and often reflected in design, individuals are unimportant
      • low-power structures are asymmetric, and often feature non-important people
    • Individualism vs. Collectivism
      • Individualism: screw everyone, I come first (nuclear families). “You” marketing, going after egotists.
      • Collectivism: Family based from birth.
      • USA high individual, Costa Rica low individual; Israel low PD, Singapore high PD
      • The two opposites greatly affect the way work, family, and education are viewed
      • In Individualist societies, it’s about freedom; Collectivism is about the state (e.g. Communism, on an extremist end; though many govts promote the social good, such as Costa Rica)
      • Individualist design focuses on what you can do with a given product/service; more Collectivist is more about the product/service itself
    • Gender
      • By Hofstede’s definition, masculine cultures keep the traditional gender roles apart; in feminine, they overlap
      • Japan is very masculine country; Sweden very feminine; USA is a 31 on the scale, Canada 18. UK 11
      • Masculine orientation is more about achievement; feminine orientation is more about relationships
      • Feminine cultures do not differentiate between genders (e.g. no gender-specific marketing)
    • Uncertainty Avoidance
      • Feeling threatened by uncertainty; fear/risk vs. anxiety; known vs. unknown; intolerance of ambiguity
      • Countries vary in formality, punctuality, and certainty
      • High uncertainty is aggressive and generally unable to adapt to adversity; low uncertainty is curious and able to handle the unusual
      • Belgium is a high avoidance country; UK is a low avoidance country
      • High uncertainty avoidance leads to simpler designs; low avoidance can offer more complex choices on a single page
    • Long vs. Short-term Time Orientation
      • Some cultures willing to wait years, even generations
      • Long-term: Practise is more important than theory, information comes from personal networks (e.g. Chinese Guanxi principle)
    • Hofstede’s system not perfect, makes assumptions based on generalisations and one culture per country; corporate subjects only were part of the analysis; but the use is widespread
  • Thoughts: Sadly, not much of a “workshop”, more of a long presentation. Good information, however.
  • This is something that we need to think of more often in our global approaches. We understand the North American approach reasonably well — certainly the US approach. However, we apply this too often to other cultures where it simply doesn’t apply the same way.
    • Note: Significant concern when addressing Latin American entities
  • This sort of information plays very well into the globalisation efforts, something we need to read into more and generate a few internal white papers
  • Presentation breaking down into a Web 2.0 what-is/how-to, rather than addressing the cultural implications
  • Now he’s discussing the trends of Web 2.0 logo design. Oy.
  • Okay, now we’re getting into the good stuff again…
    • Taiwan and Korea have some different approaches for handling logins for Web 2.0 apps (e.g. no password recovery, lack of secure login)
    • Korea/Taiwan more information heavy, US is light on details
    • US has larger emphasis on scrapbook-style concepts; Taiwan is more photo-album design; Korea believes more in the diary metaphor (e.g. myspace, cyworld)
    • Cartoon characters figure heavily in Asian sites, less (to not at all) in US and Europe
    • Top navigation goes deeper much more quickly in Asian; simpler top-level in US
    • Asian versions of Web 2.0 sites (e.g. Yahoo!) are slow to acquire/adapt US-based Web 2.0 concepts
  • He has not really seen studies of cultural differences in Web 2.0; they are coming soon
  • Q+A
    • If Hofstede did his tests today, would the results be different given the convergence that is happening in culture and technology in our current world?
      • This is happening to some extent. Years ago, Belgium airlines and British Airways had very different websites. Today, they’re much more similar. However, cultural differences will always exist, and forcing one cultural design into another culture does not always fly. (e.g. Bare-armed women appearing in an Arabic website)
    • How do cultural differences influence use of text messaging?
      • Text messaging very prevalent in places like India where PCs are fewer. Not as often in US, where there are more PCs. However, text messaging is causing trouble with Indian caste structure, as it breaks the barriers. Culturally, texting is being seen as a way to bridge barriers between sexes and between rank. This applies to the masculinity indices.

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