Cultural Blind Spots in UX

Although Nicolas Cage won best global actor in China a few years ago, and almost every country in the world (except North Korea and Cuba) sells Coca Cola, it doesn’t mean all of western culture is the standard worldwide — specifically western design practices and digital experiences. Since more and more of our products and services are being used in global markets we need to think about how our designs are interpreted in these different countries beyond a one to one language translation. Designing for international markets means designing for cultural nuances.

Imagine you got an offer from your dream design job — it has an amazing salary and you’d be working alongside an award winning team. But, there’s one caveat. The office you’d be working in is located in China. And, upon receiving the offer, you get informed that you’d be designing for an Asian market. This excites you so you start digging around into market research and you stumble upon exhibit A:

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Example of data density for an Asian market

It has extremely high information density. You think to yourself, “Where is the white space?!” But upon digging deeper and talking to a few of your design colleagues, you discover that most Asian cultures emphasize communicating large amounts of content at a single instance with multiple areas of focus.

With the example above we can start to see how we are naïve in our design decisions when when it comes to our own cultural biases. Our own biases not only influence our visual design preferences, but all aspects of our design. For example, as it applies to information architecture, Oban international partnered with Dell to test IA via eye tracking to see how different cultures navigate webpages. And the results were surprising.

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Eye scan habits of different cultures

McDonald’s, the world's largest restaurant chain, understands the importance of designing for cultural nuances and adjusting to its international markets.Not only do they adjust their menu to the preferred local foods, they also make sure their digital presence is also in line with local cultural standards and expectations. For example, McDonald’s online presence in China is different than that of Arabia.

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McDonald’s China vs. McDonald’s Saudi Arabia

One distinct difference between the two is the flipped layout. The language spoken in Saudi Arabia is read from right to left where in china non traditional Chinese is written and read from left to right. This layout change reflects an understanding of the local culture.

Designing for international markets can be tough — especially when you’re a foreigner with no familiarity of the cultural background. But, with research and usability testing, we can design better experiences, and bypass our cultural nuances. With that in mind, we can go back to wondering why, in fact, do Asian cultures love Nicholas Cage.

Erin NewbyComment