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You say Potato and I say Tomato: Cross Cultural Design and UX Effect

You say Potato and I say Tomato: Cross Cultural Design and UX Effect

Every time you travel abroad, you come across the sort of awkward encounters that highlights cross-cultural differences. Say, the clichéd example of walking into a French restaurant and asking in broken French if they have any preservatives in their food (if you don’t know the issue there, feel free to google it 😊.)

Design is no different. As the world becomes increasingly international and brands are forced to market to increasingly international audiences, UI and UX need to keep up to make sure you’re not accidentally killing your product before it starts.

So that’s where Cross-Cultural Design comes in probably?

Yep, cross-cultural design is where technology is designed for different cultures, countries, languages, and economies so that the user experience is optimized in different cultural contexts. And that’s not easy! As even the daily news in any country will highlight, we’re all very ethnocentric in how we go about daily life, even within the countries we live in. To transfer our understandings of the world into different cultural contexts is almost impossible without a lot of effort and acquisition of local knowhow. One amusing example of how even technology is used in different ways is the example of rural China, where washing machines are used both for clothing and to wash vegetables, as the machine below is clearly marketed¹.

cross-cultural-design

There are a number of ways that products can fail to identify the necessary sensitivity regarding the culture they’ll be marketing in. Cross cultural problems don’t even have to arise from different countries or language issues, but even inter cultural issues. For instance, one quick glance at a failed Pringles ad from 2015 in Liverpool should be enough to demonstrate the point:

cross-cultural-design

This sort of attention to detail is critical. In 2013, Nike launched a campaign attempting to appeal to women in the Southwest Pacific, with sports gear reflecting traditional Samoan tattoos. In and of itself, that seems perfectly intelligent. However, design teams were so unfamiliar with the culture, that they mixed up tattoos. This set of women’s leggings actual feature traditional male tattoos, which of course set off a firestorm and proved unhelpful for the brand:

cross-cultural-design

Another example is the failed mobile app hailo. What you don’t remember that? Well, it came out just before Uber with a similar business model – the app allowed you to “hail” cabs. So what went wrong? The app was designed in London, where taxi drivers pass one of the hardest tests in the world to become drivers and all have smart phones. Thus, they know how to get from point A to B better than anyone else. Uber’s realization was that in the age of smart phones, anyone can get your from point A to B, and thus uber has exploded and Hailo… well… exploded.:

cross-cultural-design

What should you look for in your UI/UX design then?

There’s a number of issues when designing products for other cultures and no list can be comprehensive. But thinking it through and talking with locals to avoid egregious errors is a great place to begin.

1. Legal Stuff

This is a pretty easy one of course, but every country has its own laws regarding pricing displays, discounts, particular wordings, and how a country’s privacy laws might affect your terms and conditions. Financial regulations may differ significantly both across countries and over time for a given country. Just as culture changes how to design, the financial side of things can never be taken for granted.

2. Language

We’ve already touched a bit on this one, but simple translation is almost always worse than transcreation. Slogans and idioms should almost always be created for local contexts, and the hilarious marketing fails are almost endless of companies that just assumed everywhere in the world was the same. American Motors famously designed and marketed a car named the Matador specifically for Spanish-speaking audiences. However, Matador in Spanish translates to “killer”, which was not exactly the bold image the company was trying to reflect². This is of course equal important for mobile apps that have to localize and must feature quality transcreations in the same manner, which may in theory mean changing the wording and phrasing entirely.

3. Images and Graphics

Images may sometimes seem universal – particularly in the age of memes – but they actually are incredibly culturally specific. An image that fits perfectly into one culture may be a disaster in another (particularly if either religion or politics are even remotely involved). A famous example is Pampers designing their brand around the image of a stork delivering babies with pampers diapers. This imaging was baffling to cultures like in Eastern Asia who had never heard of this particularly piece of Western folklore and wondered why Pampers would design a packaging of giant birds attacking their children.

cross-cultural-design

4. UI Patterns

Much of this has to do with wording and language again, where different languages use completely different numbers of letters. This means the spacing in any design will be entirely different. Obviously this can affect so much else, including the length of paragraphs, of white space and more.

On top of that, some languages like Arabic are written right to left, meaning the entire layout has to change. Sometimes simply mirroring your design can take care of the issue, but often-times things will need to be tailored a little bit more to the different context.

5. Color Schemes

This another cultural thing we don’t really think about. The colors like black or brown may seem dark and mysterious with negative connotations to us, but that can be entirely different in different countries. In China, for instance, white is considered the color of mourning compared with black in more Western cultures³.

Key Takeaways

If you’re looking to design a user experience, it simply will have to be done with cross cultural design in mind. Every culture features entirely different sets of information and the potential for something to go very wrong is astronomical. It’s important not just to think through every detail of your design, and how it might (or might not) apply to another country, but you might need to get a local consultant and make a research to understand the minutiae of how details are interpreted elsewhere. This can make design all the more challenging, but if you’re hoping to walk into the French marketplace, you’ll have to be ready to do it trying to get what you want without asking for naughty items!

Every time you travel abroad, you come across the sort of awkward encounters that highlights cross-cultural differences. Say, the clichéd example of walking into a French restaurant and asking in broken French if they have any preservatives in their food (if you don’t know the issue there, feel free to google it 😊.

Design is no different. As the world becomes increasingly international and brands are forced to market to increasingly international audiences, UI and UX need to keep up to make sure you’re not accidentally killing your product before it starts.

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    So that’s where Cross-Cultural Design comes in probably?

    Yep, cross-cultural design is where technology is designed for different cultures, countries, languages, and economies so that the user experience is optimized in different cultural contexts. And that’s not easy! As even the daily news in any country will highlight, we’re all very ethnocentric in how we go about daily life, even within the countries we live in. To transfer our understandings of the world into different cultural contexts is almost impossible without a lot of effort and acquisition of local knowhow. One amusing example of how even technology is used in different ways is the example of rural China, where washing machines are used both for clothing and to wash vegetables, as the machine below is clearly marketed¹.

    cross-cultural-design

    There are a number of ways that products can fail to identify the necessary sensitivity regarding the culture they’ll be marketing in. Cross cultural problems don’t even have to arise from different countries or language issues, but even inter cultural issues. For instance, one quick glance at a failed Pringles ad from 2015 in Liverpool should be enough to demonstrate the point:

    This sort of attention to detail is critical. In 2013, Nike launched a campaign attempting to appeal to women in the Southwest Pacific, with sports gear reflecting traditional Samoan tattoos. In and of itself, that seems perfectly intelligent. However, design teams were so unfamiliar with the culture, that they mixed up tattoos. This set of women’s leggings actual feature traditional male tattoos, which of course set off a firestorm and proved unhelpful for the brand:

    cross-cultural-design

    Another example is the failed mobile app hailo. What you don’t remember that? Well, it came out just before Uber with a similar business model – the app allowed you to “hail” cabs. So what went wrong? The app was designed in London, where taxi drivers pass one of the hardest tests in the world to become drivers and all have smart phones. Thus, they know how to get from point A to B better than anyone else. Uber’s realization was that in the age of smart phones, anyone can get your from point A to B, and thus uber has exploded and Hailo… well… exploded.:

    cross-cultural-design

    What should you look for in your UI/UX design then?

    There’s a number of issues when designing products for other cultures and no list can be comprehensive. But thinking it through and talking with locals to avoid egregious errors is a great place to begin.

    1. Legal Stuff

    This is a pretty easy one of course, but every country has its own laws regarding pricing displays, discounts, particular wordings, and how a country’s privacy laws might affect your terms and conditions. Financial regulations may differ significantly both across countries and over time for a given country. Just as culture changes how to design, the financial side of things can never be taken for granted.

    2. Language

    We’ve already touched a bit on this one, but simple translation is almost always worse than transcreation. Slogans and idioms should almost always be created for local contexts, and the hilarious marketing fails are almost endless of companies that just assumed everywhere in the world was the same. American Motors famously designed and marketed a car named the Matador specifically for Spanish-speaking audiences. However, Matador in Spanish translates to “killer”, which was not exactly the bold image the company was trying to reflect². This is of course equal important for mobile apps that have to localize and must feature quality transcreations in the same manner, which may in theory mean changing the wording and phrasing entirely.

    3. Images and Graphics

    Images may sometimes seem universal – particularly in the age of memes – but they actually are incredibly culturally specific. An image that fits perfectly into one culture may be a disaster in another (particularly if either religion or politics are even remotely involved). A famous example is Pampers designing their brand around the image of a stork delivering babies with pampers diapers. This imaging was baffling to cultures like in Eastern Asia who had never heard of this particularly piece of Western folklore and wondered why Pampers would design a packaging of giant birds attacking their children.

    cross-cultural-design

    4. UI Patterns

    Much of this has to do with wording and language again, where different languages use completely different numbers of letters. This means the spacing in any design will be entirely different. Obviously this can affect so much else, including the length of paragraphs, of white space and more.

    On top of that, some languages like Arabic are written right to left, meaning the entire layout has to change. Sometimes simply mirroring your design can take care of the issue, but often-times things will need to be tailored a little bit more to the different context.

    5. Color Schemes

    This another cultural thing we don’t really think about. The colors like black or brown may seem dark and mysterious with negative connotations to us, but that can be entirely different in different countries. In China, for instance, white is considered the color of mourning compared with black in more Western cultures³.

    Key Takeaways

    If you’re looking to design a user experience, it simply will have to be done with cross cultural design in mind. Every culture features entirely different sets of information and the potential for something to go very wrong is astronomical. It’s important not just to think through every detail of your design, and how it might (or might not) apply to another country, but you have to actually get local consultant and researcher to understand the minutiae of how details are interpreted elsewhere. This can make design all the more challenging, but if you’re hoping to walk into the French marketplace, you’ll have to be ready to do it trying to get what you want without asking for naughty items!