Kirk St.Amant and I sat down recently with Ryan Weber, Director of Business and Technical Writing at University of Alabama-Huntsville, for an episode of his technical communication podcast 10 Minute Tech Comm. We discussed our recent article “Designing Globally, Working Locally: Using Personas to Develop Online Communication Products for International Users,” in which we argue for a model of intercultural UX that utilizes personas to design for users from a variety of cultures.
Here’s the full podcast: https://podcastmachine.com/podcasts/17390/episodes/107074
Five Reasons Why Everyone Should Care About Intercultural Users
- The top 10 emerging markets in the world are in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Poland, Turkey, India, Indonesia, China, and South Korea. Do you know how to design products for all these folks? I certainly don’t. I don’t even share a primary spoken language with any of these countries. Designers and technical communicators will have to work closely with users, in addition to translators and localization experts, in all of these countries to design products and services that will be useful to this emerging user base.
- Culture is arbitrary. Pretty much everything we take for granted as designers, communicators, and human beings, is not the same stuff that everyone else takes for granted. It’s not that human beings from Rome have nothing in common with human beings from Arkansas, it’s that the differences are important. Someone from Rome and someone from Arkansas would certainly have some cultural differences worthy of considering.
- Technologies carry cultural assumptions. When people design technologies like web applications, handheld devices, and even household appliances, they assume certain things about the users of these technologies. Everything from a virtual button to a door knob assumes a certain orientation of the user to the object. These are called affordances: the way a design limits and channels users into certain actions. All these actions are based on the ways users view reality, however, and everyone’s worldview is strongly filtered through the culture they live in.
- Most technologies are built for users in the developed world. Since users in countries like the UK, the US, Australia, and Canada have a disproportionately large share of wealth, given how much of the world’s population they represent, and because English is a primary spoken language in many developed countries, lots of technology companies focus on users from these cultures. Users in countries like China, however, represent a much larger pool of potential customers than users in the developed world combined.
- Technology is both local and global. But don’t we all use many of the same technologies? Yes, lots of users, from all over the world, use technologies like social media, desktop publishing, and graphic design software. They don’t all use them the same way, however. The same technologies may be available to people all over the world, but that doesn’t mean that they are useful to everyone, or that they meet everyone’s needs in the same way.