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Geography, Culture and UX Design

Geography, Culture and UX Design

When you look at a picture on your computer or smartphone, what catches your eye? Surprisingly, the answer to that question might differ depending upon where you were raised. According to research by psychologist Richard Nisbett, Chinese and American people see the world differently!  Americans focus on the central objects of photographs, while Chinese individuals pay more attention to the image as a whole. Astounding, isn’t it ?

Another study done by same psychologist also cites the differences in language development in the cultures. “To Westerners it seems obvious that babies learn nouns more easily. But while this is the case in the West, studies show that Korean and Chinese children pick up verbs – which relate objects to each other – more easily”.

Additional studies done in the area of culture & cognition by several psychologists establish the fact that culture does affect cognition to a great extent. Can we reap the fruits of research in this area to UX Design?

We certainly can! In fact, a global food chain understands the cultural nuances that affect the design and has fundamentally different websites for different continents! They have realised that it is no longer enough to simply translate their applications in several languages. Customers want applications that acknowledge their cultural characteristics.

It is evidently true that understanding the cultural backgrounds of users, is very important for user-centric design. However, it also becomes extremely difficult to design for varied audiences within a given budget and strict timelines.

Even in the case of food & clothing habits, we can find great differences across cultures. Some people use spoons, some chopsticks and others eat with their hands. Some cultures prefer vibrant colours around them while others prefer subtle colours. In spite of all the cultural differences, there will be a lot of situations where their usage patterns and expected user experiences could be the same. There will be applications for which we might not have to rely on observations from the ethnographic study. 

I think, designers with a greater understanding of cultures, will empathize more with users and their use cases. This will definitely impact their design thinking and cause them to create some astounding designs. In parallel, globalization has made users more receptive and tolerant to other cultures.

In the end, how much of the user environments, especially the cultural changes should we consider is contextual. There can be more important factors than cultural differences to be considered while designing some applications. While in some cases,  cultural changes could mean everything were taking help from Sociology experts could help the designers.