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Week 8.

Designing for Different Cultures

A Donut by Kylie on 1 March

Last week I wrote my post in London. This week my post comes from sunny currently rainy San Diego after spending a week in Los Angeles. I’m really excited to have visited those locations so I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for some casual location dropping. For context of course ;)

To be honest, I haven’t thought much about design or work or anything other than where I’m going for dinner and how to drive on the wrong right side of the road. It’s been nice to switch off and while I do love thinking about design I think it’s also really important to have a break now and then. This is something I’m still attempting to do well.

So with that, this post won’t be long. I will, however, share one small observation I’ve made while navigating the awesomeness and craziness of Los Angeles and America in general…

Coffee.

Flat white drinker? Prepare to have your coffee preferences thrown out the window. Flat whites don’t exist here. Apparently they are the equivalent to the American latte. They’re not. Just resort to the classic espresso before it’s too late.

Expecting a freshly ground coffee with freshly warmed milk? Forget it. It’s push-button or pump black coffee and a selection of tiny, odd looking ‘cream’ (milk) packets labelled with things like “French Vanilla” or “Hersheys Chocolate”. There will also be a selection of flavours you can add… caramel, hazelnut, chocolate. The list goes on. Don’t forget to be sufficiently overwhelmed by the choice.

Who would have thought? Coffee. How can something so universal be so different across the world? And how can it be so different that it actually causes order-anxiety in a seasoned coffee drinker? What makes perfect sense to the American coffee drinker makes absolutely no sense to the Australian coffee drinker.

Surprisingly, all of this coffee malarkey reminded me of a talk I saw at Web Directions last year by Younghee Jung. Younghee Jung leads Nokia’s corporate research team and her talk highlighted the need to include broad viewpoints in usability research. Jung also talked through some of her projects. The most memorable for me being her project to create a better text input solution for Nokia’s Indian market. That is, to accomodate the vast Hindi alphabet and its symbols within the same structure as the English keyboard.

I remember being impressed by this project at the time because, not only was it  a HUGE task, it was something I had never even thought about. I had always assumed that everyone used an English keyboard despite being well aware that not everyone uses the English alphabet. The same goes for the coffee. I just assumed it was made and treated in a similar way all over the world. I didn’t expect it to be exactly the same but I also didn’t expect it to vary so greatly.

I don’t know if ‘ignorance’ is the right word for this. Perhaps just being cross-culturally ‘blind’. At the time of Jung’s talk, I kept thinking about how the audiences and ‘users’ I design for are almost always Western, English speaking people who use things the way I, an English speaking Australian, uses things. I think this is often a fair assumption to make but what happens if someone who doesn’t fit that group use our products? What then? Do we create use edge cases for these people or do we just let them experience a fleeting moment of overwhelming confusion similar to my American coffee experience? Is this acceptable? Is it even worth considering to avoid a small bump in the experience? How could we actually consider cross-cultural experiences without it being an astronomical task?

Some more travel induced food for thought for you. I’m off to Vegas! Cya!

This week's donut?

How much and how should we consider cross-cultural usability? Is it even a thing? I only have questions this week.

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