13 December 2013

Cross-cultural user interface design

In September 2011, under the heading Seeking_#1: Graphic standards to accommodate cultural preferences, I asked the question:
Can anyone point me to a graphic standard (charte graphique) catering for  the cultural preferences of readers of the different language versions of bi- or multilingual technical publications?
Today, thanks to an article entitled Why we can’t let American tech take over the world (my decapitalisation, as usual when quoting American sources) by Sean Madden in Wired magazine dated 12 December 2013, I have something of an answer. Madden's contribution links to the feature article in the April 2013 issue of Human Factor International's UX Design Newsletter (UX for 'user experience') entitled Cross-cultural considerations for user interface design (my decap) by Nehal Shah. (For past issues of the UX Design Newsletter, see here.) For an explanation of what HFI means by 'user experience' and the return on investment it offers, view this RSA Animate presentation.

Shah's article provides some of the background theory while Madden's gives a number of interesting examples from web sites for mass consumer goods and services. Neither refers to technical communication on advanced-technology capital-intensive industrial products.

Interesting to note that Madden's opinion piece -- it appears on the Opinion page of Wired -- raised the hackles (see the comments section) of some American web designers. Perhaps if these designers looked at the English-language versions of some European or Asian websites that, in their view, are unlikely to achieve the desired effect on American readers (despite apparent success in their home cultures), they might realise that they entirely missed the point of the article.

To summarise the state of the art in cross-cultural user interface design and graphic standards, I invite feedback on the following tentative conclusions:

  • some large corporations selling mass consumer goods and services have moved beyond the early 2000s approaches to website localisation (l10n) and globalisation (g18n) to culturally tailored text, graphics and layout based on evidence-based cross-cultural user experience methods and/or similar strategies
  • few if any companies selling advanced-technology capital-intensive industrial products and services appear to have picked up on this trend (the situation may be different in the software sector)
  • few if any graphics agencies and the like in western Europe and working for companies selling advanced-technology capital-intensive industrial products -- and more specifically agencies employing or using freelance technical writters, journalists and translators -- appear to have picked up on this trend.

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