In today’s increasingly globalised world, cross-cultural user experience (UX) design has become an essential part of designing successful products and services. UX designers must now consider a wide range of cultural differences when modifying their digital products for new markets. In this article we will explore the importance of cross-cultural UX design and some key considerations to keep in mind when designing a product to meet the needs of various cultures around the world.
Why cross-cultural UX design matters
It’s vital to understand how users in different cultures will engage with your product and how they will perceive each element of your design – from the colours you use to the customer interaction journey. If you don’t truly understand the culture of the people in the market that you’re targeting, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You need the facts before you start redesigning your products for new markets, assumptions won’t lead you to success.
Users in every culture need to feel that you’ve developed your product for them, rather than it feeling like a foreign product. That’s why a customer centric approach is so important when it comes to cross-cultural UX design. As a product manager you need to understand the culture of your target audience in specific detail and then put yourself in their shoes knowing what matters to them before you start planning your product redesign for that market.
By understanding the cultural differences that influence how people interact with digital products in each market, you will create products that are more inclusive and effective. You will achieve more consistent performance across all the markets that you operate in.
Understanding important nuances
Let’s start by looking at colours. Colours can represent completely different things and stir up wholly different emotions across cultures. For example, red is associated with love and passion in Western cultures, whilst it’s associated with luck and prosperity in Chinese culture. Considering which colours to use throughout your product is a hugely important aspect when it comes to planning your UX design for each culture/market. If you inadvertently use colours that may be offensive or inappropriate in certain cultural contexts you’re not going to have a successful product there.
Similarly, icons and symbols can have different meanings in different cultures. For example, the “thumbs up” symbol is commonly used in Western cultures to indicate approval or agreement. However, in parts of the Middle East it is considered an offensive gesture. Obviously then it’s crucial that you consider how people in specific cultures will receive each aspect of your product. You need to be sure that you’ve done sufficient research so that you can avoid calamitous pitfalls by using appropriate icons and symbols for each culture.
Finally, let’s look at the text element. It’s not going to be enough to simply translate from your core language to the new language if you want to satisfy cultural requirements. Some phrases you use in your primary market could be meaningless, or worse, offensive, to people in a different culture. It’s always a good idea to have a native speaker doing the translation to make sure your written word has impact, isn’t strewn with errors, and doesn’t drive a wedge between your product and its new users.
Key considerations in cross-cultural UX design
Let’s look at some other important points to consider when adopting a customer centric approach to cross-cultural UX design.
Understand the cultural context: Before designing a product for a particular culture, it’s essential that you understand the cultural context in which new users in that market will interact with your product. This includes language, cultural values, customs, and traditions.
Avoid cultural stereotypes: As a UX designer adapting a product for a new market with different cultural values, you must avoid using cultural stereotypes when designing products. Stereotyping can lead to inaccurate assumptions which can result in you causing avoidable offence. That’s not good business.
Use appropriate imagery: Images and visuals can be a powerful way to communicate with users from different cultures. However, be careful not to use imagery that may be offensive or inappropriate in certain cultural contexts.
Consider language differences: Language is a crucial factor in cross-cultural UX design. We’ve touched on the importance of doing more than a basic translation and using native speakers for this job, but is one language enough in the new market or are multiple languages spoken there? Are there other different sub-cultures that you need to be aware of? Do you need to consider a regional approach in certain markets rather than a country-wide one? It’s not just the language itself that you need to consider. You need to make sure you’re using appropriate fonts and typography for each culture too.
Test with users from different cultures: Finally, it’s important to test your products with users from different cultures to ensure that they are effective and inclusive. User testing can help you to identify issues that you may not have anticipated or that you’ve missed during your UX research process.
Understanding product users in foreign markets
UX research plays a vital role in helping you understand cultural differences across markets, how users in each culture/market will interact with a product like yours, and ultimately it will determine whether you have a successful product or not as your research shapes everything else that you do.
Things you need to find out in your UX research project to make sure you develop a customer centric product:
- What is unique about customers in the market? Is this cultural, behavioural or both?
- How will users from this culture engage and interact with a product like yours?
- Do they have any distinctive preferences? What features will matter to them the most and which won’t?
- What design styles and colours would be most appropriate?
- What text styles, tone of voice, phrases, fonts etc. will be most appropriate? Remember the value of getting native speakers involved in your discovery journey, your product development phase and your final testing
- What types of symbols and imagery will be most suitable for this culture?
If you take the time to do proper, professional UX research to make sure you know the answers to all these aspects you will be well on your way to developing a successful product.
Build up a picture of your ideal user
Once you understand the culture and the likely user behaviour of people in a culture you can start to build up an image of what your ideal customer looks like in that market.
It’s always useful to create an avatar. Create this ideal person making sure that you note down everything about them. That’s your target audience. Once you understand this clearly and you’ve documented it, you will be able to build a much more effective marketing communications strategy to support your product.
Taking these steps will make sure that there are no cultural misunderstandings when you launch your product in a new market, or when you refresh a more mature product to improve its performance.
Cultural factors to consider across different industries
For most businesses it will pay dividends to have a culturally specific version of your product for every market that you operate in. That said, the level of product localisation that you need to adopt will vary depending on your industry and the level of cultural difference between users in your main market and those in the new market.
Thorough and effective UX research will tell you what you need to do to make your product suitable for each market and culture. In some cases you may just need localised text on your website. In other cases you may need to change your branding, your design and your product. It will vary per market. The main thing is to always maintain a customer centric approach and make sure that your product is fit for purpose for every culture that you provide your product into.
There is no one checklist that you need to follow. What you need to do to make your product a success across different cultures will be determined by your research and testing in each cultural background.
You need to research early and research often. You need to test early and test often. Depending on the size of your target market, it may be worthwhile establishing a professional local usability team and a local team of professional researchers.
Preparing to launch a product into a new culture
Researching, strategizing and designing products for international markets can be tough — especially if you have little knowledge of the cultural background to being with. But, with in-depth research and usability testing, you can design better products that meet the needs of users in any culture.
In today’s globalised world, cross-cultural UX design has become an essential part of creating successful digital products. As technology continues to shape everything we do and it makes it easier for you to acquire new users in new parts of the world, it’s more important than ever to create digital products that are customer centric, culturally sensitive and appropriate.
Start with comprehensive, professional UX research
At UX24/7 we provide UX research services internationally, including the creation of professional local teams just for you when required. Our researchers are able to take vital research tasks off your hands, provide you with all the cultural insight that you need, and set you up to create a customer centric product primed for success.