International User Research (Part 1)

international user research

International UX research is essential if you want to avoid potentially expensive, even disastrous mistakes when launching products in overseas markets. It is hardly ever sufficient to just take your homegrown product and transfer it to another market (unless that market is extremely similar to the one you are operating in – and even then there can be subtle differences that you can’t immediately see but will influence how your product is received). While international research can be expensive, consider the downside of a total product failure in an overseas market before dismissing the idea.

So how different can be an overseas market be in these days of globalisation and pervasive western values? To answer that question all you need to do is think of the Arab world who mainly subscribe to very different values and ethos to western countries and can be very easily offended, even insulted, if something inappropriate to their culture is offered.

Language &  Other Cultural Differences

And while it might be comforting to assume that most people in the world speak, or at least have a rudimentary understanding of, the English language there are whole swathes of important potential markets where this is not the case – Japan and many of the far Eastern states, China, large parts of Africa and Latin America, India and the rest of the subcontinent – and the list could go on. If you are looking to market to these areas you really do need to understand the motivations, needs and circumstances of the potential users you are addressing. Even if a lot of the users do speak English their comprehension might be very different to ours and phrases and words can have very diverse meanings to them – a colloquialism that we use might convey something pejorative in a very personal way to others.

Language is not the only problem – though it might be a considerable barrier in itself; but there are other significant cultural differences that might make your campaign unintelligible, offensive or just not appealing to an overseas marketplace. International UX research can help you probe some of the cultural and practical problems that can exist in other national markets and help you avoid falling into the beartraps that these might set.

For example Asian cultures tend to have a very different perception of design and layout to western sensibilities and a perfectly acceptable presentation to an American or Western European become difficult, frustrating or annoying for their eastern counterparts. Similarly appeals to ostentation or materialism can fail in countries where, or example, honour and family are more important than material objects or where status is determined by other factors than possession.

The underlying message here regarding overseas markets is that you don’t know what you don’t know and making decisions based on this lack of knowledge, understanding and insight is likely to be non-productive at best, calamitous at worst. Getting alongside a partner organisation either for the whole venture or significant parts of it or at least getting a local organisation to help in research, translation, setup etc are the best ways of assuaging some of this risk.

If you are interested in finding out more about international user research, why not get int touch and email us at

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