Regional Variation in International Research

international user research

International research should take into account regional variation

While we might give some thought and consideration to the idea that there could be regional differences in user behaviour and experience within our own country (and that is only might); if and when we do international research, do we give sufficient thought to regional variance within other countries. Given the expense and difficulty of international research you are probably not looking for another layer of complexity to factor into your calculations; but the plain truth is that regional differences are likely to be even more pronounced and important in overseas markets than they are in the UK.

Here in Britain we do have a relatively homogenous market in terms of economic status, geographic dispersion, cultural heritage (OK, there are significant exceptions but as a general rule it is a good working hypothesis). Britain is also relatively small, and connectivity – both physical and electronic – is reasonably consistent.

Consider for example South American or African countries which can cover hundreds of thousands of square miles and where often the capital city and maybe one or two other major cities are completely different to the rest of the country in terms of prosperity, amenities, transport, technology. International research that was based just on the significant city areas would give a completely false picture of what the whole country looked like in terms of user markets.

The geography of these places can also vary greatly. In the UK we have one or two really remote regions in the highlands and islands of Scotland, for example; but these are nothing in terms of remoteness and isolation compared to, say, the African bush or jungle, the South American rain forests or the Tundra of northern Europe. You might tend to think that these places are relatively uninhabited and not important to your marketing but you would probably be surprised to learn what percentage of the world’s population live in remote, undeveloped areas – for example, around half of the world’s mobile users are still on 2G. These could be your users now – and some of them almost certainly will be some time in the future.

So is there a way around this that doesn’t massively escalate the budget but can still paint a picture that is useful in terms of user experience?

It might be worth doing some desk research of your own before designing a formal (and potentially expensive) international research project. You could hire a researcher to produce a profile of the country you are researching in terms of features such as:

  • population;
  • ethnicities;
  • transport and communications;
  • technological sophistication;
  • economics;
  • languages;
  • mobile phone ownership.

You might be able to highlight critical features from this and construct an international research framework that weights and shapes the major individual factors when you create profiles or personas for your users.

If you would like further guidance on how to go about this – or any other aspect – of international  UX research, then please, get in touch by phone on +44(0)800 0246 247, or email We have a lot of experience and background knowledge in many overseas markets which we can focus onto your particular issue.

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