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Resources: UPA 2005 Idea Markets

What is a Cultural User Interface Template and what can we do with it?

Activator: Abigail Kirigin, The MITRE Corporation

The Activator's Initial Questions

There has been a great deal of research over the past few decades regarding the benefits of tailoring user interfaces for local audiences around the world (localization). However, not much has been done for collaboration products themselves. When the primary goal of the software is to bring multiple cultures together, how should we localize the displays? Should we localize them at all? Cultural User Interface Templates could be used to tailor shared information displays in real time according to the culture of the user who is viewing it.

The posted questions were:

  • What is a Cultural User Interface Template and what can we do with it?
  • Does tailoring the information presentation hinder or enhance collaboration?
  • Are you aware of any aids to cross-cultural collaboration?
  • What are the critical elements of the display?
    • Color? Layout? Text size? Phraseology? Amount of interaction elements?
  • How could tailored information improve collaboration among a multicultural team?
    • How could it hinder it?

The attendees provided examples of their own experiences designing systems for various international audiences, suggested alternative applications where presentation tailoring may support collaboration, added additional related research questions, and discussed suggestions for and challenges to enabling cross-cultural collaboration.

Anecdotal experiences when designing products for international audiences

  • Users in various countries would input the data into a database application in their native language, and the software would later translate it all into the same language. This way users could enter things quickly and rather than having to rely only on words they knew, they could use terminology they were comfortable with.
  • Even if you give everyone the same interface, they will use it in different ways – they will make it fit their needs, their culture.
  • Amount of information people need differs. Order of information presentation, such as how the main point and then the details are ordered will differ between cultures.
  • Some cultures are visual.
  • Many people had anecdotes regarding careful use of color and icons.
  • Some groups have a strong hierarchy, and decisions require multiple levels of review. Others only require peer review.
  • Some groups would prefer to identify information only by the name of the group that created it, while others would like to see an individual’s name on the information. A suggestion was made to simply hide the granularity of that information depending on the culture of the group receiving it, but there was a concern that that would make it difficult for two people from different cultures to synchronize and talk about a particular information piece, since its information would be labeled differently.
  • Acclimatization is powerful. Users can learn to look beyond their cultural differences in order to accomplish their tasks. For example, on the highway in China food signs are displayed with knives and forks. Drivers instantly know that means food, even if they don’t traditionally eat with those utensils.
  • One participant pointed out differences she saw between Asian and Western cultures using online chat tools. Users in Asian countries had fewer chat windows open at once, each chat window had more people in it (group rather than individual chat), and chats tended to last longer. On the other hand, in the US, chatters had several windows open, usually chatted one-on-one, and chatted for shorter periods of time.
  • Some cultures are particularly resistant to new things. Their trust has been eroded for a variety of reasons and the system must work extra hard to build confidence. For example many people in non-Western countries are not used to online payment or registration and do not trust the websites who request those things.

Presentation tailoring may support collaboration in other ways…

  • Participants see differences between collaborating groups even when they are all from the same country. Perhaps tailoring information displays will help them overcome their differences. Differences may arise between teams, companies, roles, regions, departments, etc.
  • However, some participants were concerned that differences may be difficult to isolate. Creating distinct types that have significantly different profiles at other levels of cultural differences - such as between roles in a company - may be challenging.

Additional related research questions

  • How can we overcome inherent conflicts between cultural requirements?
  • Would you see greater or fewer differences between people depending on the size of the group collaborating?
  • Can we standardize the cultural differences into cultural templates so that we do not have to do it manually each time we release each of our products to a new market?

Suggestions for and challenges to enabling cross-cultural collaboration

  • The group will need to agree on a standard language or else communication will not be possible.
  • Collaboration is difficult when it is entirely computer mediated. Allowing collaborators to talk to each other will help them overcome some of their cultural differences. A collaborative system needs to be accompanied by face-to-face interaction.
  • Although internationalization may seem like an appropriate solution, it may not always be appropriate. In a time-critical scenario, users must sometimes make split second decisions from the information displayed. That information must appeal to them as effectively as possible, and doing so may require leveraging the cultural icons they will respond to. Eliminating those in the name of internationalization may produce a lowest-common-denominator effect for everyone.
  • Collaborators must establish common ground, a task that has been traditionally difficult to accomplish through software.
  • Ethnographic pre-discovery and more customization at the beginning of the design process would help produce a better tool.
  • Localization is expensive! Make sure the ROI is there before tailoring displays.
  • One of the largest differences between cultures is the process they use to arrive at a solution – not the product itself. It is not just about color and layout. It is much bigger; it is also about tailoring the steps and goals themselves.




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