Geography, Culture and UX Design



With globalization at its peak, most of the products are designed for the global audience. However, the concept “one-design-fits-all” is not something that most companies focus on. Why? One may ask. Well, the reason is simple, the geography and culture of a user affect the way they perceive.  

When you look at a picture on your computer or smartphone, what catches your eye? Surprisingly, the answer to that question might differ depending upon where you were raised. According to research by psychologist Richard Nisbett, Chinese and American people see the world differently!  Americans focus on the central objects of photographs, while Chinese individuals pay more attention to the image as a whole. Astounding, isn’t it?

Another study by the same psychologist also cites the differences in language development in the cultures. “To Westerners, it seems obvious that babies learn nouns more easily. But while this is the case in the West, studies show that Korean and Chinese children pick up verbs – which relate objects to each other – more easily”.

How to design for a global audience?

Additional studies done in the area of culture and cognition by several psychologists establish the fact that culture does affect cognition to a great extent.

Can we reap the fruits of research in this area to UX UI Design?

We certainly can!

Ask any UX expert, and they will say, “try to understand your users the best way you can!!!”. And, I agree. We, as designers, also need to make sure that we follow what the Globalization and Localization Association describes as “the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market by adapting the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter their language, culture, or location. ”

In fact, global food chains understand the cultural nuances that affect the design and have fundamentally different websites for different continents! They have realized that it is no longer enough to simply translate their applications in several languages. Other than offering localized menus, they change their names, and aesthetics to appeal to the denizens. User research plays an important part in deciding how things will work for your new audience. 

The next step:

When it comes to business, customers want applications that acknowledge their cultural characteristics. It is evidently true that understanding the cultural backgrounds of users, is very important for user-centric design. 

Even though we are catering to one audience, it’s always crucial to design and build it with global audiences in mind. And, this means, considering the cultural aspects during the product design and development stage.

When I say culture, I don’t mean a country or any ethnicity. I mean their social norms, technological infrastructure, behavioral pattern, and so on. However, it also becomes extremely difficult to design for varied audiences within a given budget and strict timelines. And, User Research is something that becomes crucial at the planning stage when we are catering to a global audience. 

Even in the case of food & clothing habits, we can find great differences across cultures. Some people use spoons, some chopsticks and others eat with their hands. Some cultures prefer vibrant colors around them while others prefer subtle colors. Trust me, these are the things that we must consider when rolling out a mobile app or designing a B2B SaaS platform.

In spite of all the cultural differences, there will be a lot of situations where their usage patterns and expected user experiences could be the same. There will be applications for which we might not have to rely on observations from the ethnographic study. 

I agree that designers with a greater understanding of cultures empathize more with users and their use cases. Certainly, it shows in their design as well by impacting their design thinking abilities.

In the end, how much of the user environments, especially the cultural changes should we consider is contextual. There can be more important factors than cultural differences to be considered while designing some applications. While in some cases,  cultural changes could play a big role (for example, in a B2C food delivery app). 

We write such insightful blogs regularly, visit the Divami Blog page to read some. 

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