This February I presented a 5 minute lightning talk at Ladies That UX London on localisation. Culture changes all the around the globe, and UX too changes with it. Join me on this journey, from America, through to Egypt, and all the way to China. Discover the what, why and the how of things that change in the UX.
The first thing to note about America is that it’s an individualist culture. The language when selling happiness targets the individual rather than a group. Adverts will target you, with slogans like “Go on treat yourself!” and “You deserve it!”.
Another aspect of American culture which can have huge impacts on UX is that they have 6 timezones across the country!
Eastern Time, Central time, Mountain time, Western time, Hawaiian time, and Alaskan time.
Websites which rely on times like travel sites need to clearly display which time zone the times are in. For people who are looking at sites across states may not know if times are displayed in their local times, or the local times of the hotel for example.
Not only do time zones affect websites, the time differences also affect how we work as researchers across states. When scheduling interviews with users, be sure to schedule interviews in their local timezone. Also keep track of what time that translates as for you, and your stakeholders’ timezone.
The United Kingdom is quite strange for UX-ers who may not be from the country. Not only do we drive on the left hand side of the road, but we are also 1 out of only 11 countries in the world with letters in postcodes. UX-ers internationalising a website must ensure that non-UK developers don’t filter letters in postcode form validation.
For websites which use measurements, like car fuel capacity or food amounts, find out the measurement system your target country uses. The UK though, is a bit weird. Despite the fact that the UK officially adopted the metric system in 1965, the country still sells certain items using Imperial measurements. For example, liquids like milk and beer are still sold in pints and for cars we still use miles rather than kilometres.
It may feel obvious that it’s a good idea to know which measurement system users expect. But for NASA this was not the case back in 1999. Unfortunately 2 teams on the Mars Climate Probe did not communicate which measurement system was being used. One of the teams were using English measurements, with another team using metric. Whilst the probe was landing, the numbers failed to convert, forcing the rover off course. Something so simple, lead to a loss of contact with a billion dollar project.
Down to Egypt! The biggest challenge for non-Arabic speakers is the language. Not only does the language and script change, so does the direction. Arabic is a right to left language. When the language flips so does everything in the design, layout and flow.
Here are the localised McDonald’s websites, for Arabic and English speakers. Everything in the design has changed, following the direction of the language. Menus, text, the location of the navigation have moved. Even the imagery has been flipped!
Take a look at design patterns. The renowned F pattern, as used in Google’s search results, also flips for pages written in Arabic. People scan in the opposite direction to the “F” pattern, and expect the information to flow in a flipped “F” pattern.
Moving across into India. Here we have another challenge where language is concerned. This time, we have the choice of which language we use, as India has over 150 recognised languages. Luckily to narrow down the choice there are only 2 official languages, Hindi and English. But don’t forget each state has their own languages. You can never guarantee which language your user speaks.
Interfaces which give directions, like Google Maps need to accommodate for people who don’t know street names. Instead people rely on landmarks when travelling to somewhere or giving directions to someone. UX-ers cannot rely on infrastructures like street signs to give directions. Not every street has a sign post.
Moving down into the South of India, we are faced with the challenge of names. A common tradition for Southern Indians is to not have a surname. One of the reasons being that family names often indicated your caste. Unfortunately even the Indian government requires a surname for official documents, like a passport. This is forcing people to adapt their traditions to match tech requirements.
Localising for China, there are the same challenges for language as there are for Egypt and India, combined. There are 8 official languages. Some with their own scripts and some changing direction.
But 1 of the biggest differences between Eastern and Western cultures, is the device market. Mobile users officially surpassed desktop users back in 2010. So much so that China now has its own genre of mobile apps, called qing ying yong. These light apps tend to serve one purpose, with even Coca Cola getting in on the action! They built a light app just to celebrate their 128th birthday, with the app briefly explaining Coca Cola’s company history. Chinese companies are now building mobile only experiences, skipping the “mobile-first” approach altogether.
Names change too, compared to the traditional Western order of firstname + surname. Family names in China are before given names, and often are used together. This means both our forms and personalisation approach (of using names in emails etc.) need to adapt for Chinese users.
Colour also plays a huge part in our UX and UI across culture. Red for China has strong cultural meaning, and is seen everywhere.
Here we can compare the Chinese and Canadian KFC websites. Firstly let’s look at the amount of red on each page. Red on the Canadian site is mostly in the background or on the items because it is also KFC branding. Yet, the Chinese site red uses for a lot more elements on the page. It’s used as backgrounds, it’s used for buttons, the text is red, small banners are red!
UX is any culture is fascinating. Personally I am challenged on my theory every day for UK experiences. And I love it. Researching internationally is a whole other story, and the challenges go on and on.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” - Nelson Mandela
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