Ethnocentrism In UX Design
“The way we design interfaces nowadays is very ethnocentric: we use western design patterns and we mostly use English as the main language. But to make sure our designs are effective we must know that everything is interpreted by users based on their cultural backgrounds and values. Even technology is actually very contextual. A funny example is a fact that in the western culture we use the washing machine to do our laundry, whereas in China the washing machine is also used by Chinese farmers to wash their potatoes.”
- Monica Guerrero
Ethnocentrism is a belief that one’s culture is superior to all other cultures. With the digital space filled with stunning templates, tools for easy generation of the user interface, etc. definitely any creative who knows how to throw his or her search net knows exactly where to quickly get a basket-full of readymade resources to accelerate his or her design process and what we get at best is stunning products with poor user experience. The last thing we think of is the culture for which we are designing for.
It is certainly difficult to get acquainted with several cultures, living in a multicultural society with increasing diversity even within our smallest groups.
Perhaps it’s easy to say we all have at some point been culturally biased as designers not in our words this time but, subconsciously using our tools to craft designs that only portrays our beliefs without really bringing to focus the culture of our target audience no matter how small and insignificant we consider such culture to be.
The effectiveness of any product lies in its User Experience, and if our design must be effective we have to be able to conquer ethnocentrism not just in thought but while conducting our design sprint and recognize it in our workflow.
In overcoming this obstacle beyond general user questions include several open-ended questions in your research or survey plans to help you identify a certain cultural pattern. While it is almost impossible to perfectly understand certain cultural traits; it is generally believed that every culture has certain behavioral patterns displayed by a larger group.
Observe how the audience you are designing, communicate, value, interpret, and receive information. Identify the patterns and use them to design for culture.
The screenshots below show a webpage in English Language and in the Arabic Language. Looking at the two images one can easily see that although the layout remains constant the text positions took opposite positions. The Arabic language is written left to right (like Hebrew) but Arabs write numbers right to left, This is a common pattern that could influence your Heuristic evaluation in a project that has to do with an Arabic audience.
Kudos to my browser default translation that helped me out with this, but the point in this comparison is so every designer sees the need for user empathy in design. Due to the culture of the Arabs, if as a Designer you fail to fix things with these inversions in mind (talking about user empathy), your audience will certainly be deaf to the message you are trying to communicate on your product.
Conclusively, empathy for your users is mostly what you need, as a User Experience Designer, you have to be open and intentional about observing ( According to Don Norman In His book Design of Everyday Thing, most times as designers we need to learn by observation as in some cases users may not really be able to tell exactly what the really want) and learning about other cultures; you have to develop this habit and be conscious of it in your design process. One of the best and fastest ways to learn about other people’s culture is getting the owners of the culture to talk about it; you can give your users the opportunity to do this via interview sessions with them for your next project. Resources such as Universal UX Design by Alberto Ferreira can also prove helpful.