The thing is, at that time, Jahan was located in Istanbul and could conduct a physical workshop only with people who also lived here. But the restaurant app concerned was for restaurants in Germany. Could you possibly conduct a card sorting workshop with Turkish people for a German app? Probably not, but we wanted to know more about it. So, together with the team, we decided to dig deeper into some cross-cultural research.
At first, she analyzed several popular brand websites from different countries. In fact, every company website seemed to have a different online presence in different countries. Not just in terms of text and translation, but also in terms of visual elements, typography, color palettes and layouts.
Secondly, Jahan researched the literature and discovered that there have been published studies on the importance of cultural differences in UX/UI design. These are her key takeaways from the literature analysis.
In general, consumer behavior across different countries and cultures is believed to become even more heterogeneous. (De Mooij, & Hofstede, 2002) The same is true when it comes to the design of digital interfaces and there are some characteristics that require particular attention regarding cultural context (Cyr & Trevor-Smith, 2004).
Design characteristics with cultural differences
Language: As one of the most distinctive aspects of different cultures, language is a challenge. The quality of translation makes a huge difference for websites and apps and also representation and style may vary.
Layout: Serving as a communication bridge between the user and the interface, the layout differs in between cultures. This involves the placement of banners, menu items and orientation, amongst others. For example, one study (Barber & Badre, 2001) mentions that in France, the orientation of a website is usually centered. So, features on a French site are most likely to be found not in a corner but in the center of the menu bar.
Symbols: They are “metaphors” that denote actions for the user and may vary a lot from culture to culture. When using them for currencies, locations or navigational elements, designers must pay attention to the fact that symbols aren’t understood the same way everywhere in the world.
Structure: The site's content, the information or features that it provides, as well as its organization, represent another form of communication between the user and the interface. According to another study (Hall & Hall, 1990), in Germany, messages have to be complete, clear and precise while in Japan users prefer to get messages through stories.
Navigation: Easy access to information on websites and apps doesn’t mean the same everywhere. For example, while German users appreciate links in a navigation bar in alphabetical order, this might not be true for other countries.
Multimedia: Videos, animations, images, photographs and sound in digital design cause different reactions in different cultures. Besides the style, it's also critical to pay attention to the message multimedia content conveys.
Colors: In every culture, colors have profound meanings. Color symbolism differs dramatically between Western, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, Indian, and African cultures. For example, in some cultures white represents innocence while in others, it represents death.
Besides these concrete characteristics, there are also some fundamental differences in values that show how different the world’s societies are. According to a very recognized study (Hofstede, 1980), there are five dimensions of fundamental values.
Conclusion: People are different
Each of these factors might have a significant impact on creating user-centric services and products. Who people are and what’s important to them makes a difference in how they perceive information architectures, access information and get motivated to interact with a user interface. It also makes a difference in how we as designers can create value and trust for users with different cultural backgrounds.
After all the research, it was more clear than ever that you cannot do a card-sorting workshop with Turkish people for a German mobile app. There is just too much that users could perceive differently. Especially in today’s world full of choices, visual appeal and how information is organized is way too important to ignore cultural differences.
And the card sorting workshop? In the end, Jahan did it online – with German users, of course.