Cross-cultural research shouldn't be an afterthought

We sometimes take for granted that usability and behavior are universal, and fail to consider how vastly different cultural expectations and experiences of users can affect how they approach an interface. As researchers, we are tasked with being as neutral as possible, but there are inevitably hidden biases we hold that are sometimes unknown to us until we are face-to-face with an alternative reality.

My favorite example of an unknown hidden bias is from my experience doing research in Brazil with online shoppers. Although we knew that paying in installments was a common practice, it didn't occur to us that the selection of items that could be bought in installments was far broader than we ever imagined. We visited research participants in their homes, and asked questions about the items they had bought in installments. They mentioned the usual suspects of large purchases; TVs, home appliances, cellphones. It didn't occur to us to ask about smaller purchases. Like shoes.

So here, we are, a team walking through a local mall and then it struck us - even things such as toys and clothing were available to be purchased in installments. What's more, installment prices were more important than regular prices - judging by how prominently stores would display the installment price over the full price.

This story really cements the fact that cross-cultural research on-the-ground is not just a nice-to-have, but often a must-have for businesses attempting to enter a completely new market. It's often difficult to even identify the assumptions we want to explore when we don't know what our hidden biases are.

From our experiences doing research in Latin America, a teammate of mine, Anosha Shokrpour, and I wrote an article for UX Magazine focusing on tips we have for doing user experience research in Latin America. It'll have many more stories like the one I have here on how to best prepare yourself for global research. Look out for it at the end of October!

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