How culture affects user experience

Sean Madden makes some interesting points in American-Centric UI Is Leveling Tech Culture — and Design Diversity:

Just as user-centered design transformed technology in the 1990s and early 2000s, cultural fluency needs to transform it today: user experience (UX) design that’s familiar enough with a user’s cultural background to meet him or her halfway.

Cultural fluency demands abandoning the idea that functionality is a universal language, and that “good UX” is culturally agnostic.

He goes on to give some examples of this cultural bias:

Consider the use of gestural interfaces in a world where gestures mean very different things in different cultures. Or using scrolling for timelines when time horizons (among other culturally sensitive dimensions) represent different values to different societies. Even the idea of touching our screens is a culturally sensitive UX action.

We see this not just in how people use products differently, but also how we interact with them during the user-centered design process. Last year I started working on a talk called The challenges and opportunities of user-centered design in developing nations. Somewhere along the line I ran out of steam with it, but I still think it’s an important topic. For example, a usability lab in an office full of Macs and giant screens can be quite intimidating to users if you’re doing research on low-end phone usage, so that’s something you have to account for. Even our user-centered design methods need to be user-centered, but it’s unfortunately something we tend not to pay much attention to.