Culture and the Web
Does Culture make a Difference in Web Usability?
Presentation to MRIA-Ottawa – May 18, 2006
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Today’s Presentation
• Inspired by testing many government websites
across Canada and around the world among
different cultural groups
• An informal observation: perception, usability,
and satisfaction on the same websites were
strikingly different among different groups....does
one’s culture explain this?
• Case Studies; then you be the judge!
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“Culture” is broader than Ethnic Group
....the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial,
religious, or social group
- Webster’s Dictionary
Age groups and gender also form “cultures”
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The Most Insidious Characteristic of
Culture…
Learned
Shared
Patterned
Internalized
Arbitrary
Mutually
constructed
Symbolic
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Culture is internalized.
Your culture surrounds you. You take it for granted.
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So, is that an issue when
designing (or testing) websites?
Let’s see.
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Canadian Government Web Presence
Abroad
Some Context:
• More than 250 Canadian Government websites
targeting foreign audiences, leading to:
• an inconsistent GoC presence and message
• a difficult user experience
• multiple sources of similar content
• major difficulties in content management
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Qualitative Research
Participation in Consultations
Location
# of
Sessions
# of
Participants
(all groups)
Headquarters (Ottawa)
3
17
Washington D.C. (WSHDC)
4
34
Buffalo (BFALO)
2
17
Los Angeles (LNGLS)
2
12
Mexico City (MXICO)
2
14
Guatemala City (GTMLA)
2
14
Brasilia (BRSLA)
1
9
New Delhi (DELHI)
4
29
Tokyo (TOKYO)
4
32
Beijing (BEJING)
4
28
Paris (PARIS)
2
12
Rome (ROME)
1
7
Berlin (BRLIN)
4
19
Cairo (CAIRO)
1
8
TOTAL
36
***
Some cautions:
• Locally-engaged staff at missions cannot
be considered ‘typical’, and exhibit traits of
both Canadian and local cultures
• Canada-based staff prone to dominate
mixed discussion groups (if allowed)
• Groups moderated in English or French, so
many locally engaged dealing in second
language
• Large-post bias (except GTMLA)
• Standard limitations on qualitative research
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Some Usability Issues Consistent Across
Groups
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Some Usability Issues Consistent Across
Groups
Right bar/left bar
navigation is confusing –
Users don’t (easily) read
what’s on the right
Multiple buttons for
similar tasks
Canada Wordmark
and CLF provide
security
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Multiple Experience and Interpretations of
Same Sites (1)
Group #1 :
•Easy to read. Easy to find info
with left bar navigation. Complete
most tasks in 3-4 clicks. Very easy
to use site.
•Also, liked Canadian imagery, red
on white, felt ‘at home’
• “Not too busy”
Group 1: English Canadian
Group #2:
• More difficulty in finding
information sought (same info).
• Felt ‘restrained’ by all buttons on
left side.
• Viewed ‘red on white’ has
“aggressive” and “difficult to read”
•“Somewhat boring”
Group 2: Latin/Italian Origin
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Multiple Experience and Interpretations of
Same Sites (2)
Group #1 :
•Easy to navigate and find what
you need. Clear choices.
• Canada is inclusive. Diverse.
• It’s clean. Clear.
• Colorful – maybe too much so.
Group 1: Anglo – Saxons
(Northern Europe, US, Canada)
Group #2:
• Technologically backward (no
flash, XML, etc.)
• Too many useless buttons
• Boring. White
• Photos are tacky. Passé.
Group 2: Most groups
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Can we agree on Best Practice?
Group #1 :
• Clean, clear. Uncluttered
• Very easy to find what your
looking for.
• Soothing
• Conservative. Credible.
• Rotating pictures (flash)
communicates innovativeness.
Group 1: US, Germany, France,
Canada-based staff
Group #2:
• BORING!
• Austere, stern, unfriendly
• Where do I go? Where would I
start?
Group 2: Italy, Latin America
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Do different cultures perform tasks
differently?
Example Journeys:
•
Find information on
Pierre Elliott Trudeau for
my history class;
•
Find available subsidies
for artists;
•
Find export financing for
arts and culture.
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Two Approaches
• Group 1:
• Type in keywords into search bar
• Seek match on first page
• Click on closest match
• Evaluate
• Group 2:
• Look for closest match to keyword in left hand navigation
column
• Click on closest match
• Click on closest match again
• Click back, forth and circle until found.
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Two Approaches
• Group 1: Youth Aged 14-18
• Type in keywords into search bar
• Seek match on first page
• Click on closest match
• Evaluate
• Group 2: Adults Aged 30+
• Look for closest match to keyword in left hand navigation
column
• Click on closest match
• Click on closest match again
• Click back and forth.
• Evaluate
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Do different cultures look at a site
differently?
We observed no major deviation from the “F” pattern across any cultures
(for languages reading left-to-right)
Source: Nielsen, Jakob
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html
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Bringing it all Together….
• Every individual interacts with a website through
his/her own ‘cultural lenses’.
• Remember, ethnicity is only one dimension of culture.
Age, gender, and social group are just examples of
other cultural ‘groups’.
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Culture appears to have less influence.....
• in requiring ease of use, few clicks, and increasing
demands for website performance
• in how a website is scanned (F-pattern, or mirror
image)
• in aversion to too many options, choices, buttons or
places to go – everyone appears to like simplicity
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Where Culture and Usability Intersect
Some aspects of web design and usability are more
‘culturally sensitive’ than others:
• use and mix of colour
(or ‘color’ if I’m addressing a US audience)
• spatial orientation and use of white space (clean
vs. busy)
• text per page and text vs. pictures
• use of movement (e.g. flash images)
Overall, user friendliness starts by “feeling at home”.
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The Web Designers’ Dilemma At Home or Just Visiting?
The “Home Away from
Home”
• Understand which
aspects of ‘your’ culture
appeal to your audience,
and which are different
• Communicate clearly that
the visitor is visiting
through CLF/brand
• Communicate your
message using local
cultural cues – make the
user “feel at home”
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Practically speaking…some tips
• Above all, remember you internalize your culture!
• Don’t overreact to cultural differences. Your audience is also
expecting a “different” cultural experience on your site.
• Untangle global and local content by creating a clear framework
and permitting design flexibility within it
• Maintain single authoritative sources for content, then adapt for
targeted audience. Don’t let the cart lead the horse.
• Test cultural assumptions during the design phase. Remember
the cultural variable during the usability testing phase. Ask
about culture...it’s not taboo!
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Recommended reading and references
• Best Practices in Web Globalization – Lionbridge
Technologies Inc.
• Barber and Badre, “Culturability: The Merging of
Culture and Usability”
Available on www.antima.ca
Click on “Innovative Approaches”
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Questions & Discussion
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