tl;dr: Neglecting to ‘bake-in’ i18n into our products is a bad idea. Failing to consider cultural practices could cook your goose.
As an end-user, I want an application that takes into consideration my culture.
The W3C offers an easy-to-read and understand explanation of the difference between ‘Localization vs. Internationalization’ that provides the following enumeration of factors related to localization:
- Numeric, date and time formats
- Use of currency
- Keyboard usage
- Collation and sorting
- Symbols, icons and colors
- Text and graphics containing references to objects, actions or ideas …
- Varying legal requirements
- and many more things.
I’d like to focus a bit on “… and many more things” in light of an oversight I observed at a local gym; a clean, well-kept, up-to-date gym that I’ve often and eagerly recommended to friends, neighbors, co-workers.
That said, I can’t stop thinking about the landing area for a staircase that channels gym members to and from the lockers and lobby on the first floor, to and from the aerobic, weights, yoga, and stretching areas on the second level.
The above towel pick-up and drop-off photo is also my almost-daily reminder to consider culture when developing user personas.
Now for those of you living in locations outside of the US, Canada, Taiwan, and several locations in continental Europe, you may be asking yourself “What’s the problem here?” Especially for those from cultures where driving and/or ascending stair cases is practices on the left.
However, for those of us who might find ourselves occasionally “beaten for walking on wrong side of stairs,” the locations of the fresh towel pick-up and the not-so-fresh towel drop-off create an opportunity for some unexpected encounters.
To save us all 1000 words, below is an annotated image of the same steps from another perspective that I hope help visualize the problem I’m trying to describe:
As you can see, at least from the perspective of looking up the steps, those ascending from the right need to cross to the left to grab a fresh towel for their workout — potentially crossing into the path of those discarding their sweaty towels, before descending on the opposite side of the same staircase.
So what does this have to do with you and your software? Glad you asked.
Personally, if I were king gym rat for a day, the only thing I might change about this awesome facility would be to swap the locations of the towel pickup/drop-off units to avoid the inevitable traffic jam that occurs atop the steps during periods of heavy foot traffic.
Why? Because culturally — at least where I live — folks ascend and descend steps on the right.
Similarly, under the i18n category of “… and many more things,” the same cultural considerations need to be applied to any software projects for which I’m the product owner.
Put another way, as I work with UX on personas, scenarios, and UI, I need to consider the following hypothesis to any products I manage:
We believe that ‘baking-in’ cultural considerations will create a more seamless user experience for the end-user.
If we remove and/or avoid potential cultural collisions in our applications , then we our users will more readily adopt and utilize our workflows.
We will know if we are right if A/B testing reveals greater task success and feature adoption for those whose user experience incorporates cultural considerations versus those who’s UI does not.
So what about you? Do you have any examples of “… and many more things” you might offer as potential cultural collision points? If so, don’t be shy. Share.
As for me, I’ll continue going to said awesome gym, using the current towel situation to remind me to think of the user experience in light of their culture.
At least that’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it until the data proves otherwise.