10 Tips for Building International User Interfaces
1. Use a user centred approach
Contact real users, not only your customer, watch and interview users in their natural working environment. Do task and context analysis. Analyse requirements of users. Identify the people who will use the product, what they will use it for, and under what conditions they will use it.
Test milestones with your users: document review, paper mock-up test, usability test, eyetracking test.
There is an international standard (ISO 13407: Human-centred design process) that defines a general process for including human-centered activities throughout a development life-cycle.
If you can not meet all your users personally, develop personas, who will replace real users with archeatypes of users. A persona has a (fake) name, a picture and a description of typical user characteristics.
2. Overcome ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s own race or ethnic group is the most important and that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups. Since within this ideology, individuals will judge other groups in relation to their own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behavior, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity’s unique cultural identity.
Dont assume that what you’ve learned and what you’ve experienced is also true for users of other countries and cultures. There are other beliefs and ideas, which you might not see as right or best but work perfectly for others.
3. Be aware of cultural differences
Beliefs, culture, customs, opinions, politics, gender issues, jokes, family issues – all topics which might be discussed differently in different parts of the world.
Be sensitive, try to avoid these topics in your design as best as possible. Concentrate on your target group.
Keep in mind that Western languages differ from Asian languages: they have different lengths, different character sets and will be read from diefferent directions.
Colours, signs, signals, symbols, icons, gestures can have different meanings – even if they seem to be the same.
4. Act interculturally competent
A person who is interculturally competent captures and understands, in interaction with people from foreign cultures, their specific concepts in perception, thinking, feeling and acting.
Show interest in your users. Be tolerant, open, empathetic, hold back your own opinions, dont act (and design) on your first instinct.
5. Compare with competitors
Competitor analysis identifies the strengths and weaknesses of competing products and services. It does not mean that you should copy or imitate what the others do but that you know what’s going on on international markets and where your customer stands.
Identify key competitors and analyse weaknesses and strengths.
Avoid making the same mistakes and aim at doing better.
see Competitor Analysis
6. Localize contents and design
Concentrate on user’s expectations. Use language of end users, adapt software to regional differences and users’ preferences. Test with “real” users on-site.
Example: Chinese are attracted by foreign brands but prefer to have Chinese characters on products and product descriptions.
see Product Localization
7. Design colours and icons the right way
Colour and colour schemes might not work for all in the same way. Icons, pictures, metaphers might be misunderstood.
see Color Meanings Around the World
8. Don’t use body parts to represent interaction elements
Think about how you show ok-sign, number one or victory-sign with your fingers… These can have totally different even sometimes offending meanings in other countries.
9. Don’t think that users are so different
Don’t underestimate customers and users.
You dont like to read manuals? Neither do your users.
You don’t like to read long messages or long text on the screen? You don’t like to fill out long forms and enter all your personal data? Neither do your users…
You are annoyed by pop-ups, splash screens, not-welcomed sounds and long loading pages? Well… your users are as well!
10. Relax! Embrace this new challenge and feel competent
Now you know better how to approach your international users… Stay cool, there are always options in everything that you are doing, try to find the best in accordance with your users.
What is User-Centered Design?
What is Ethnocentrism?
Give examples for the meaning of colours in different cultures.
What is intercultural competence?
Give examples for adresses in different countries.
Give different representations for “One Hundred Thousand”.
Give examples for gestures and meanings in different cultures.
What are common prejudices? Give examples.
What is different in other countries? Give personal examples.
What is the difference between a Western and an Asian website?
Give examples for different time and date specifictions.
Give examples for product names which don’t work globally.
What are personas? What do you use them for?
What are special considerations for a Chinese web site?
What are special considerations for a German web site?