10 Tips: International UI

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.

see What is User-Centered Design?

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.
from: Wikipedia

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.
Much success!!

Workshop questions:
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?


Stop Press

Ni hao China,

GUI design says hello to China. Astrid Beck, GUI Design Stuttgart and
Professor at Hochschule Esslingen is supporting Wilddesign Shanghai on
all issues on usability since March 2009.

Markus Wild, founder of Wilddesign Gelsenkirchen says: “We are very
happy to have Astrid in our Shanghai team! Astrid emphasizes the topic
of usability in our company and brings it to our Chinese customers”.
Wilddesign’s customers in China come mainly from China but also from
Europe and other countries with base in China. Main areas are industrial
design, especially design of products, packaging, shops and events. This
also includes development of brands and CI (Corporate Identity)
including image brochures and web sites. Example products are power
tools, kitchenware and medical devices. Wilddesign Shanghai was founded in 2006. “Medical devices, touchpads and web sites with thoughtful functionality, modern design and with a Western touch are of high demand to our customers.
Astrid helps us to make our solutions even more usable.” states Matthias Burhenne, General Manager of the Shanghai branch.

Astrid Beck’s stay in Shanghai is supported by Hochschule Esslingen where she is on leave for half a year.



Wild Work

Wild Work

Due to some requests of my interested readers, here I am going to tell you a bit about my work. More detailed insights are presented in the near future.

Wilddesign’s customers in China come mainly from China and also some from Europe and other countries with base in China. Main areas are industrial design, especially design of:

  • products
  • packaging
  • shops
  • events

This also includes development of brands and CI (Corporate Identity) including image brochures and web sites. Example products are power tools, kitchenware and medical devices.

At my desk

At my desk

Due to a non-disclosure-agreement I can not tell you too much about customers and projects. In my first weeks I helped with research and proposals, attended project meetings and interviewed applicants.

Furtheron, I am interested in the cultural differences, thus, my main research interests are design, usability aswell as approaches and attitudes towards project work and business life of Europeans and Chinese.

As you might have guessed already from my posts, business and private life is not strictly divided as it often is in Germany. You sing karaoke with your customer or indulge in nice and long dinners with prospective business contacts.

The next weeks I will be busy with a new project which is about a re-design of two medical devices, which are used in labs for analysing samples. These devices are equipped with screens in order to operate these units and to analyse resulting data. Project includes design of the devices and the screens, development of CI and user interface style guide as well as usability testing. Results are 2D designs und finally, 3D renderings of the future product which will be ready for production by then. Meaning that engineering and production requirements are aleady taken care of.

Since my emphasis is user interface design of software, it is very interesting for me to experience this new area. At a closer look though, work activities are pretty similiar. Therefore, we can learn a lot from each other in comparing and integrating methods and processes.

We are 7 Chinese and 5 Germans at the moment, and there is so much work, that there are more to come…

Have a look at me at the office entrance.

Happy Easter!

View from my office window, this morning 9am

View from my office window, this morning 9am

Happy Easter to you all!

No Easter here in China though…

Friday and Monday are normal working days. We had a day off last Monday, on Qingmingjie. Instead, our boss invited us for a Teppanyaki Lunch today.

09-04-04 The Monk

The Monk 修道士酒吧

The Monk

Another long Saturday…

Ralph, a Canadian living in China for a couple of years now and customer of Wilddesign happens to have his own bar. See review in CityWeekend for details.

He invited us over for a great night out in West Shanghai with drinks, karaoke (yes … Oli and me performed Love is allround…. oh well… 😉 ).
They had a band as well: Undercover.

Thanks for having us!

09-04-02 At the office

At the office Wilddesign, Shanghai…

Shanghai office is situated in Jing’An/West Nanjing Xi Lu area at the Suzhou river, in a calm neighbourhood with high rise buildings as well as old China houses with a small shop in the front and the familiy flat in the back. People more or less live on the street in front of their shops.
The office building is seven stories high, Wilddesign is located on the sixth floor together with other multimedia and design companies. We can walk to our apartment and there are a couple of restaurants in the area where we can walk for lunch.
We have a large office area where most of the 7 or 8 designers are seated and we have three separated offices for Matthias, General Manager, for Oliver, Chief Designer and me, Chief Usability Engineer 😉

Astrid at Wilddesign, Shanghai


WILDDESIGN, Gelsenkirchen

Today, I visited the Gelsenkirchen team at Wissenschaftspark Gelsenkirchen to prepare my stay in Shanghai …

I will spend the summer semester at WILDDESIGN, Shanghai. Areas of work will be requirements analysis and screen design of embedded systems such as medical devices with focus on usability.

Moreover, I would like to spend my time in an intercultural, inspiring environment. I am looking forward to this experience!


Astrid in Gelsenkirchen