Kairavi Chahal
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International UX: A Blog

Week 3: Cultural Dimensions and Design


  • Gasparini

  • Gould

  • Akpem

  • In-class Exercise 1) Analyze websites using cultural dimensions (refer to Gould, Gasparini, and Akpem)

  • At-home Exercise 2) Dimensions for a health-care website for immigrant communities

In-class exercises and at-home assignments

#1 Analyze websites using cultural dimensions

#2 Dimensions for a health-care website for immigrant communities

Hofstede’s Dimensions:

  • Power Distance

  • Uncertainty Avoidance

  • Masculinity

  • Indulgence

  • Individualism

Schwartz’ Dimensions:

  • Hierarchy

  • Mastery

  • Affective autonomy

  • Egalitarian

Example Survey Questions

We would ask the immigrant community the following questions in a survey. This would help us gauge what is important to the community and what their approach to healthcare is.

  • I would like to see all of the services available no matter the cost

  • I would like to know where my provider got their degree and their training background

  • I would like to know all of the potential risks involved with the procedure

  • I need to see the best healthcare providers

  • I want access to extra services that aren’t necessary to keep me alive, but will make me feel better about myself and my life

  • I need assurances that my information is private

  • I need a provider that can see my family and friends, not just me

Walkthrough Current Healthcare Website

We would also observe some members of the community and ask them to walk us through their current healthcare provider’s website to figure out what the pain-points are.


Akpem: Cultural Factors in Web Design

The Akpem article was very clear and succinct in getting its point across. I liked the examples of actual website designs and how they differed across cultures. The Pepsi one especially stood out to me.

  • “As we design for ever larger audiences and as the web reaches deeper into homes and private lives, we need to think more about how our sites contribute to these cultures.”

    • The first thing that struck me about this line was that we are designing for larger audiences, and often one person or team has to design for all the different cultural versions of a website or app. Due to this expectation, combined with a lack of time and resources, we usually end up designing for one culture first and then adapting later. It is important to practice “distributed design” when possible, where we are thinking about all cultures from the get-go.

    • The second thing that I liked about this line was that we also need to think about how our designs affect the cultures — the outer layer is just about how, say, a brand will be perceived by the culture; or if a certain advertisement might be offensive. However the deeper layer here would be to think about whether we are imposing our own cultures and prejudices onto others. For example, when I think about the fast vs. slow messaging variable that Akpem talks about, I automatically compare India and the US. India tends to be more of an easy-going culture where you can’t expect things to get done too quickly. However, with globalization and American companies expanding to Indian markets (both in terms of selling products but also hiring workers), India is being ‘forced’ to adapt to a more fast-messaging style. Of course this is inevitable when two different cultures work together — there will be some averaging of their characteristics — however it’s important for both cultures to acknowledge this.

Gasparini: Vive la Difference!

(BTW, I appreciate the diversity of the authors we are reading this week! ^_^)

  • “[…] usability can only be assured if future systems will be designed in a culture-oriented way”
    ”The influences of cultures can be seen […] in the design process, e.g., culture influences higher level design issues, the design method employed in building interfaces and usability methods.”

    • Reinforcing the fact that internationalization/localization/globalization should be thought about during the entire design process and not just at the end.

  • “Globalization has achieved a level of homogeneity of cultures through the influence of multinationals and of mass media communication and information. It could be said that globalization strives for cultural compatibility and destroys its diversity in the process, by denying or ignoring cultural identity. On the other hand it could also be argued that some originally homogeneous societies are becoming heterogeneous be becoming multicultural societies.”

    • This sort of goes back to what I was saying in the second point of the Akpem quote above. The question of losing diversity vs. gaining greater compatibility is a tough line to walk. Since there are advantages to both, as designers we must constantly be aware of the balance between the two, and design with the aim to keep that balance. For me personally it raises a lot of philosophical questions which are almost overwhelming to think about.

  • “[…] HCI has to move forward and moving beyond the concept of national culture. […] be able to model each user’s cultural background, to adapt user interfaces more precisely.”

    • It is always easy to think about culture in terms of national or ethnic patterns and differences, however some people may identify with a different culture more strongly, could be professional, religious, or some combination of these and others. At what level of preciseness should we stop trying to designing for each unique ‘culture?’

Gould: Synthesizing the Literature on Cultural Values

I like that Gould provides a historical timeline and context about all the work that has been done in this field. Very well laid-out article.

  • “Culture is everywhere—national, ethnic, religious, corporate, family—but it’s not consistent.”

  • “Anthropologists today use a variety of techniques to avoid the unequal power relationships inherent in studies of “exotic” people. Members of the culture collaborate in the research (much as do union members in Participatory Design); […]”

    • This is brought up several times in Gould’s descriptions of various cultural models. Even the concepts of the cultural variables/dimensions are biased and often force other cultures to fit into these dimensions.

  • “[…] studies of “difference” often make it appear that nothing important is shared except the experience of oppression. Unfortunately, the moral imperative to avoid stereotyping and the desire to recognize “authenticity” are antithetical to a utilitarian focus on collaboration.”

    • I find I struggle with this even during class discussions — not sure when something is an actual cultural thing versus just my/another culture’s perception of it. Where do we draw the line between productively discussing other cultures and stereotyping them?

  • “[…] ignorance of cultural patterns and nonverbal communication underlay numerous cases of intercultural miscommunication.”

  • “Before such sojourners can properly interpret messages and events in other cultures, they need to recognize how they have been conditioned by their own.”
    ”Designers should first build a model of their own culture to have a standard for comparison.”

  • “[…] looking beyond the literal content of visual imagery and language and grounding cultural analysis in perception and the underlying grammar of symbol systems.”

  • “[…] recommends identifying international variables for cultural models by surveys and observations, but the first depends on self-report and the seconds on an observer being able to recognize the triggers fo unconscious behaviour.”

  • “Organizational theorists naturally develop theories about the part of the social world that they know and understand. As a result, many such theories are inappropriate and inadequate when applied to other cultures.”
    ”[…] reexamine the validity of Western social science and management theories.”

  • “He decided that people in individualistic societies have greater freedom of action and the opportunity to belong to more groups than people in collectivist societies.”

    • I just think it’s interesting that Gould uses the word “decided” when talking about Triandis developing his cultural model. Not sure if Gould intends it as a comment on the validity of Triandis’ model or if this is actually how Triandis approached his model.

  • “All science is embedded in culture-computer science and interface design no less than social psychology.”

    • Fits with the idea that culture is the software of the mind and you can’t really escape it.


Out of curiosity, I Googled Senongo Akpem and found that he had a portfolio with some pretty cool projects. The one that caught my eye was this critical design piece about publicly displaying your emotions. He also has a (not regularly updated) blog with some cool artwork and more thoughts on UX.


  • I like the concept of using time and space to also define cultural dimensions — human society moulded by the universe, sort of.

  • New terms learned:

    • Nonverbal paralanguage — body language

    • Kinesics — using body movements while talking

    • Parasocial interaction — one-sided relationship between media and audience

  • Sapir-Whorf hypothesis; makes me think of the Piraha tribe who don’ t have words for numbers or colours. I wonder how it would be to try to teach them English and about colours.

A quick summary of various cultural models and their dimensions

Personal/Professional inspirations

Personal: I feel like I am learning a great deal about myself by reading about the different cultural variables as well as the anecdotes/examples provided in the readings and in class. Having a term to describe something and knowing that it is a thing that other people experience too is reassuring.

Professional: I would almost hope that only local designers get to design for their market/culture; but I also want the chance as a designer to expand my perspective and experiences to design for with different cultures.

Kairavi Chahal