Kairavi Chahal
Hero (Wide).png

International UX: A Blog

Week 5: User Research & Ethnography


  • Global UX, chap. 7

  • Exercise 1) Design culturally neutral icons

  • Exercise 2) Ethnography on the Edge

In-class exercises and at-home assignments

#1 Design culturally neutral icons

Kit and I designed the following icons for “inbox,” “healthcare” and “security.”

#2 Ethnography on the Edge

Brief summaries and quotes from the articles we read.


Global UX: Chapter 7

  • “To make sure the results would be useful across this longer time frame, they had three sets of goals, with clear time frames for how each set of findings would be used: Immediate; Short term; Three to five years.”

    • This shows how much you really have to plan a research study. You can’t just go into it with a general set of questions, but really think about as many details as possible. So you know which questions to ask and what to look out for. And if you plan even further ahead by thinking about how you will analyze the data you collect, then you can have a successful research project. This of course applies to both local and global research.

  • “‘Getting someone into the lab can get you 70 to 80 percent of the way. You may find the usability answers, but not the cultural issues. You need the extra level of research to get the most out of situation.’ This is especially true if you are working in a culture that is new to you.”

    • This is echoed several times in the chapter, and even throughout the book. It isn’t simply enough to go to that location, but to really try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who live there. It’s not just how they use the app/product but the context they use it in.

  • “You probably want to start with some kind of immersion, just to get to know the environment. Even if you don't have a full project for open-ended research, give yourself some time for what Bill DeRouchey calls "pure discovery." This is time you can spend just looking around to help you frame what the problem is.”

    • In an ideal situation, you would have a lot of time to do this, but usually it doesn’t fit the budget or schedule. A good way to replicate elements of this would be to consume media or culture created by locals in the region you are studying. For example, don’t just watch a documentary about India, but rather watch vlogs posted on YouTube by Indians, since that content is created by Indians and tends to be less edited or filtered.

  • “[…] the same research techniques they use in any project work in global research as well, as long as they were willing to respond to an issues. ‘You can't be too dogmatic. You have to be able to adjust to the situation as it unfolds.’”

    • A good skill to have in life in general — being flexible and knowing when to use which tool.

  • “But most look for people who have the right attitude for the work, are interested in the research location, and have a passion for discovery about other people and cultures.”

    • Also something that was mentioned before, a researcher needs to be open, curious, observant and willing to learn.

  • “First, challenge your assumptions. Being open to experiences that challenge your assumptions is a recurring theme in global UX.”

  • “Getting out of ‘the lab’ isn't just a good tactic to keep your perspective. It's also a way to build your sense of the location and culture. You can just take in the local environment, as Yu-Hsiu Li does when he travels. ‘I like to listen to their radio, and watch their TV, and even go talk to street vendors to try to understand their perspectives and what is popular. It's more about the experience of their life. That's how you can share their experience.’”

  • “Let Them Teach You: This is the essence of ethnography. Instead of collecting "data" about people, the ethnographer seeks to learn from people, to be taught by them… In order to discover the hidden principles of another way of life, the researchers must become a student.” (Spradley 1979)

    • Again, reinforcing the points above.


When designing, I often use The Noun Project for inspiration because they always have multiple versions of the same icon/concept. Plus, the designers are form all over the world, and you can actually see where a specific icon was designed. After taking this class, I realized why they included this information on the website — context and culture matter!

Kairavi Chahal