Cross-Cultural User Experience Design Seminar at Tampere

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Today I attended to Cross-cultural design seminar at Tampere University of Technology. The seminar content summary went pretty much like this:

  • What is cross-cultural design? (Liinu Helkiö & Tanja Walsh),
  • Understanding cultural differences in Human-computer interaction (Professor Gilbert Cockton),
  • What major challenges there can be found (Minna Kamppuri, who gave us an interesting presentation about how this applies to Tanzania) and
  • How to facilitate cultural sensitivity in user research (Jung Joo Lee).

It was nice to be able to visit this because in my line of work I rarely get to do, speak about, or even see, real research about design. Often it feels business and research are like two different nations not just talking to each others. And it shouldn’t be like this. I believe that collaborative work between these two could create some really interesting outcomes.

So why is it even important to understanding cross-cultural user experience one could ask? In the new global community, it is vital for businesses to understand different cultures –  not understanding it may even block you getting to the market.

One thing that is curious is that social media services often seem to flourish without little or even no localization of the concept itself. The question is why are they as popular as they are and how important it really is to design their HCI keeping the culture in mind? How big of a role does this really have?

People still learn, right? And people are individual persons; they get cultural influences from all over. Like me: I’m originally from Estonia, I’ve now lived in Finland over 20 years and had it’s influence on me. And I’ve always, since I remember, had strong interest towards Asian cultures and philosophies, especially Japanese. These have a strong influence on how I understand and feel HCI design in my mind.

And one other thing that came to my mind. If you always designing more local projects based on the so-called local culture, it could just reinforce the general stereotypical views. So one could also ask, to which level it is necessary to design keeping the culture in mind and what aspects of it should you take to consideration? Like social media services [which are a global success] show, people learn HCI.

Of course there are clear situations where it is necessary to localize. Those situations include things like language [e.g. Chinese characters] or having a country where people are driving in the left lane and thus you should put the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle. These are natural things to take in consideration and localize. I was thinking more in the idea level and in things like Web services: How necessary is it to plan the idea itself with the culture?

Although there are local services, like Finland has their own ‘Facebook’ the IRC-gallery, still the Facebook and those alike are often more popular than the possible local ones. Of course the localization occurs in the language [if you wish to change it from English], but the real idea behind the service stays the same.

So could it be that nowadays when people are often having global friends, it is natural to gather to a cross-cultural platform where you can socialize and meet with all your friends? And that is even a larger uniting factor than culture?

The seminar gave me a couple of really nice ideas to which I most certainly return in my later posts – some of which include collaboration in work and business.

It was nice to have such a use[r]ful seminar which was even free of charge. If you are able to visit seminars in Tampere, I’d really advice you to check Suxes website from time to time for future events.

Here’s also another post about this seminar from an e-learning angle.

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Governator the Tweeter

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Arnold's Conan sword at his Office

Image from Arnold’s TwitPic

Of course I’m now writing about Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California. I had a bit sleepless night the other night and just happened to begin to surf in Twitter when I accidentally bumped into his Twitter account.

It was so funny to read through his Tweets, the status updates from garage sales etc, and at the same time I begin to feel how social media sometimes at its best can make the world seem a bit smaller, closer and more horizontal place.

Let’s face it, Arnold himself most likely has more urgent things to do than Tweet about every move he makes, but the way how a political figure can tend to people and point messages to those he has visited is really a cool way of communication and talking back to your followers. For example, when there’s an update like ‘Can’t wait to see the CA garage sale!’ and then a picture in Twitpic of it, it can really make people feel, if they follow Twitter of course, closer to Arnold and like his visit had some meaning.

But, we also have a bit darker side to this all. When you really think of it, is this kind of Twittering just a clever game to make people like you more and thus get you more votes when the time comes? Not just in Arnold’s case, but overall with political Twitter accounts.

When you are in Twitter and write ‘I do this and that’, people tend to feel that you are actually talking to them [and not your Twitter expert of communications]. I’m not saying that people always actually believe so to be, but they may sometimes feel so. So in this case I have to question; can this be just clever mind manipulation of the next level or really a genuine conversation channel?

I don’t have answers for these, it’s too early for that, but I can say this: the situation puts more challenges on how attentive we have to be with messages we get from media.

I’d like to be optimistic and say this kind of communication makes things better, but I also believe that we have to work for it to do so. When there’s a new medium of using information, it always means that there’s also a new instrument of using power. And when there’s an effective new instrument of power, there’s most likely people trying to exploit it.

I don’t want to use Arnold as a bad example here, it just happened to be his account that I stumbled on when I thought about these things. I actually respect what he has achieved, no matter how some people may laugh at him. Show me another person who has won almost everything there is to win in bodybuilding, has done a career in acting with an impact that will stay most likely forever [just a single ‘I’ll be back’ already did it, which is actually also an achievement of some kind] and is now a Governor of California. And this all as a foreigner.

And by the way, I also think having the sword in his office is a cool thing.