diversification of minds - conversation in processes
design for communities

Tokyo, 07.10 - 09.10 1999

10 08 pm<Case Studies Of Information Design Interfaces>
Lynn Shade, Adobe Systems, Palo Alto, USA

What is International Design?

Creators are usually blind to the fact that products inherently embody the point of view of the culture their creators are grounded in. These cultural assumptions usually become visible only when the product is examined in a different cultural context. Forks, knives, and spoons seem international and universal from a Western point of view. In an Asian context one can see that forks, knives, and spoons are the products of a culture which believes in creating separate tools for separate uses, an exclusionary logic of a = b but not c. Chopsticks reflect a culture which believes in one-to-many, non-rigidly defined roles.

Studying the needs of overseas users involves more than just determining what functionality they require. It involves listening for and interpreting subtle feelings and reactions to interactions. Japan is a particularly interesting place to study the 'feel' of 'look and feel.' The distinction between mind and heart in Japanese culture and language is fuzzy; 'kokoro', the Japanese word for heart and mind, refers to both. This is difficult to describe to Americans whose rational thought is well separated from that of emotion, and whose approach to software design doesn't consider the heart. Emotional response to interactions is completely integrated in the Japanese psyche and language and is invisible when speaking Japanese. For example, when Japanese users say an interaction is 'kankaku teki ni iya' (unpleasant sensation) they are describing an experience that is undesirable not only from a mental point of view (they are forced to change their mindset) but from an emotional one (it's emotionally unpleasant). When they say that the interaction a certain product requires is 'seishin teki ni tsurai' (psychically painful) the assault is to both their mind and spirit. The result is that the intangible qualities of products, or qualities which are perhaps intangible to Western users, become very important in Japan.
In order to create designs that will work for Japanese users it's important to pay attention to users' emotional responses to interactions. When interactions feel wrong, users have a subtle negative emotional reaction. When the experience is cumulatively negative enough, it results in what I think of as psychic bruising. This kind of software may technically meet Japanese users' functional needs, such as software with vertical text support, but Japanese features are often simply added to a strongly Western product. Critical differences in the way that Japanese users approach tasks are ignored and the user is forced to use 'Japanese' features out of context within a product designed to meet a U.S. user's expectations and workflow. This creates a user experience where the user is approaching the interaction with active distrust about whether their needs are accommodated, which can be stressful and jarring.

Users are able to adjust the logical steps they go through, but intuitive emotional reactions can't really be changed. Most people's concept of international interface design focuses on accommodating the need for added functionality in our overseas versions and whether overseas users are able to use the product to get their task done. This approach is often taken without regard to the greater context from which those needs arose. But localized products will never improve unless we take users' emotional reactions seriously and try to improve every part of the user experience.

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