Cultural Bias

Changing Profiles: The Missing Edit Button

  Social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have changed the nature of digital identities. The anonymous or pseudonymous online profiles of the 90s have been eschewed for real and “verified” identities. However, why do websites force us to conform to variables that describe our identities according to inflexible database fields? Identities are fluid by nature and change over time. We adopt nicknames and change them. We marry and change our surnames. We remarry and change them again. We endure ordeals in life and change our names to distance ourselves from threatening people or violent events. We change our names to avoid responsibilities. We even play with identity and names as an expressive art form. Though government agencies are adept at tracking the various forms of our identities, the common social media and web services that we use daily are not so willing. For example, Facebook has name standards. Their standards limit personal expression. They encourage people to use “real names” but names are subjective and contextual. In fact, the California law that governs identity recognizes that a name others use for you, even if not your “real name” can be legally valid. Furthermore, the “usage method” of the…

Language, Culture, and Communication

Where we come from — our background culture: our country of origin and language, our heritage and religion (or lack there of), our family, our education, our friends, and where we live — has an enormous impact on our ability to communicate. What’s more, when people from different cultural backgrounds try to interact with each other, these differences can cause catastrophic failures. Direct versus Indirect Communication Styles Consider the following set of remarks about doing homework: Do your homework! Can you start doing your homework? Would you mind starting your homework now? Let’s clean the table so you can start your homework. Do you need help with homework? It’s getting late, do you have a lot of homework? Didn’t you say you have a lot of homework? Johnny’s mom said that he has a lot of homework today… Do you have everything ready for school tomorrow? Look how late it is — it’s almost time for bed. You have school tomorrow. Each of the statements above represents a progressively less direct command to do homework. In my family, I usually pick number 2 to communicate my desires for finished homework to my sons (although number 1 is perfectly acceptable, to…

Tools to Jump-start Product Design Process

product design proposal: user groups

I often encounter the Blank Page Syndrome among our clients. They have an IDEA, but find it difficult to translate the nebulous desires into plans and actions that become a business. I hear a lot: “I know what I want, I just don’t know how that gets translated into something tangible.” The problem though is that most times, these individuals don’t know what they really want. And my job as a designer is to do product design therapy to uncover the real needs and separate them from vague desires. There are a few strategies for this (cognitive scaffolding for the design process). From the point of view of the final product, it is important that the client buys into the ideas and makes them their own. When I hear my words spoken back to me a few weeks into the process, I feel more confidant that the final result will be the practical manifestation of my client’s desires. Define the Categories of Product Users When one runs a business, selling products or providing services, it’s important to keep in mind that in most cases it’s not about you (typical mirroring error). The products and services have to appeal to end…

Extreme Hypocrisy

Gul Meena, 17, left her abusive husband in Pakistan for another man. Meena's brother hacked her friend to death with an ax, before turning on her.

On the same day as I read about Gul Meena — a 17 year old Pakistani girl who was almost killed and severely maimed by her own brother — I bought a pair of skinny jeans. When I got home, I noticed they were made in Pakistan. I think I don’t need to say more… Gul Meena, 17, left her abusive husband in Pakistan for another man. Meena’s brother hacked her friend to death with an ax, before turning on her. Skinny Jeans Made in Pakistan

The Tone and the Interface

2013-03-21 Cheese from Farmers Market Amsterdam

I just returned from a brief visit to The Hague and Amsterdam. When in a foreign country encountering an unfamiliar language, it’s easy to focus on the visual presentation of content since the linguistic portion of the presentation is unavailable for processing. People who can read can’t help but do so when presented with text. But when one can’t process the linguistic content, all that is left are visual clues (and smells and sounds…). So I took a few snapshots to show how the tone of the interface impacts the emotional processing of content and attitude of the customer to the content. Selling Cheese in Amsterdam This is a farmers’ market stall in the middle of Amsterdam, selling home-made cheese. The woman in the photo is the actual cheese maker. Note the hand-lettered signs, the simple wooden boxes, the plain presentation — the overall effect is home made goods, care in production, quality product, even made with love. Fancy production values would just be off putting in this context, and probably result in lower sales of cheese. This NOT a museum, but rather a neighborhood cheese store in Amsterdam. (It is located next door to the flower museum…). What is…

Perceptual Blindness in Design

Toy Packaging and Design Fails

It is not always users that fail to see some particularly “cool” aspect of design, failure to notice which leads to failure in product use. Designers are people too and are just as prone to cultural and perceptual blindness — total inability to notice additional (sexual) meanings hidden in their designs. Below are examples that I’ve been collecting from email forwards over the last few years. The general groups are toy packaging, store signs, logos, religious strangeness (especially with cultural shifts in time), product labels, and in particular strange dentists’ ads… Enjoy! Thank you all who contributed to this post!