Cultural Differences

Language and Cultural Differences in Communication

Kulula Plane Decorations

Above is an example of Interface Design — Kulula Airlines decorates its planes in a very playful manner. Does this choice make you feel safer or more reticent to fly their planes? Well, that depends… Consider the FAA Passenger Briefing Guidelines: 14 CFR 91.519. Below are a few examples: § 91.519 Passenger briefing. (a) Before each takeoff the pilot in command of an airplane carrying passengers shall ensure that all passengers have been orally briefed on: Smoking. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions smoking is prohibited. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that the Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with lighted passenger information signs and no smoking placards, prohibit smoking in lavatories, and require compliance with crewmember instructions with regard to these items; Use of safety belts and shoulder harnesses. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions it is necessary to have his or her safety belt and, if installed, his or her shoulder harness fastened about him or her. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with the lighted passenger sign and/or crewmember instructions with regard to…

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…

Some Examples of Design Failure in Physical Space

square wheeled bike

Affordance is a feature of an object or an environment that suggests a set of possible actions/interaction that a user of such object/environment can perform with it. For example, if an object has a handle (e.g. tea cup), a user can reasonably expect to pick it up via that handle without spilling the contents of the cup. On the other hand, no one has an expectation of the wheels of the bike below turning… We all recognize the bike above as an art piece. As a connoisseur of design failure, I regularly get emails with collections of failed design objects or situations. When I get enough to share, I usually post them on this blog. Bathrooms design fails seem to be a favorite, but there are others… Enjoy! (or my personal experience in The Hague) Some problems arise when the design specks change over time, like the size of a toilet paper roll versus the toilet paper holder… Some problems arise when the maps are out of date… or Some are due to timing and lack of built-in error handling… But some design solutions are there to fix the problem of cultural differences:

Cultural Differences in Interaction Design, a few observations


A couple of months ago, I went on the business trip to The Hague and Amsterdam. There are always cultural differences, especially when a person visits a previously unfamiliar place. And so it was with me. Here are two quirky examples. The Room with a View I’m not particularly prudish or modest, especially when staying alone in a hotel room. But this feature of my room in The Hague was a bit puzzling. The shower and toilet were connected to the room not only by a door (with lock), but also by a picture window. The window coverings were controlled from the OUTSIDE of the bathroom — so effectively, if you were sharing a room, you were at a whim of your roommate when it came to your toilet privacy. But perhaps that’s how they roll in The Hague… I should also add that directly opposite of the toilet window was the window to the outside — if you haven’t considered what internal lighting does to your visibility to the outside world in time, you are out of luck. The Double Action As a designer, most of my work in web-based. But this doesn’t stop me from being annoyed at…

Intended and Unintended Consequences of Social Design

Baby Fresh Air Cage for High-rise Apartment Buildings

Nudging is a form of social engineering — a way of designing system constraints and support structures to encourage the majority of people to behave in accordance with your plan. Here’s a famous-in-my-classroom example of nudging: Opt-in versus Opt-out Consent Solutions There are many examples of such social engineering. During our breakout groups at the NIH think tank on the future of citizen participation in biomedical research, I raised the difference between opt-in versus opt-out option results for organ donation. In some countries in Europe, citizens have to opt-out from donating their organs in a case of a tragic accident — they have to do something to NOT donate their organs. As the result in Austria — which has an opt-out system — the donation rate is 99.98%! While in Germany — which has an opt-in system — only 12% will their organs for transplants. This is a huge difference in consent between very similar populations of people. Unintended Consequences of Social Design Not all social engineering efforts go as well as opt-in/opt-out organ donation systems. To reduce pollution for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese government established the even/odd license plate law: cars with even license…

Do you remember Gardol?

Colgate Gardol Ad

Do you know what Gardol is? Unless you are close to retiring, probably not… So here’s a bit of background: Gardol is sodium lauroyl sarcosinate — not a very harmonious sounding chemical. I’m guessing Gardol was a clever marketing trick of combining the words “Guard” and “All”, relying on the phonetic combination to drive home the idea of protective quality of this chemical compound. In our society, chemicals don’t sell — we have an aversion to chemicals, we only want natural products! The common Western p-prim (or folksy wisdom) is that chemical are bad for us, and products created from natural ingredients are good for us … never mind arsenic! Gardol might have disappeared from the drug store ads, but the chemical sodium lauroyl sarcosinate didn’t — today it goes by the name “Advance White” and is part of a very well respected for its natural and health-consious products, Arm & Hammer toothpaste! Oh, and we don’t like the word “dental cream” — it’s toothpaste now…