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Deja Vu

“How can we make our global head quarters understand that the South Africa market has very different requirements from what they see in Europe? They are so rigid in how they want us to interpret the brand and design the website.”

As this discussion unfolded among senior executives in a South African multi-national corporation, I thought about the number of times I have sat through similar conversations in the last few years! These conversations, even though situated in different parts of the world and across different domains, seem to be STILL about the same issue. The issue that has not been resolved is that of delivering the experience of global ‘brands’ in local contexts.

In other words, how exactly does a corporation create and deliver user experience around its products and services across the world?

But, hasn’t that question already been answered by the adoption of I18n and L10n?

Internationalization (I18n) and Localization (L10n) (1)

As someone who has been an enthusiast of cross-cultural UX for more than a decade, I18n and L10n have no doubt been recognized as important concepts — especially in the software development world.

Looking back at the experience we have had with large corporations delivering their products and services around the world, it is clear that most corporations have adopted some aspects of internationalization and localization practices.

Most of them make it possible for the base product/website design to accommodate local language scripts, images, formats for currency, dates etc.

However, beyond that, there is not much progress. Varying approaches to this limited localization all have at their core the sole emphasis on time and cost, rather than any kind of user-centered framework or model.

While Microsoft strongly advocates product-centric teams (often based in Redmond) rather than global and local teams, to increase efficiency:

Putting together an efficient product team is a challenge that can make a significant difference to your bottom line — "throwing headcount" at your international editions is not an efficient use of resources. If your entire team, including developers, designers, testers, translators, marketers, and managers, is committed to all language editions of your product, and if management holds them responsible for all language editions, you won't have to hire a lot of extra people. (2)

Infosys, one of India’s largest systems integrators, describes their internationalization process and emphasizes the major role of software productivity tools in the process:

Staffing for i18n/L10n projects is normally done by bringing in people who have prior experience of internationalization along with a team which is well versed in the technology underneath (Java, C++, etc). In these cases, there is generally the overhead of training the team on i18n and L10n concepts. Unless the whole team fully understands the internationalization process, they will not be very productive. In the real world, it is almost impossible to get a perfect team which has good internationalization experience in addition to the required technical skills. Also, with tight deadlines looming over us, most of the time it is not possible to invest a lot of time in training the team on i18n/L10n concepts. So the best way to execute the project is to improve the productivity of the team by using software productivity tools and, in turn, enhance the productivity of the internationalization process itself. (3)

In addition, there are organizations like Facebook, YouTube, and Google who are considered poster children for the speed of their internationalization activity based on crowd sourced language translation and local content.

Organizations in domains other than technology, such as retail, logistics, banking, healthcare, appliances grapple with the same issues of balancing the time and cost involved in providing the most culturally appropriate design/products/services to local customers across the world.

Between the Idea and the Reality Falls the Shadow

In a majority of cases, while the intent is to provide localized solutions, the reality is quite different. The amount of time and cost involved is really the "shadow" that falls between the intent of providing localized solutions and the reality of researching and understanding many local ecosystems around the world.

This is very much because of the lack of a process that is practical and cost effective all the way from understanding the local ecosystem through design and validation of local solutions.

A New Global Delivery Model for Local User Experience

We have been giving this topic some thought and have been exploring different possibilities of how global corporations can deliver local solutions, keeping in mind the issues of cost and time. 

We have a draft model in place that is based on two key concepts. These two concepts are:

  1. Foundational Ecosystem Model

    We believe that the creation of a foundational ecosystem model of its customers is a key first step that a global organization needs to take in its journey to provide local UX solutions. This model, would in many ways be an equivalent of the current internalization (I18n) template for software except that it would have placeholders for deeper cultural factors instead of just formats, colors, language and images.

    This ecosystem model, evolved over time, within an organization, would be typically based on previous primary and secondary research, marketing data, big data insights (and in the future, even include the data gathered increasingly because of the “Internet of Things”).

    This foundational model can then be used for creating first an internationalized, and then a set of localized ecosystem models.

    The localized ecosystem models can then be iteratively edited, enriched and tested by local in country professionals (the "cultural" equivalent of the L10n process.)

    Further, these models can grow over time. They can grow in the depth of understanding. They can also grow in the range of regions and countries separately included.

  2. Access to Local "Cultural Factors" Professionals
  3. Being able to access local UX professionals often proves to be a major hurdle in the creation of local solutions. This is because there simply are not enough trained UX professionals available across the world.

    Hence, we suggest a different approach to solve this problem. Our approach involves providing remote training and certification on cultural factors (a blend of human factors, cultural anthropology and social psychology) and also on how to conduct usability testing.

    These who take the certification courses do not necessarily have to be UX professionals but could be local staff of the global organization or even local freelancers.

    Being able to access a large pool of certified professionals in cultural factors and usability testing across the world would massively increase the ability of multi-national corporations to develop localized solutions in an accurate, efficient and cost effective manner.

And so ...

With these two key concepts as the bedrock of the new model (we are detailing the model even as I write), we feel the model will enable global organizations to deliver the kind of local UX solutions that users are demanding today.

And we may even help create a new profession: cultural factors!

Outside Resources

On a number of occasions, it is actually easier to get the ball rolling by using outside resources. For better or worse, a consultant usually holds more power, influence, and access than an employee of the organization. It is also easier and more politically prudent to hear the problems from a consultant than an insider. A good consultant not only can help evangelize user-centricity, but can also help with showcase projects and educational programs to create UX awareness.

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

Leave a comment here

Reader comments


Dr. Eric Schaffer, G11n and L11n is essential topic for global product user experience design, and I see eye to eye with you on its complexity in that the culture influences cause the difference. Appreciate your sharing of your thought. Where we can have more detailed information about the Foundational Ecosystem Model you mentioned in this article?


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