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Five Strategies for Moving Your Culture toward User-centricity

Here are five strategies you can follow to progress your organization from merely prepared for UX to being driven by a truly user-centric culture:

  • Create Peer Pressure – Research shows that one of the most powerful tools we have to change people’s behaviors and attitudes is peer pressure. One of the best ways to do this is to create case studies of projects where user-centered design had a measurable positive effect on the outcome. Your goal is to get those stuck in the old culture to think that everyone else has adapted this new way of thinking and have them questioning why they haven’t evolved also.
  • Educate the Masses – The more organizations know about user-centered design, the more likely they are to adopt it and have it ingrained within their culture. If you are committed to changing your culture, it is imperative that you take on the role of educator within your organization and develop a user-centered design curriculum aimed at not only your UX team, but also for all the roles within the entire organization.
  • Use Empathy to Motivate Change – For organizations looking to overcome cultural barriers to becoming more user-centric, user testing is a great opportunity to create empathy and drive change. Invite middle managers and other important stakeholders to observe live user testing. To reach an even wider audience, create and distribute “highlight films” that show users struggling during a usability test. The point is that it is your job to ensure that everyone in your organization understands the plight of your users.
  • Recognize and Reward User-centricity – To coax your culture toward user-centricity, look for opportunities to highlight positive behaviors. For instance, if a developer utilizes a standard screen template, be sure they not only get recognition informally within their development community, but also formally by their manager. Praise product managers who invest in user testing and project teams that integrate user-centric methodologies in their processes. Most importantly, be sure you are collecting user-centric metrics so you can measure and acknowledge improvements to the user experience.
  • Be Sure You Have “True Grit” – To successfully change your organization’s culture, you need to be sure you have a single-mindedness about chipping away at the current culture and slowly, but surely, steering it in the direction of user-centricity. Chart out a long-term plan and stick with it. There will seldom be big wins to celebrate, but in the end you will have a happy outcome to your story.

A New Global Delivery Model for Local User Experience

We 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:

  • 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 is in many ways 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 foundational model can 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).

    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 model can grow over time in the depth of understanding, as well as the range of regions and countries included.

  • Access to Local “Cultural Factors” Professionals
  • Being able to access local UX professionals often proves to be a major hurdle in the creation of local solutions as there are not enough trained UX professionals available across the world. Our approach to solve this problem 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.

    Those 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 multinational corporations to develop localized solutions in an accurate, efficient and cost-effective manner.

Ethnography is Everywhere

Ethnography is the new marketing buzzword, a must-have in a designer toolkit, a shorthand reference to qualitative research. What market research often forgets is that ethnography is an approach to deciphering culture, not just a data gathering method. Here are some key techniques, borrowed and adapted from ethnography as anthropologists conduct it, by which to guide inquiry toward clues to effective design:

  • Understanding Social Organization
  • The structure and organization of communities at the familial, societal, and national levels offers a snapshot of a culture’s own regulatory frameworks. In what sort of race/class/ethnic social groupings are communities organized? Who belongs in which group, and who doesn’t? What impact do these realities have on access to services and resources?

    Key concepts - for instance, saudade in Brazil (literally, the love that remains; nostalgia, longing), the multiple words used to describe “shame” in Arabic — provide intimate insight into the organization of social life, and tell us what is meaningful in a culture and how, or what must be negotiated for effective design innovation.

  • Understanding Exchange
  • Exchange tells us about the values people assign to goods, relationships, and resources. By following objects as they are exchanged for money, gifts, in sharing arrangements and more, we track human networks.

    The terms fong kong and zhing zhong, used in southern Africa to refer to cheap, low quality Chinese goods, help understand the value (or lack thereof) attached to certain cultural forms. Copycat products lacking originality, aesthetic appeal, and technical capability suffer the “fong kong curse” precisely because they do not deliver the social progress and prestige that local communities seek.

  • Understanding Aspirations in the Here and Now
  • What are the most burning issues that recur on newspaper headlines, or in public conversation? What are the local debates? What images and stories are in circulation? These tell us about existing discontents, changes to old structures and institutions, the articulations of new ideologies and aspirations. Advertisements can also provide interesting (although untested) indices of current shifts.

  • Understanding Native Points of View
  • How do people experience the internet? How do people cope with border crossings, migration, and diaspora? How do different groups within a country debate democracy or women’s rights? Being sensitive to these local textures breaks apart any lingering sense of culture as a homogenous monolith, and introduces the specific variations in perspective that could provide crucial design hooks.

Evidence-Based UX: Identifying Best Practices and Research

The benefits of a user experience (UX) practice based on evidence are that it allows you to identify a potentially successful methodology or design solution that has worked in the past, and may be applicable to your situation. It saves you time, and increases your confidence in presenting and defending a method or design solution. It also increases the chances of acceptance by management or a client who seeks support for decision-making.

Whenever possible, user experience (UX) practitioners should provide quantified, peer-reviewed design guidelines to support their design recommendations. According to and others, many design guidelines lack this type of key information that is necessary in order to be most effective for organizations.

We would like to propose seven steps for conducting solid evidence-based UX:

  • Clarify the question being asked regarding UX methods or design
  • Identify sources of research or best practice to help answer the question
  • Find available research or best practice
  • Review for credibility and applicability
  • Check to see if other research or practice has come to the same conclusions
  • Save copies of the materials along with links or citations for future reference
  • Communicate and apply what you have learned

Highlights from 2013’s Putting Research into Practice (PRP) course articles

What makes online content go viral?
Does an emotion (positive or negative) attached with specific content dictate whether it will be shared more or less online? Contrary to popular belief that negative content tends to be shared more, it was found in a recent study by Berger & Milkman (2012) that positive news is actually more viral. But while sad content is less viral, anger or anxiety inducing articles are both more likely to make the paper’s most emailed list. It is important to realize that emotions associated with arousal such as awe, anxiety and anger are positively linked with virality.

The findings shed light on why people share online content and provide insight into how to design effective viral marketing campaigns. It may be important to rectify experiences that make customers anxious rather than disappointed. More practically useful, interesting, and surprising content is more viral.

Users’ Attention to Text Advertisements
Is text advertising subject to the same “blindness” effects as banner advertising? Chaparro et al. (2011) examined whether users are blind to text advertisements and the effects of search type (exact or semantic) and target location on the degree of blindness. The results demonstrated that users will ignore text advertisement placed on the top and right side of the page. However when the advertisement was placed within the content of the page, users were more likely to pay attention to it. Users actively ignore text advertising unless it is required to complete their task or it is perceived as not being advertising.

Barriers and Drivers for Non-shoppers in E-Commerce
A lot of ecommerce research focuses on the behaviors of online shoppers &ndash ;but what about the people who are not shopping online? Why they are not shopping online and what will motivate them to do so? In a research study by Iglesias-Pradas et al. (2012), 1499 participants from Spanish households who did not have prior experience shopping online were asked to respond to two open ended questions which included:

(1) Reason/s for not buying a product/service online?
(2) What factors would influence their online shopping in the future?

The results identified four types of non-shoppers based on their reasons to not make online purchases. Half of them were concerned by security and trust issues but some were infrastructure (lack of resources to engage online) and product-conditioned (concerns about shipping, delivery, etc.). Six groups were found based on the drivers. Most of them could become e-shoppers if they perceived an improvement in safety of online transactions or if they found a product that was not available in the offline channels.

Sorting Behavior and Consumer Decision-Making
Does product sorting on a product web page influence decision-making? Researchers Cai and Xu (2008) considered the perception of quality and price points, and whether presenting the product (e.g. a camera) information in descending order, ascending order, or random order made a difference to the users” decision making processes.

When the cameras were shown in descending order (highest quality at the top), then the importance of quality was ranked the highest. Price was not deemed that important. If the cameras were shown in ascending or random order, then quality was not deemed to be that important, and price was a more important consideration. The average price of the camera the participants picked when the cameras were shown in random order was $672. The average price when a descending quality order was used was $801, which is a 19% increase.

Quality of a product affects consumers’ purchasing decisions at least for high-end items. The human brain is averse to losing value or attributes. This study shows that the best sort order, at least for selling high-end items like cameras, might be in descending order by quality.

Older Adults and the Use of the Internet
Are older adults using the internet for social reasons only? Not anymore. A recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reported that older adults are going online for a variety of tasks including researching information, buying products online, making travel reservations, online banking, using social networks, reading online newspapers, magazines and books, taking online courses, searching for jobs and so on. There is a growing need to understand the diverse needs and interests for content and service delivery among older adults.

Effect of language on perceived risk online
Is perceived risk online affected by the language in which a user browses a given website? Alcántara-Pilar et al. (2013) were interested to find out if the risk perceived by the users from cultures with a high degree of uncertainty avoidance (i.e. cultures affected by uncertainty, ambiguity and the unknown) will be greater when they browse a commercial website that is in their primary language than when the site in question is in a second language that comes from a culture of lower uncertainty avoidance. Spain and Great Britain were chosen as the two cultures due to their difference in uncertainty avoidance index (Spain: 86, Great Britain: 35). A fictitious tourist destination site was created with two versions – one written in Spanish and the other in English.

The researchers found that the Spanish sample had a higher value for perceived risk online when they browse in Spanish (their primary language). The difference in the perception of risk was not significantly different between English and Spanish sites for the British sample. It is important to realize that information processing is biased by the cultural values of the language and the degree of bilingualism in an individual. It might be useful to use a language associated with lower UA, when you want to reduce the perceived risk associated with a communication message. In a tourism-related communication campaign, it may be advisable to include some words that communicate the culture of the destination.


  • What makes online content viral? Jonah Berger and Katherine L Milkman. Journal of Marketing Research: Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 192-205 (2012).
  • Text Advertising Blindness: The New Banner Blindness? Justin W Owens, Barbara S Chaparro, and Evan M Palmer Journal of Usability Studies, Vol. 6, Issue 3, p 172 -197 (2011).
  • Barriers and drivers for non-shoppers in B2C e-commerce: A latent class exploratory analysis? Santiago Iglesias-Pradas, Felix Pascaul-Miguel, Angel Hernandez-Garcia, Julian Chaparro-Palaez. Computers in Human Behavior (2012), article in press, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.01.024
  • Designing Product Lists for E-commerce: The Effects of Sorting on Consumer Decision Making. Cai, Shun and Xu, Yunjie (Calvin). Intl. Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 24(7), 700-721, 2008
  • Internet Use Among Midlife and Older Adults: An AARP Bulletin Poll. Teresa A Keenam. AARP Bulletin, Dec 2011
  • A cross-cultural analysis of the effect of language on perceived risk online. Juan Miguel Alcántara-Pilar, Salvador del Barrio-García, Lucia Porcu. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 596-603, 2013

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

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

This Privacy Policy governs the manner in which Human Factors International, Inc., an Iowa corporation (“HFI”) collects, uses, maintains and discloses information collected from users (each, a “User”) of its website and any derivative or affiliated websites on which this Privacy Policy is posted (collectively, the “Website”). HFI reserves the right, at its discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of this Privacy Policy at any time by posting such changes to this page. You understand that you have the affirmative obligation to check this Privacy Policy periodically for changes, and you hereby agree to periodically review this Privacy Policy for such changes. The continued use of the Website following the posting of changes to this Privacy Policy constitutes an acceptance of those changes.


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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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