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Bridging Differences Across Cultures (Book Review)

A review of

Global Social Media Design: Bridging Differences Across Cultures

by Huatong Sun

Book Website

Publisher: Oxford Series on Human-Technology Interaction, Oxford University Press

272 pages, 7 chapters

About this book

A good reference for Methods/How-To, UX Theory, and Case Studies Primary audience: Researchers and designers who are new to the topic or have some or significant experience with the topic. Writing style: Academic Text density: Mostly text Learn more about our book review guidelines Global Social Media Design: Bridging Differences Across Cultures is the second ground-breaking publication by Dr Huatong Sun, Associate Professor of Digital Media & Global Design at the University of Washington, on cross-cultural technology design. In this new work, she approaches social-media design from a Global South perspective and teaches us how to apply her approach to global design as a whole. This book is thought provoking, timely, and relevant for students, researchers, and design practitioners at any level of experience. It has taken on new urgency in light of The Wall Street Journal’s revealing four-part series, The Facebook Files. Dr Sun combines theory and practice through extensive field research and case studies. She grounds us in concepts and challenges that we, as a user experience research and design community, must understand and face in a globally distributed world. She discusses Human-Computer Interaction for Development (HCI4D) (i.e., HCI for under-represented populations) and how social media and our design practice can impact the developing world in a meaningful way if we understand the ways in which the products we design simultaneously are increasingly automated (i.e., divorced from human interaction) and increasingly social (i.e., supporting our need for social connection). We must meet the challenges of this dichotomy head on and strive for what she calls “cultural sustainability.” For Dr Sun, cultural sustainability seeks to design technologies “that [are] usable, meaningful, and empowering for culturally diverse users in this increasingly globalized world” (5). The solution to this challenge is her CLUE2 approach. Her Culturally Localized User Engagement and Empowerment approach teaches us how to take our useful, usable solutions and make them meaningful in globally diverse and local cultures. In an academic style, the first three chapters provide the theory behind the practice, grounding us in the research and history upon which her approach is based with deep-dive discussions into the relevance of cross-cultural studies and media studies and a close examination of power, agency, and structure in an ever more technocratic world. The next three chapters take on a more matter-of-fact tone and focus on her transnational fieldwork and the advanced design concepts essential to implementing Dr Sun’s approach (more on the case studies below). The final chapter sums up her thinking and pushes us to turn design crossroads into globally interconnected virtual town squares where people from all backgrounds and cultures have a place to meet and speak openly and safely. It’s a story of balance. In Dr Sun’s words, we should “place social practice at the center of the stage, [where] neither human actors nor computing technologies occupy [a] privileged position” (192).

More About the Case Studies

The first of three case studies appears in Chapter 4. Dr Sun looks at Facebook in Japan, and how its approach of networked individualism in America failed to capture Japanese audiences due to their preferences for online anonymity. She discusses how a culturally-sensitive and localized approach to political economy and discursive affordances could have produced a different outcome for Facebook in Japan, and she describes how we can use these affordances in our own work to create meaningful and successful culturally localized user experiences. Chapter 5 looks at Weibo in China as an example of how copycat solutions replicated in different geographies have differing success rates. Weibo started as the Chinese Twitter but was banned because of the rising levels of political viewpoints posted in opposition to the Chinese government. It later morphed into a celebrity fan and ecommerce space, becoming so successful investors started referring to Twitter as the “Weibo of the West.” Dr Sun uses Weibo as an example of local uptake through culturally-sensitive localized reinvention. Chapter 6 examines the competition between four short messaging services (SMS): WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE, and KakaoTalk and how they were adopted globally and within Dr Sun’s home region of the Pacific Northwest, which has a large East Asian immigrant population. She discusses the uses of the four platforms and how they contribute to mobility—technological, physical, political, economic, and social—via culturally sustainable value propositions. Overall, Dr Sun’s book is jammed with information and insights that will help the user experience community design and build successful and meaningful social platforms, and a culturally sustainable Internet of Things.
Table 3.1 Design Matrix for Productive Engagement With Differences
Design Continuum Design With Differences Design Across Differences Design for Differences
Applies to Design in general Cross-cultural, multicultural, and global design Cross-cultural, multicultural, and global design
Goals -Penetrate obscurity of everyday life -Introduce innovative changes -Decode cultural differences -Empathize for differences -Cross the cultural divide -Champion for different values -Explode stereotypes -Shake the status quo and undermine normalization
Approach Cultural competency Cultural humility
Sarah Paglliaccio

Sarah Pagliaccio is an educator and UX consultant working at the intersection of tech, the arts, and humanness. Sarah believes computer-human interactions should be characterized by transparency and dignity. That is the message she strives for in her design work, writing, and teaching at Bentley University.