A review of
Universal UX Design: Building Multicultural User Experience
by Alberto Ferreira
Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann
242 pages, 8 chapters
About this book
A good reference for Methods/How-To, UX Theory, and Case Studies
Primary audience: Researchers and designers who have some experience with the topic
Writing style: Academic, Matter of fact
Text density: Mostly text
The field of international and cross-cultural UX has a growing library of high-quality books including Huatong Sun’s Cross-Cultural Technology Design (2012), Robert Schumacher’s Handbook of Global User Research (2010), and Senogo Akpem’s Cross-Cultural Design (2020). Alberto Ferreira’s book Universal UX Design: Building Multicultural User Experience (2016) offers an excellent addition to this collection. In particular, readers will benefit from thorough analyses of UX research, the breadth of interdisciplinary perspectives that are presented in the text, and the numerous case studies cited. Of particular importance is the author’s emphasis on inclusivity and toward cultures at the periphery of Western influences.
The first of three sections in the book focuses on three major themes. The first, inclusivity, argues for the need to diversify UX to include cultures typically outside North American patterns of design thinking, such as those located in China, Africa, Latin America, non-Western immigrant populations, and those living in poorer regions who have limited technological devices, access, and infrastructure. The second chapter focuses on the next theme of localization by presenting a case for using localized strategies to better take advantage of the barriers broken down by technological optimization and miniaturization. The third theme, strategies, invites readers to consider specific organizational, managerial, analytical, and design methods that may be applied to localization of UX. The entire section provides a thorough interdisciplinary background to analysis, offering lots of insight from psychology, business management, marketing, and cross-cultural studies.
The next section of the book offers digital “portraits” by geographic region, incorporating social psychological insights into specific cultural and technological characteristics. Case studies provide further edification. Particularly noteworthy is the case of the website for Best English Name, developed by an expat for Chinese users within China, who value the naming of children with English names. Then Ferreira shifts emphasis from particulars to general analysis. Instead of an orientation to cultural particularities, the lens is turned around toward a survey of universal dimensions of all cultures, comparing and contrasting different theoretical paradigms foundational to cross-cultural studies. Ferreira pays particular attention to where cultural values are shifting and where such paradigms are helpful. For example, a welcome addition is the introduction to Artifact Evolution Theory, developed in Japan as an alternative to predominantly Western approaches. (Artifact Evolution Theory posits that machines evolve through innovation until they meet an optimal threshold of utility, at which time evolution stops. Every machine evolves in the direction of better meeting the needs of users. Machines that do not evolve disappear.) Ferreira also links changing technological, economic, and material circumstances (such as increases in flat rentals) to shifts in aesthetics.
The last section begins with an explanation of copy and text guidelines for global UX, including steps to building a global content strategy, translation guidelines, and international SEO; recommendations for scripts, alphabets, controls, and calendars; and a fairly technical description of machine translation. A welcome addition in this section includes a discussion of the relationship between differing geometric qualities in architecture across cultures and UX preferences, with particular emphasis on the implications of how Western modes of lines and figures that have evolved from Greek aesthetics of antiquity conflict with Eastern modes rooted in the “Golden Ratio.” A relevant case study involving the Australian aboriginal community is provided. The section closes with analysis of gestures and colors.
Ferreira pays special attention to some of the more elusive, hidden and sometimes impenetrable dynamics of cultures. For example, the ways that the Japanese concept of “ma” impacts industrial and communication design. Ferreira describes “ma” as “the interval between two or more spatial or temporal things and events” ultimately rooted in Buddhist, Taoist, and Shintoist spiritualities. Attention is also given to gender-inclusivity, with particular attention to the impact that inclusion of masculine/feminine imagery might have on nonbinary and transgender users. (For example, the author recommends avoiding encoding gender in name titles.) At times, the text gets bookish and technical (for example, in a discussion of ubiquitous computing and augmented reality, which offers the possibility of real-time localization), but never so much as to overwhelm a reader familiar with UX research and practice.