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Albert Badre Publications
GVU Center
College of Computing
School of Psychology
Georgia Tech
HCI at Georgia Tech


The Cultural Context of User Interface De sign
Automating Usability Evaluation

Professor, College of Computing
Coordinator, Human-Computer Interaction Program, GVU Center

Culturability: The Merging of Culture and Usability

Reference Paper by Barber and Badre, 1998

The electronic environment of the World Wide Web evolves daily, increasing the likelihood of international participants and transactions. With this in mind, the current focus of our research seeks to address three interrelated questions: 1) Are there design elements which can be identified as culturally specific? 2) Are there design elements which can be identified as genre specific? 3) What, if any, relationship exists between culture and genre as reflected in WEB design? As a consequence of current international WWW users and in anticipation of potential users, usability takes on an immediate and relevant cultural context. To identify localization elements and generalize them to "cultural markers" that are specific to a given culture, and/or perhaps influenced by genre, we are performing a systematic usability inspection of several hundred Web sites originating in different countries and languages. Cultural markers are those elements that are most prevalent, and possibly preferred within a particular cultural group. Ultimately, we argue, cultural markers can directly impact user performance, hence the merging of culture and usability.

The evolution of the World Wide Web as a medium for international communication, participation, and transaction serves as both reminder and stimulant when considering interface design for a multi-cultured environment. Although this relatively new medium is touted as "World Wide" and "Global", it remains localized due to design and cultural constraints, which can and will be overcome. Basic tenets of usability, including learnability, efficiency, and satisfaction combined with a basic component of HCI and detailed audience analysis, take on a larger meaning when designing for an international market. What becomes clear is that one medium does not equate with one interface. Instead, the interface design, interactivity, and content reflect a cultural sensitivity and understanding of the targeted audience; indeed, the Global Interface is culturally dimensional and capable of rapid change. Part I of our research, discussed here, encompasses a large population of sites, categorized by country of origin, language, and genre and generates a list of cultural markers, which may prove to distinguish cultural/genre specific design elements. Creating or retrofitting software for other specific design elements. Creating or retrofitting software for other countries requires attention to technical detail that goes beyond mere translation. For example, how pictorial information is presented and organized for scanning on a display can be related to the script direction of the user's first language. The basic premise behind the research outlined here is simple: No longer can issues of culture and usability remain separate in design for the World Wide Web. Cultural preferences and biases (i.e. colors, text vs. graphics, spatial orientation, among many others) impact what is deemed "user friendly"; thus, usability issues must take on a cultural context. Indeed, the software industry is beginning to recognize the need to design for the international interface (Kano, N. 1995; Nielson, J. 1996). What is needed to implement a truly Global Interface are guidelines that are capable of capturing the nuances of cultures around the world, rendering an interface that allows the targeted audience to "feel at home", without sacrificing the creative and artistic aspects of design that make the WWW an interesting place to explore. However, a Global Interface does not mean one interface. A clarification of terms contained in this paper and how we use them to discuss both our goals and our findings is listed below.

The Cultural Context of Web Genres: Content vs. Style

Reference Paper by Badre and Laskowski, 2001

The goal of this research is to focus on understanding the relationship between the genre context and the user culture. Designers of web sites draw on culturally established brick and mortar practices to decide what should constitute the style and content of their sites. For example, news site pages incorporate many of the organization features of newspapers. Tourism sites often look like travel brochures. Shopping sites incorporate many of the features of a store, such as aisles and shopping carts. News, shopping, entertainment, and information sites are each a genre that can be identified and distinguished from the others in the content they provide to their intended audience. Some are informative, some serve to sell products, others exist strictly for entertainment. But we contend that in addition to content, and perhaps more vital than content, each genre has its unique, culturally established presentation style that defines and distinguishes the genre. It is possible that for users to "feel" comfortable with the content of a web site, and to find the site easy to use, they need to recognize the culturally established styles to which they are accustomed.

The question I explore here is whether what is culturally established for a given genre in the brick and mortar world applies equally on the World Wide Web. Can we effectively use the styles of one genre to design the site of another genre? Are we wedded to the culturally established attributes and practices of people in the real world when designing for the Web? We conducted two studies. In one we investigated the relationship between the web visitor's goal and the style of interaction for a given genre. In the second study, we compared users' preformance and preference for shopping vs. news genre sites. We found significant interactions for both goals and styles of the same genre as well as between different genres and cultures.


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