Recently, AnswerLab conducted a research program to determine the correct direction for a global media’s site design. Across the US and Asia, the same concept was selected by both sets of users. The users’ underlying reasoning and thought process was unexpectedly enlightening. Digging deep into a user’s preferences is a major part of user testing, and a comparison of US to Asian markets is expected to uncover vastly different requirements for each. When preferences start to merge, it certainly gives designers as well as researchers pause. While the simple solution is to accept some convergence, deeper questioning and on-the-fly method changes uncovered interesting, yet understandable reasons behind the similarities in preference:
1) We “Grew Up” on the Web together: While fledgling websites were finding their way in the early days of the web, Asian consumers were finding their way to the only sites available, which were decidedly American. Site creativity outpaced the technology available to have multiple, customized sites for a long time, and overseas users became conditioned to the singular designs. As the technology, and sites themselves matured, users hungry for content delighted in language accommodation. Study evidence uncovered similar tastes in layout based on this conditioned expectation of how sites should look and behave.
2) Personification is key to unlocking feelings: It is acknowledged that some cultures make a habit of not verbalizing feelings. While this may be perfectly acceptable in a social setting, it does make research difficult. To ask international testers for their feelings about a website can often garner you a lot of blank stares. However, asking these same testers to describe the site as if it were a person, whether it would be hip or stodgy, sharp or dull witted, friendly or grim, will bring out the rich set of observations into how users perceive the site. This is the useful data that can be coupled with stateside testers’ feelings to create useful design recommendations.
3) Behavior drives preferences: Although demographics play an important part in how users perceive features and options, it is very often behavior that can lead to surprising final choices. In fact, nationality/culture is perhaps one of the most important demographics and yet in this study we did not find significant differences across regions. When study goals focus on the impact of change to existing users, these types of findings are likely to crop up. For example, if you were testing a music application, and Bruce Springsteen was a test subject, would it be more important that he was a rock star, or that he was 50+ years old? 😉
While wildly different explanations can yield the exact same result, it is key to understand these differences to ensure the layers of design do not conflict with these expectations. While both sets of testers in our study expect to see weather modules high on the right side of the page, it is important to understand that US testers have often self selected weather to be in that location, while the Taiwanese test group understands weather as “news” and expects news to be in the upper right portion of the page. Modularizing weather may not be suitable for a site in Taiwan, as they expect news to change, whereas US testers show that news is expected to be separated from weather.
There are interesting and important cultural nuances and underpinnings to study findings, but showing user preference for the same concept shouldn’t be an overwhelming surprise. Digging deeper into the thought process will uncover long held preconceptions, feelings and similar behaviors. These are some key reasons to conduct user experience testing when taking your website overseas.