One problem with much of tech coming out of Silicon Valley is the lack of diversity. When the members of a team are primarily one gender (yep, it’s mostly dudes) and of a limited number of ethnic backgrounds, there is the tendency to design in a vacuum. I know it is not intentional for the most part. But I see it time and time again. I have witnessed discussions of what should be included in a design. These debates do not tahe`1 in to consideration racial, cultural or language differences. And I am not even in Silicon Valley!
I was recently taking an online class on Coursera and the segment was over the importance of considering diversity in your product design. So many designers take this for granted. They assume that customers use the same technical terms that are being thrown around by the developers and product managers in house. Designers assume that the designs they make use clear language, when they might just be alienating the user. This type of alienation can unintentionally span into other realms as well.
Examine the chart below. The chart shows the many ways that people input their name and address. Note that countries use different formats. For example, the USA has a 5 digit zip code (sometimes with an additional 4 digits) and other countries have more than 5 digits. We need to keep these differences i mind when we design an address for on our website or app.
Image courtesy of: Coursera Training Course Software Product Management discussion forum
- In India, people use the term “Surname” to refer to last name.
- Some countries have pin codes or postal codes in their addresses, instead of zip codes.
Here are a few other cultural differences that were shared on the Coursera’s class discussion board.
- The USA has the date formate as Month, Day, Year.
- Other countries have the format Day, Month, Year.
Make sure that the date inputs are clear when you are asking for a date format.
It is well known that the number 4 is not a good number in China as its pronunciation is close to the word meaning “death”, therefore, I am always careful not to use it without carefully identifying its relation with a software user interface. Having 3 clearly identifiable horizontal bars in a layout (clearly identifiable columns or other elements for example) is also to be avoided as it resemble the incense sticks used during worship at buddhist temples. The number 8 however is a go. It is symbol of fortune and prosperity (try to have a vanity plate with a lot of number 8 in it in hong kong and see how much it cost you :). I heard 9 is good in thailand as well.
Material / Colors
Avoid brown. This is a very special one. If you ever design a character for a game application… avoid dressing him / her in brown. Brown is close to the color of suits worn by grieving people in traditional china. This is very little known and I had the experience trying to dress up in a particular way when I was told about it. Probably not the most common mainstream issue but good to know.
Avoid white as it is associated with funerals.
Red is good. Happy events are always covered wit red in China / Hong Kong.
Yellow: thinking of a all yellow themed app for china or hong kong? Depending on which political inclination you have, you may want to look at the recent history of the yellow umbrella revolution in Hong Kong.
Developing for the chinese market means having an app in chinese language (duh!).
I have seen app design build with english in mind and not fitting chinese at all. Typical issue would be the size of a label. Fits in english… layout is broken when chinese characters are used. Result is ugly and unusable for the user.
For truly global apps, bear in mind that some languages such as arabic are also written from right to left (this is a tough one for UI designers).
No need to say you should not have anything red and yellow in your app which would be considered as an insult to the chinese government or chinese flag.
As an anecdote…. dont build a Winnie the Pooh app for china. The character is banned ever since the chairman was depicted as the character.
No sexually explicit material of any kind. It would be censored as indecent (I hear from relevant sources Hong Kong is more relaxed about this).
Data export and location (not directly linked to user interaction but still good to know): this one is a nightmare for database managers. In some cases, either the government or the client will require data to remain in China (this is also true of some european companies linked to governments activities). Having a datacenter in China less difficult than a few years ago but represent a considerable investment and data confidentiality is following local rules. a few years ago, China also banned any export of data in some cases (survey data for example would not be allowed out of the country). The latter is a difficult one for anyone to track but the rules did apply when I was working for a company performing surveys in China. Any application covering this type of activity is vulnerable to this.
Infrastructure: Hong Kong as the fastest internet speed you can find for consumer grade connections and it is hard to find a spot where no one can call you or send you an email. Pass the border with mainland and it is another story (it is getting much better but China is big… it takes time to setup high bandwidth everywhere). Infrasctructure will impact your end user if your app require heavy bandwidth or needs to be connected all the time (no offline mode).
No google / Facebook: Anything depending on google / Facebook will not work in mainland china. Apple products are still also limited so plan android if you develop for mobile users. Have Baidu and Tencent products in mind as an alternative if your app needs online search / social media interaction.
Chinese people (i.e. mainland Chinese) are not as exposed as the western world to applications and websites. Google is still banned and apple just made it through with being allowed to open stores in mainland china. Facebook is not accessible.
For more pointers at what people are used to, see apps as WeChat, QQ, go on the taobao.com website (chinese only but google will translate it pretty well when using Chrome). The user experience on these apps and website becomes more and more in line with global trends but there are still differences.
Hope this helps. Hong Kong and China are fantastic places to live and work despite its challenges for western people. I encourage anyone to experience it as it really opens minds to developing truly global ready softwares.