Digital Literacy across cultures

I know that I’ve mentioned this example before in reference to global culture, but it directly relates to this week’s reading about digital literacy across cultures. I was fortunate to be part of a project that had stakeholders in the Midwest, Ireland, and India. The main purpose was to create a system and interface that would search and analyze… specific data. My role was to create a user-guide to help people utilize the system. There were several obstacles that needed to be resolved during my involvement in the project.

I worked closely with the primary tester, and she would use the system, try to stress it, and also validate the results of each test search. She logged all issues on the project SharePoint site. She recalled early in the project that the form originally classified the issues as defects, but that needed to be changed. The India team viewed the term defects as pointing blame. They would spend days researching whether the issue was in fact a defect, or if it was a design feature that was simply not working correctly. By reclassifying it as an issue, we eliminated the idea of blame. This allowed them to spend their time fixing the issue rather than researching who was at fault.

There were status calls twice a week, which allowed the project manager to collect status updates from each area, and also helped clarify what each person’s role was and the expectations for the week. I’m not sure if these calls were done for convenience, accountability, or because of deeper cultural reasons like Thatcher described in this week’s reading. I do know that it seemed to help people stay on task and understand their responsibilities.

We also encountered issues with the design and layout of the program. I found it difficult to use because most of the fields you entered data into or selected criteria from were not labeled. The lead tester had the same complaints, but was told that it was too late to make those kinds of changes. Part of the job of the user guide was to explain how to use the system, and part was to help American and European users overcome the awkward and confusing layout and interface. I wish I knew if it was a cultural difference, or if it was just a poorly designed interface.

I guess I’ve always taken general usability for granted, but this week’s readings by Thatcher and Blakeslee have made me realize that convenient usability is a factor of our cultural experiences, and that a different culture would have different experiences to draw from. What seems logical and convenient to me might seem confusing or awkward to someone from another culture. The areas of the internet that I frequent seem to be tailored to an American, or at least and English speaking user, but I would really be interested in seeing the potential layout and organizational difference of a website designed with a different culture in mind.

Ishii’s research about mobile phone usage was very interesting. It seemed like a well-done study, and it is one that I would appreciate seeing carried out again. He might be able to find stronger correlations today than he was able to when the study was originally carried out. I think he would find the mobile phone usage breakdown would still be similar between home, work, and away from work. Expected differences would be the level of usage for the average person, especially teenagers, and I would also predict a difference in the social skills among mobile phone users. It is easy for me to make predictions based on my own observations, but I really would like to see the research.

Posted on November 11, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You probably saved hours of wasted energy just by reclassifying the term “defect” to “issue!” It may not seem like a big deal to us here in the U.S. what it’s called, but, like your example shows, it might be a big deal in other cultures. And great example, by the way! I thought my project management class was tough because of the time differences (one student was on a military base in Korea), but we were still all from the same culture and spoke the same language. You had a real-life project with both language AND cultural differences. Kudos!

    I found an interesting blog post called “Same Words, Different Meanings in Japan, Mexico and the U.S.” Some of it may provide insights as to why the Japanese look down on cell phone usage in public places.

  2. Great connections made across the readings and mentioning your own experience.

    FYI this Thursday is World Usability Day, with this year’s focus on healthcare. See for more, including the map of events happening, all motivated by the mission “to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use.”

  3. Also, did you take the Communicating in Multilingual Environments grad course last Spring?

  4. Hi:

    Really interesting story about issues versus defects. I wonder if that was so much a cultural issue — I know lots of people I work with (native U.S.’ers) who might react the same way and spend a lot of time convincing me/someone that something wasn’t a “defect.” But maybe that’s specific to my environment and wouldn’t be the case in the kind of enviornment you typically work in as a technical communicator.

    Also, I really appreciate the useability testing stories because every time I read one from one of my classmates, I feel like I have a much better sense of what to expect for the class and for the workplace. I’d really be interested to know the answer to your question (is it cultural or just poor design?). Do you have any way to follow up?

  5. That is a really interesting example of how a simple word choice can really make a big impact because of cultural differences. I think that it is interesting to think about how easy it is to have those same problems even within the same culture. I too would have taken exception with the term defect, albeit for a different reason. I just don’t think it was totally an accurate term for what it was supposed to describe. I would let it slide though, because it wouldn’t be offensive to me as it was to your colleagues in India!

    I agree that it would be really interesting to see an updated version of Ishii’s study. I would love to see how the results have changed over the last few years.

  6. I agree that data is really where it’s at with wireless phones these days. I think people see being able to make a phone call as an added bonus but want the ability to check their email and social media on the go.

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