RAA#1: Improved User Experience with a Culturally Adapted Interface

1. Citation

Reinecke, K., & Bernstein, A. (2011). Improving performance, perceived usability, and aesthetics with culturally adaptive user interfaces. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 18(2). doi: 10.1145/1970378.1970382

Active Link:    http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1970382&bnc=1

2. Purpose

The authors set out to show that if you adapt a user interface to reflect the cultural background of the user, the user will have a better user experience. They evaluated a system designed to automatically generate a personalized interface that reflected the user’s cultural background.

3. Methods

The authors had previously developed a culturally adaptive system called MOCCA which helps organize user’s tasks.  Since they used tasks the user input, they could not influence the user with cultural content, they could simply organize the information according to a system that was determined to best reflect the users cultural background.

The authors first had the participant’s compare a US based MOCCA system against a MOCCA system that was generated after being told the user’s cultural background. The participants had to then perform three tasks with MOCCA which included creating a new category, creating a new to-do item, and finding an already created to-do task.  The participants then filled out a subjective questionnaire about usability and aesthetics of the interface after performing the tasks in each system.  They were also asked to rate the systems according to preference.

The participants’ errors, clicks, and timed needed for the tasks were recorded as well as how many times they had to ask for help. The authors the compared the findings between the two versions.

4. Main findings

Interfaces that adapt to cultural preferences can immensely increase the user experience.

For each task participants were faster and used less clicks with the culturally modified version.  They also made 69% less errors with the modified version over the US version.  Two participants had to ask for help when using the US version and none asked for help while using the culturally modified version.

There was not a strong rating for either version in aesthetics so apparently there wasn’t a major violation of aestheics for either. When the participants evaluated the user experience of the models, the culturally modified version again was rated higher than the US version.

Overall, the participants answered in their surveys that they preferred the culturally modified version over the US version. The authors did note an interesting phenomena where the participants who said they would be more efficient with the US version actually had worse times when using the US.  The participants who said they were more efficient with the culturally modified version were actually faster.

5. Analysis

I found this article very interesting since it is reflecting another aspect of a user’s relationship with technology.  I had not really given much thought to making an interface designed for a certain culture but it makes absolute sense now that I happened upon these authors. Culture really does have a gigantic effect on many things and should have an effect on technology as well.  Making a user interface one size fits all may be currently cost effective, but the site would likely be more effective overall if it takes cultural influences into account. (This is beyond aesthetics)

I would like to go back in and read more about the author’s creation of MOCCA.  I think their choice of a task organizer interesting and would like to read a little more into their explanations for choosing this and also what systems they felt would not work.

I also want to see more of their examples and sources for how different cultures view user interfaces. This article seems limited although I can understand why they limited it.  I would love to see them expand on this testing while using different types of systems.  This system was designed to keep track of tasks, what would a culturally sensitive email system look like?  The other day, someone posted a Chinese YouTube link and then changed it, does it look different than the US version?  If so, why did they make the changes they made?  Is only a language change?


  1. I would like to see more examples of the differences between a site designed for the US and site designed for another country. (How does one find a safe website that is likely in a different language?) The websites that I can think of off the top of my head that I can change my language preference (Sony and Nintendo) only changes the language and not the user interface. If anyone can point me to some nifty websites that are more culturally designed I would be very grateful.

  2. I agreed with Katie. Did the researcher explained which attributes they improved in culturally modified version? The studied produced a lot less error with the modified version. However, I have know idea what could be the causes.

    I can think of only one attribute, symbols. In Japanese culture, they use a circle to represent correctness while we use a check mark in other cultures. The symbols could be one of them, but it should be a lot more.

  3. There are several cultural factors which affect User Experiences and Usability. But, it is very difficult and comprehensive to design adapting to several cultures. In my point of view, it is best to use one single design which is usable in all cultures rather than adapting websites to several cultures.

    1. Of course today is one of the rare days there isn’t a google doodle to be found! (Ichecked Germany, Brazil, China,India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Greece…) I’ll have to try tomorrow!

  4. This is a very interesting line of research. What factors exactly did they change and how did they identify what changes to make in order to adapt the interface? The devil is in the details of how they operationalized these cultural adaptations.

    In theory, it makes sense to adapt more than the text to the local culture. In practice, it may be difficult to figure out exactly how to do so – besides hiring local designers.

    This is the debate between localization and globalization. It has a compromise, glocalization. You can read more about these if you’re interested.

    Very good RAA. Your points on Bb.

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