UX strategy and culture. Culture is rarely taken into account in UX… | by Giles Crouch | Digital anthropologist | May 2022
A good UX strategy is backed by solid UX research. This research is key to developing the right business model that brings value to the customer and the business. But I noticed something too often missing in UX strategies. The inclusion of cultural considerations. Why this and does it help build a better UX strategy? Yes.
So what role does culture play in a UX strategy? This can be the key to unlocking the narrative of a good story behind the product and going beyond personalities and demographic/psychographic profiling. Understanding the cultural context in which a digital (or even physical) product will exist adds a new dimension to gaining truly human knowledge.
Let’s first define what we mean by culture in the context of a UX strategy and apply it to research. Anthropologists define culture in its most basic sense as the knowledge we use to navigate our lives. It can be as specific as, say, a tribe or community in a small town as large as a nation or even a business or non-profit organization.
In UX research, the focus is mainly on the user, I prefer to say human, in the singular sense. It is fair and important. Later, once a user profile is created and perhaps some product testing is done, demographics are taken into account. But they are mostly data points (personal income, HHI, city, state/province, average age) with some psychological aspects like values, desires, goals. This provides the context in which the user profile resides.
When we add cultural aspects to research, we begin to have a deeper human insight. This is highly qualitative in nature, but UX researchers can become too reliant on quantitative data. The cultural elements we look at in a UX strategy and research involves understanding the socio-cultural system the user is operating in, the patterns of relatedness and reciprocity within the culture surrounding the user. This gives a more global vision.
For example, if your product is to be designed for enterprise applications, you will need to consider typical cultural characteristics within enterprises. Each company has its own culture, but there are commonalities that can be applied. Is the company hierarchical or relatively flat in structure? How is the IT department perceived in the organization? loved, hated, neutral, boring? Is the organization deeply siled or highly collaborative? Corporate culture can be researched using netnographic techniques. By gaining cultural context, the product marketing team can develop better creative and brand positioning, especially as it relates to the website.
For a consumer product, understanding the cultural context your product will fit into will help create better storytelling and provide insights for inbound marketing campaigns for the product. In this sense, you would look at societal values and implicit rules and codes. An individual may like the product, but they may not tell others about it if there are social taboos around what the product does. These may also limit usage and impact time/location considerations. You can also get insights into product positioning and brand messages that will resonate with different cultural groups that might otherwise be missed, giving you more opportunities for growth.
I have yet to see a UX research application that includes cultural elements, which is unfortunate. But I’ve yet to see a UX research application that applies much of any cultural anthropology. Which is also strange. You can add cultural elements if you use a spreadsheet template fairly easily. I’ve been doing this for years. It’s always a revelation and a talking point for product development teams.