Some basic needs such as the desire to feel secure are universally intrinsic to all human beings. Other needs have their basis in cultural dimensions, including masculinity and femininity, power, and social and economic barriers. The Vancouver Index of Acculturation (VIA) “distinguishes the acquisition of the new (host) cultural tendencies from the loss of old (heritage) cultural tendencies.” Human needs that are based on cultural tendencies are the factors that come into play when your goal is to design a globally appealing user experience. Your success in addressing as many of these needs as possible will make or break your product.
Barriers That Prevent Ubiquity
Only a few companies have truly mastered the art of creating culturally ubiquitous products. For example, Apple successfully targeted the iPhone to satisfy a broad set of needs. The iPhone is capable of displaying more than 40 languages, its intelligent assistant Siri is multilingual, and users can download any app that’s relevant to their cultural interests.
Some common barriers that prevent companies from creating universally appealing user experiences could easily be solved with just a little cultural awareness. I once had a client who failed to realize that about half the world uses commas instead of periods when displaying currency values. He’d designed a user interface that supported only US standards in displaying amounts of money. Needless to say, that product caused a lot of confusion among its users.
Similarly, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot if you designed a thermometer that displays temperatures only in Fahrenheit or a device that doesn’t use the metric system. There are only three countries in the entire world—Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States—that use imperial units instead of the metric system, but huge American companies have made such mistakes when designing products for an international audience.
Other barriers aren’t so simple to overcome. Some deeper societal differences such as government-imposed rules and regulations can turn a perfect product into an illegal one. Self-driving vehicles, for example, pose a major international challenge because of the need to comply with local laws. There are different driving rules, regulations, and norms in the many countries of the world, and it would be necessary to consider all of these to create an appealing, let alone a legal product for a global audience.