Usability and Internationalization of Information Technology
Nuray Aykin (ed.)
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates ISBN 0805844791 $39.95
Reviewed by Richard Douglass
Globalization and localization are increasingly important topics in information technology and user-interface design. Several books have been written on these topics since the late 1980s; Nuray Aykin’s new volume is a notable addition to the literature as it focuses on the designer’s perspective.
This book’s goal is to provide the design community with practical information on how to support the design of usable and universal information technology. A great deal of research is covered in each of the 11 chapters, but the need to provide the practitioner with solid tools and processes is never forgotten. Readers are provided with check lists, items to consider, and examples of best practices.
The Cultural Considerations section provides a great mix of practical tips and theory. Nuray Aykin and Allen Milewski’s chapter "Practical Issues and Guidelines for International Information Display" delivers a wide-ranging list of issues to consider when developing for a global audience. Details on formatting dates, times, and numbers are addressed, as well as hardware and language translation issues. The result is a terrific summary of what user-interface designers need to consider when designing for a global audience.
In contrast to this very practical chapter, Emilie Gould’s chapter, "Synthesizing the Literature on Cultural Values," provides a much more theoretical perspective on the issues. This work is an excellent primer on a number of intercultural communication theories and how they apply to HCI design. Of particular interest in this regard was her inclusion of Condon and Yousef’s values-orientation approach. Gould’s insightful application made mention of how people create images of one another when they communicate at a distance. Designers are no differentthey need to invent an image of a user or users when they create an interface. As an advocate of user research, I appreciated Gould’s point that people make more extreme judgments about one another at a distance. A clear implication of this point is that user research is necessary to bridge the distance and reduce the likelihood of an extreme assumption on the part of the design team.
Design Issues and Usability Engineering
The second section of the book provides us with a collection of articles on design and usability engineering. William Horton presents an impressive chapter, "Graphics: The Not Quite Universal Language," that is a terrific guide to the use of graphics with a global audience in mind. He begins by providing an excellent review of the tension between globalization and localization as a justification for his own hybrid (and very practical) solution. This is followed by an extensive set of guidelines, best practices, and examples to help guide the designer. For instance, he advises designers to avoid the use of puns and verbal analogies and to avoid the use of mythological and religious symbols. Horton’s advice should be of immediate value in any internationalization effort.
Dray and Seigel’s chapter, "`Sunday in Shanghai, Monday in Madrid?!’" is also valuable in its practical approach. It provides the user researcher with a very down-to-earth list of how to prepare for international user studies, including advice on how to select where to go to perform a study. To help guarantee that study results are generalizable, they also present a strong case to consider sampling for variation in the types of users recruited. These experienced practitioners also give valuable advice on recruiting strategies and arranging for translation.
The final section of the book is made up of three case studies. Jorian Clarke’s chapter, "Cross-Cultural Design for Children in a Cyber Setting," was particularly interesting. Clarke’s well-researched piece provides recent data on children’s role in family purchases, the adoption of new technology, and on the global spread of Internet usage among young people. This case study also provides a detailed history of the evolution of the kids.com Web site, and details some of its unexpected outcomes, such as families from across the world wanting to meet each other and children interested in learning more about their global class of peers. From the screenshots provided, it was interesting to see how the designers moved away from using text for instructions and relied more upon visuals. It was clear from this example that visuals provided a much more effective means to communicate this type of information to an international audience.
Degen, Lubin, Pedell, and Zheng’s chapter, "Travel Planning on the Web: A Cross-Cultural Case Study," presents another down-to-earth case study. Of particular note is the design process they developed and how it applied to the development of a travel portal. The authors work to engage the reader by presenting examples of the user data that was gathered, including demographics and travel behavior of the target audience. At the end of the chapter, the Web sites that were published for three different countries (Germany, China, and the United States) are presented. An analysis of the similarities and differences between the sites helps readers to see where there can be commonality in site features across cultures (for example, search and log in) and where differences are required (for instance, Germans have a preference for solo travel while Chinese prefer group travel).
Aykin’s book is certainly ambitious in its scope. The various chapters touch on many different topics, making it difficult to gain a depth of knowledge about the issues that are discussed. However, extensive references in the articles provide readers with an excellent starting point to begin researching a particular subject (e.g. creating graphics for a global audience, creating Web sites for children across the world, etc.).
Project teams that are just beginning to consider a global audience for their Web site or product will definitely benefit from reading this book. In addition, user interface professionals that are looking for best practices and support for them will also appreciate the tools, processes, and research that they are provided with.
New & Upcoming Titles
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Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology
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The Semiotic Engineering of Human-Computer Interaction (Acting with Technology)
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Richard Douglass is a usability analyst with Lotus Software at IBM. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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