RAA1: Beauty is in the eye of beholder. Cultural difference about usability.

Improving Performance, Perceived Usability, and Aesthetics with Culturally Adaptive User Interfaces

Katharina Reinecke and Abraham Bernstein, University of Zurich

Purpose of the research 

We all know the aesthetics plays important role in the usability and performance.  Using pretty interface, the user likes it better, performs better.  However the problem is beauty is really subjective thing.  And certainly culture is one of the factors deciding the standards for the beauty.  I remember doing class presentation with team about excise, and Eddy showed Baroque-like chair from china and modern zen chair as an example of different perception of aesthetics. Then how about showing the users interfaces built according to their cultural norms, instead of showing same interfaces for the all global users?  Will the customers like it better and perform better?  This paper tries to answer that question.


First, how we can decide the one’s culture? It is certainly different from the country of origin.  The paper made a average of the countries where one user stayed.  So the more one user stayed one country, the more he/she is adapted to that culture.  So that is user model.

How about the cultural difference in the design of the interface.  There is very famous work by cultural anthropologist Hofstede*, where he studied the characteristics of IBM employees from different culture.  According to it, there is 5 dimension in the culture, like Power distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term Orientation.  According to the this dimension, they made a specific design rule according to the high/low value.   That becomes a rule for the that culture.  So that is the culture/UI rule.

And finally we need a test platform to do this.  The author made a service website devoted to the study called MOCCA. It is basically to-do-list website.  They gathered 41 international participants.  Basically they ask users where have you been, and generated rule for the interface, and adapt interface according to the rule and show it to the user.

Main findings

Not surprisingly, the result shows that users were 22% faster using the culturally adapted interface, needed fewer clicks, and made fewer errors.  Also subjective methods (asking users to evaluate themselves), shows the users thought the adapted version was easier to user.


When we think about the design paradigm, the fact is that the bars are getting higher.  At first something working reliably working is welcome.  Then it should be easy to use to win the competition.  Finally at the fierce competition around matured product,  it should be pleasant or fun to use to survive in the market.  And aesthetics plays important role in the pleasant experience.   For example, Apple is one of the most successful company, for they are really good at providing beautiful experience.

However when we think about aesthetics, it is really subjective, isn’t it?  So the previous paradigm, where the omnipotent designer worked really hard to create universally absolutely beautiful product is not applicable any more.  Rather the design output can be a function of various inputs like culture, rather than a static point.  It is this papers value that shows diligently this direction.  It is easy to assume it.  But to test this assumption, they made a working sample of website and developed rule for the adaptation.  And invited 41 users to test it, and evaluated their result to show that this assumption is valid.  It is not a small task.

However I would like to extend this theme a little more.  For me,  culture is certainly one dimension in the optimal design function.  Other can be sex/age/income and so on.  At this point it becomes more complex multidimensional statistical problem.  So which dimension affects how much becomes hard to tell. Then finding a hidden theme becomes more of user clustering or machine learning.  There is many users of various taste.  Even person from same culture shows different taste.  So this concept of culturally adapted interface should be extended to the taste adapted interface.

Personally aesthetics has been always my weak point.  As you can see my motto “Intuinno” , I work to make innovation (which is science or engineering driven) intuitively (which is about usability), but that’s all.  I never approached the aesthetics with the same confidence with other two discipline.  That’s where team work shines.  If there is world class team, like in TV series in CSI, I can play the usability part (Anyway my engineering is also under average, even though I can make it barely work. )  and Jonathan Ive can do the aesthetics part.

Finally here is some interesting pictures of the beauties from all over the world.   You can see we are different.


Katharina Reinecke and Abraham Bernstein. 2011. Improving performance, perceived usability, and aesthetics with culturally adaptive user interfaces. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 18, 2, Article 8 (July 2011), 29 pages. DOI=10.1145/1970378.1970382  http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1970378.1970382

Photos examples of Beauties.  National Geographic channel. The link is  http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/3798150/content/36379222-beauty

Hofstede, G. 2001. Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors and Organizations across Nations 2nd Ed. Sage Publications.


One thought on “RAA1: Beauty is in the eye of beholder. Cultural difference about usability.

  1. Good RAA.

    I think another student reviewed this article earlier in the semester. The question is, how did they implement cultural adaptation in the designs? And how did they know the design variations are indeed culturally appropriate? Do they provide screen shots of the variations and explanations of how they were created?

    Your points on Bb.

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