A Visible Language Analysis of User-Interface Design Components and Culture Dimensions

Article excerpt

Abstract

Bringing theory to practice, these authors apply the cultural dimensions of Geert Hofstede to international corporate web design. Against Hofstede's dimensions of power distance, individualism, gender bias, uncertainty avoidance and time orientation, five interface components are examined - metaphor, mental model, navigation, appearance and interaction. Through careful analysis and presentation of existing websites, cultural difference and similarity is revealed. Whether these differences can be explained by Hofstede's findings is an open question. The approaches of cultural analysis and interface component analysis bring to attention the complex decisions required in the construction of meaningful websites designed to cross borders.

Introduction

User-interface design and, within that discipline, website design, constitute a complex environment for visible language. This article addresses specific aspects of visible language related to culture. The primary goal of this article is to analyze websites in order to understand to what extent the corporate designs seem to exhibit variations that relate to cultural difference. Both visual syntax and visual semantics (especially rhetoric) are related to culture dimensions in relation to details in presentation.

Geert Hofstede's culture theory (Hofstede, 1997) establishes five dimensions of culture. Whether this theory is appropriate as an analytical framework for the following research became another focus for this investigation. Combining Hofstede's five dimensions (see below) with five components of user-interface design: metaphor, mental model, navigation, interaction and appearance (Marcus, 1997) provides twenty-five possible areas for evaluation if a website is localized appropriately. Many examples of this analysis follow.

Hofstede's cultural dimension

In this section we wish to summarize briefly Hofstede's cultural values and their relational scores. Each country's values are presented in table 1 in two ways: as a position in a ranking of all countries and as a score listing the particular value of that country. The table has five dimensions: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance and long term orientation regarding time. For example, looking at the extremes in power distance, one sees that Malaysia ranks first with the greatest power distance (score 104), while at the other extreme Israel ranks fifty-second (score 13). The reader is encouraged to examine Hofstede's work in greater detail in his book, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, lntercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival.

Power distance (PD) refers to the extent (high or low) to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

Individualism (IDV) in cultures implies loose ties: everyone is expected to look after one's self or immediate family but no one else. Collectivism implies that people are integrated from birth into strong, cohesive groups that protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

Masculinity (MAS) pertains to societies in which social gender roles are clearly distinct (i.e., men are supposed to be assertive, tough and focused on material success, whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender and concerned with the quality of life). Femininity pertains to societies in which social gender roles overlap (i.e., both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender and concerned with the quality of life).*

Uncertainty avoidance (UA) can be defined as the extent (high or low) to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations. Cultures vary in their avoidance of uncertainty, creating different rituals and having different values regarding formality, punctuality, legal-religious-social requirements and tolerance for ambiguity.

Long-term (time) orientation (LTO) plays an important role in Asian countries that have been influenced by Confucian philosophy over many thousands of years. …

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