Why Human Design Thinking Requires Cultural Context

Why Human Design Thinking Requires Cultural Context

Industrial designers and tech creators have come a long, long way in terms of incorporating usability into products and environments. Early Unix systems famously had no “save” feature, for instance, and incalculable hours of work were lost. Post-event analysis of the Three Mile Island accident found that problems stemmed from flaws in the design of the control room and not the highly trained and competent staff.

Software and SaaS developers cannot assume intuitiveness on the end user’s part. Design must now anticipate how humans will respond to and use any given system without ambiguity or baseless assumptions. That includes how those systems work, react and even look. The aesthetics of an interface will always be important, of course. After all, it is the first thing the user sees. However, designers must customize even that experience for the people at the controls and their varied states of mind, attitudes, habits, and customs as they interact with, and react to, systems that are frequently in a constant state of ongoing improvements, updates, and refinements.

In fact, the impersonal and neutral term “user” should be eliminated from the process. “Human-centered design thinking” must now be the guiding practice in the new “religion” of UX research. 

Home computers and mobile devices are ubiquitous, the internet is an integral part of daily life, connectivity has been established globally, and systems are becoming more robust and complex. In this world, a one-size-fits-all mentality is not just outmoded, it ignores the need for truly customized approaches that make every person’s experience as holistic as possible.

Basic guidelines undergirding human design thinking include context. Foundational questions include: 

  • What are the societal norms, customs, and practices that form the environment in which people live, work and play?
  • How do those factors drive the behaviors that, in turn, drive decision-making around purchases and usage?
  • What are the common issues experienced by audiences that share a common life, work, and cultural experiences?

Address those and, by doing so, resolve them and eliminate their recurrence. It may help to think of the product, service, and people as one organic system, each part driven by and reacting to, the actions and reactions of the other parts. But what happens when these studies cross borders? Where nuances between subsets of demographics within one culture and language group need to be accounted for in any study, just the act of crossing a geographical border should alert trained qualitative researchers to consider this new context before anything about the study is started.

Small and simple fixes are easier to implement and can also drive more precise and targeted customization for various audiences. Understanding these audiences in a highly nuanced culture like that in Japan can be difficult for those with minimal or no experience. Even armed with knowledge and data-driven market segmentation with the culture is not enough. Finding an expert to manage needed shifts can include sprints with small-scale prototyping, testing, and refinement. Depending on the topic of study, this approach can make a big difference in adapting to unique cultural practices and preferences and ensuring good outcomes. 

Human design thinking is a deeply personal approach to knowing a customer’s needs on a truly profound level. Understanding how human perspectives and emotions impact every stage of decision-making can transform the development of new products, services, and processes. However, just as no two people are alike, neither are any two cultures. They all come with their own singular and unique characteristics, preferences, and drivers, and genuine knowledge of those factors empowers meaningful – and profitable – interactions.

To learn more about how the values of the Japanese consumer drive their behavior, download our comprehensive Japan Values Segmentation guide!

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