Culture, Internationalisation and Usability - I - 23 February 2008
by SESUN Team
Read this article in Chinese (translated by Lu Ying and Fangfang Liu, proofread by Christina Li)
Zhengjie Liu, Andy Smith, Kerstin Röse, et al.
Although usability engineering as a profession has been developed in the western countries for over twenty years, its development in other parts of the world like China remains relatively unknown. The study reported in this paper seeks to compare the practice of usability professionals in the United Kingdom, Germany and China. It focuses on the development of interactive products for local markets and for the other markets. The major objective of this research is to have an initial understanding of usability practice for each country.
Focus groups were conducted in order to obtain insights into the usability practice of each country. The results provide good indication of the usability knowledge shared and used in each of the studied national markets. Two levels of distinction regarding results can be made for processes and methods: One is results across countries – that is differences in processes and methods between China, Germany and the UK. The other one is results across domains within countries – that is differences between usability engineering (UE) and cross-cultural usability engineering (XUE) processes and methods for each country.
The major findings can be summarized that differences in methods and processes applied differed more between China, Germany and England than for the different domains of UE and XUE. UE-processes in England and Germany seemed more mature, flexible and integrated than in China. Specific processes for cross-cultural product development seem to be not existent. Neither is specific cross-cultural usability-methods applied by any team.
This white paper describes the objectives, methodology and results of the study. It is hoped that the findings presented in this paper will inform the development of usability practices better adjusted to the local realities of each of the participant countries.
The profession of usability engineering has developed at an incredible pace over the last twenty years in the western world. However, the development of usability knowledge in other parts of the world remains relatively unknown due to language and cultural barriers, as is the case of China. As part of the SESUN project, the research reported in this paper seeks to compare the practice of usability engineers in the United Kingdom, Germany and China.
The study presented here compares the procedures and methods of three groups of usability engineers across the above mentioned countries. The study focuses on the development of interactive products for local markets and on the development of products to be used in cultures different from that of the country of origin. The main objective of this research is to have an initial understanding of usability practice for each country, allowing for opportunities for ‘cross-fertilisation’ and improvement of usability knowledge for all the countries involved.
Three focus groups were conducted in order to obtain insights into the usability practice of each country. While the data gathered are not necessarily representative of the entire population of usability professionals for each country, the results provide good indication of the usability knowledge shared and used in each of the studied national markets. The next section gives a more detailed account of the methodology applied in the three sites. This is followed by reports of key results and discussion from the focus groups that took place in China, UK and Germany between March and July of 2007.
The paper is concluded by a summary of key findings and learning points that compares the practices of usability professionals across the three countries for interactive products developed for local and overseas markets. It is hoped that the conclusions presented in this paper will inform the development of usability practices better adjusted to the local realities of each of the participant countries.
To reveal the status quo of processes of usability engineering (UE) as well as cross-cultural usability engineering (XUE) and further identify commonly applied usability methods within these processes for China, UK and Germany three focus group sessions were conducted. Each of the participating institutes was responsible to prepare, conduct and analyse one session. In order to ensure comparability a general application outline was developed.
Each institute recruited its own participants. The only requirements those participants were to meet was that they were usability practitioners from industries with practical experience, if possible in both fields (UE and XUE). The target-size of the focus group was 6-8 participants. The target-composition was about two-third UE-experts and one-third XUE-experts.
After agreeing to participate respective professionals were asked to prepare a brief overview of an UE- and possible XUE-process that either represents their perception of best practice or their company’s practice. They were also asked to prepare a list of the preferred methods they apply. At the session the process was to present to the other participants and therefor served as a mean to introduce each other as well as to define one’s position. The methods-list was utilized later on to identify a toolbox of widely used methods.
The focus groups itself were set-up as whole-day events, subdivided into a morning and an evening session. In both sessions the composition of the group remained the same. One session was to focus on UE and one on XUE. Objects of discussion were applied processes and toolboxes to derive one mutually agreed state of the art UE process and one mutually agreed state of the art XUE process as well as most applicable and promising methods and instruments from that.
In order to identify most suitable and widely used toolboxes a delphi-approach was utilized building on the participants’ experience. The general approach was structured as follows:
First the whole group would gather the important techniques on newsprint. Then each participant was asked in turn to contribute the most important item on their list not already on the whole group list. As they include the most important technique on their list, they must say why they think it is useful. The maximum number of items was fixed to the number of experts in each group. Other members of the group were invited to intervene in case someone feels there were different reasons why one technique is of particular importance or to provide their reasons to challenge this.
Then a multiple-vote procedure was used to rank the items from most to least important (something as simple as ranking from 1 to 5 each technique and then adding up the points so that 1st place would be 1 points, 2nd would be 2 and so on). After this each expert had the chance to state what changes she wishes to make to his/her own list in the light of the whole group list. Experts had two choices: either conform to the existing list or provide supportive evidence for including techniques that have not been included in the group list in the first round. Finally a second voting round was to conduct to ‘finalise’ the session with the most important techniques.
In result across all three nations 6 state of the art UE processes and 6 state of the art tool-boxes, that is one UE-process with respective tool-box and one XUE-process with respective tool-box for each country, would be developed by this approach
3. DATA ANALYSIS
The focus group conducted in China comprised of five usability practitioners from various industries such as hardware-manufacturers, web-based businesses and service providers. Each participant was financially rewarded.
Most participants were engaged in the field of usability engineering for more than two years. They were divided into two sessions in terms of their experiences, one is Usability Engineering (UE) session, and another is Cross-Culture Usability Engineering (XUE) session. The participants in XUE session had both UE and XUE experiences.
In the first session on UE rich and detailed information regarding current and best practices was gathered and deeply discussed, and then a shorter XUE session followed in which lesson much significantly different results had been discovered.
3.1.1 Usability Engineering (UE) Process
During the focus group session, the processes were visually finished-up on a flipchart by the researcher with consistent feedback of the participants. Also we identified most suitable and commonly applied usability methods within these processes. The overall process consists of five stages showed as following:
The first stage is product definition which initiates the whole process. This stage mainly aims to complete the product definition which consists of feature list, target user definition, business goal, market position, technology to be adopted and project plan. Usually in this stage focus groups, interviews, questionnaires and competitor analysis are used. Marketing and product units are the major stakeholders.
In the user research / requirement analysis stage, all data about the user and the context of use are gathered, which consists of user characteristics, tasks, environmental factors, equipments, cultural factors, usability goals, personas and scenarios. Major stakeholders of this stage are usability engineers, UI designers, marketing people, product department and technical people. The marketing department is not involved in some company; user research activities will be led by usability engineer or technical people. The methods used here contain focus group, contextual enquiry, interview, questionnaire, usability testing, competitor analysis, card sorting, task analysis, personas and scenarios.
Based on the prior stages, the work of interaction/visual design & evaluation begins. This work consists of interaction flow design, visual design, guideline use, information architecture design and prototyping. Major stakeholders involved are UI designers, usability engineers, content editors and technical people. Technical people join in this stage to make sure the design is feasible for the technology. Methods like prototyping, brain storming, user participatory design, expert evaluation and usability testing are normally used in this stage.
Then in the development stage, technical people, UI designers, and usability engineers work together using the methods of usability testing and expert evaluation to ensure outcomes are conform with the design goals.
After that in the deployment stage, people usually collect user feedback involing task flows, information architecture, visual design details, wording and translations, and come up with improvement suggestions. Usability engineers take this work as the earlier stage research for the new version of the product. The methods used here include satisfaction measurement, usability testing, questionnaire, interview and log data analysis. Major stakeholders are supporting people, product department and usability engineers.
At the last part of focus group session, by playing the Delphi exercise with the participants, we identified most suitable and commonly used usability methods within the UE process which are shown in the Table 1.
Table 1: Favourite Methods (Less points means higher rating)
3.1.2 Cross-Cultural Usability Engineering Process
After the UE session, we conducted the focus group session on XUE in the same way, with some participants from the prior UE session. At the end we got the XUE process for China IT enterprises.
Although the XUE process is more or less the same as the UE process, through analyzing the results, we still found some differences between XUE and UE process,. Firstly in product definition stage the team in China is usually not involved. Product concepts usually come from the western market, and then extended to other markets; secondly in user research and requirements analysis stage, the work is usually done by local teams in the target market, or being sub-contracted to some local consultancy; in the design stage, design is done locally in China, then validated in the target market gathering feedbacks and taking it as input for improvement; similarly Chinese teams are rarely involved in the usability work in development stage, that is often done abroad; In the deployment stage, the Chinese team participates the least but might do some tracing work.
With the Delphi exercise in this session, we identified most suitable and commonly applied usability methods within the XUE process which are shown in Table 2.
Table 2: Favourite Methods (Less points means higher rating)
So we can conclude that there isn’t an essential difference between UE and XUE in terms of major components of processes and methods. The only difference between the two mainly rest with which team (China or target market located) takes in charge of the UCD activities at each stage. As for the issue of origin of usability engineering processes, we found that multi-national enterprises in China adopted the processes from its global processes set up in western. While some Chinese enterprises adopted the standardized processes commonly accepted in the usability community and do some localization to better fit for its existing product development processes; And other Chinese enterprises just added some usability components to its existing product development processes to make it somewhat user-centered.
- to be continued
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