I spoke with Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert on the Shop Talk Show, a podcast about building websites. The conversation went all over, but focused mainly on my new book, Cross-Cultural Design, and how building websites for people all over the world and from different cultures can be done better.
The internet is connecting more people in more places than ever before—and yet many of us still start our design and illustration projects with wealthy, Western audiences in mind. However, our audiences bring a dazzling variety of languages, perspectives, and expectations with them. If we want to effectively design for these modern, multicultural audiences, we have to be willing to challenge our usual ways of gathering inspiration and conceptualizing our projects.
To effectively design for these modern, multicultural audiences, we have to be willing to challenge our usual ways of gathering inspiration & conceptualizing our projects.
You may have just started a web or illustration project that requires cultural knowledge or sensitivity. Perhaps your search for “cross-cultural design” brought up a bunch of information, but you want something put into use immediately. You don’t always need to do deep cultural dives, but you can center the needs of your audience by using a few straightforward techniques to help you get started.
I talked with Andy Polaine from This is HCD about how living in constantly shifting cultural and physical spaces, and how that has given me unique insight into the influence of culture on communication and creativity. The podcast focused on my new book, Cross-Cultural Design.
"As human beings, we’ll often default to certain patterns that we’re familiar with – ways of structuring content, ways of designing user interfaces, all of those mental models that we are familiar with. Culturally responsive design asks us to take a step back essentially and say, ‘What are the ways that we can make our digital experiences’ – the ones that we create as designers, as content strategists – ‘much more malleable and allow them to fit different people’s perspectives, different people’s lived experiences?’"
With the release of my new book coming soon (preorders are open, go pick up a copy!), I wanted to offer a few quick thoughts on who this book is for, and why I wrote it for them.
First off, though, a quick description of what Cross-Cultural Design is all about. The modern web is inherently global—and if we want to design successfully for it, we must be ready to meet the needs, perspectives, and expectations of multifaceted, multicultural audiences.
My book offers a clear and accessible methodology for designing across cultures: from performing socially conscious research, to building culturally responsive experiences, to developing meaningful internationalization and localization approaches. It’s written for people who want to expand their craft, and their mindset—and who want to start creating a richer experience for everyone on the web, regardless of location, language, or identity.
As I was writing, I tried to focus on three different types of people who need that information.
Sooner or later, every designer encounters a challenge that’s just a bit beyond their experience level. The first group of readers I considered for this book are creative practitioners who are starting a project or job that requires cultural sensitivity. They’ve just had the inevitable “Oh, no…” moment, where they realize the task asks for more cultural sensitivity and thinking than they may be used to. These designers see how cross-cultural design is important, but may still be early in their career and consequently feel out of their depth.
They want something authoritative, yet easy to put into use immediately, because they still have to juggle the demands of their projects and work. I imagine them getting up to speed by doing web searches for “cross-cultural design”, which brings up a variety sites, as well as links to my book.
Strategists and Researchers
The second group I have in mind is strategists and researchers who need to better understand their existing global audiences. During pitches, reviews, and meetings, they want to offer clear recommendations to their clients and teams on how best to address content and UX research for a cross-cultural audience. From experience on other client work, they are more familiar with how culture affects design and interactive experiences.
This target reader has experienced doing UX research already, and is interested in getting better at handling complex, global work. My hope is that they will see themselves reflected in the anecdotes and stories I tell, and be able to quickly use the research strategies and framework that I lay out.
Team Leads and Managers
The last group I wrote for is experienced team leaders, managers who want to deepen their team’s skill-sets. They already have extensive experience managing teams and projects, and need additional information to use in their existing workflows.
Past experience on digital projects with a multicultural client base has given them a need for action-oriented ideas to introduce to their direct reports and company executives. Their leadership roles mean they are focused on improving the skills of their studio or office in a cohesive and structured way.
So which one are you? First and foremost, this is a book for design professionals, but those aren’t the only types of people I want to read Cross-Cultural Design. For anyone who loves stories, and the web, this is for you too! It’s been a real joy, and a journey, writing this, and the more people who read it, the better.
The internet is connecting more people in more places than ever before—and yet many of us still design with only wealthy, Western audiences in mind. In truth, our users extend well beyond those borders, and bring a dazzling variety of languages, perspectives, and expectations about the web with them. If we want to effectively design for this modern, multicultural web, we must be eager to understand and meet the needs of global audiences.
That’s the biggest reason I wrote this book. As designers, we need a clear and accessible methodology for designing across those cultures: from performing socially-conscious research, to building culturally responsive experiences, to developing meaningful internationalization and localization approaches, even to choosing effective colors, icons, and photography.
If you want to expand your craft, and your mindset—and start creating a richer experience for everyone on the web, regardless of location, background, or identity, then this book is for you! You can find out more over at A Book Apart.
Pre-orders will open later this month, and the book launches on Feb. 25th!
A new wave of storytelling in Africa and the Diaspora is reinterpreting and globalizing narrative traditions, using digital tools and the power of the internet.
Being a creator in the African Diaspora means looking back. We look back at the stories we heard from our elders. As a child of the Tiv tribe in Nigeria, I heard a lot of folk-tales- they were about animals, humans and sometimes magic. In that classic Nigerian narrative tradition, people performed these stories during festivals, dressing up in costumes, assuming the identity of the characters, immersing the audience in the narrative. As a member of the Diaspora, looking back at these stories, and holding them tightly.
"It’s a given today that design responds to our devices, locations, and preferences. But do we expect it to be responsive to cultural differences? Senongo will talk about factors that can affect how design is perceived in places with different cultural norms, as well as how visual and cultural diversity can be built into every stage of our projects. He will also talk about steps we can take to design for a worldwide audience, in a wholehearted and occasionally subversive way."
The organizers and crowd at AmuseUX were wonderful, and I learned so much from our conversations, and from the other speakers. If you have the ability, I definitely recommend attending this conference (or its sister conference about Big Data) next year.
I had the pleasure of giving at talk at Google Design in San Franciso in June. I spoke about Multiculturalism in design, and ways to create flexible, responsive, culturally relevant sites and digital projects. Instead of me writing about it, just watch the video. A big thanks to the whole Google team: Kai, Yasmine, Dylin, and Tony, for their hospitality and for having me. Thanks also to those who attended, and the great questions afterwards.
I was recently interviewed by the amazing Maurice Cherry for his podcast Revision Path. I was one of the first designers Maurice interviewed way back in the day for Revision Path, so it was wonderful to chat with him about the state of design today, and what I have been working on. Most interestingly for me, we had a chance to talk about science fiction, Afrofuturism, and "that black rights in space..."
I wrote recently on A List Apart about finding and working with creative communities. Too often in the Western design world, we hear that design is stale, or has become homogenous.
This view views creative communities, essentially, as pools of user-generated content, that freely available content is there to be mined and the best ideas repackaged for profit. This is idea as commodity, and it very conveniently strips out the people doing the creating, instead looking at their conceptual and design work as a resource.
But another way of thinking is to view creative networks as interdependent networks of people. By nature, they cannot be resources, and any work put into the community is to sustain and nourish those human connections, not create assets. The focus is on contributing. How you build connections among other creative people makes you part of the network. See them, however ephemeral and globally distributed, as a powerful way to expand your design horizons and be part of something different.