Designing Cross-Culturally

Oftentimes, I hear the need to design for a cross-cultural audience. Given that the world, has become a “small” place relatively speaking, and pop/current culture seems to manifest similary thoughout this world (example: jazz/hip hop/literature/fashion), I’m asking myself, what is a cross-cultural audience?


  1. Tevi says:

    Hi Ayana,

    Per your request, I am posting my response here, with additional comments:

    It really depends on the culture of your audience. I can say with certainty that designing only with a “hip-hop aesthetic” will alienate many. It depends on who the audience is for what you are designing. Without knowing that, your question is too vague.

    Furthermore, I refuse to be forced to answer the question about, “what is cross-cultural,” since I think that one must always find out specifically who his/her audience is in a design project. If my design project must cater to Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, Jews, Hindus and Muslims, then my piece must cater to those groups specifically. And if Canadians are not part of that group, then there is no need to include them in that design. (Please, I hope nobody is offended in any way.)

    “Cross-cultural” needs defining on a per-project basis. If a client says “cross-cultural,” he’ll need to elaborate, or pay you to do more research.


  2. ayanabaltrip says:

    Tevi, first thank you for re-posting your thoughts here. You see, I think given the culture groups you list as examples, the design can be based on the commonalities they share, in lieu of attempting to single out visual language cues that address them individually. Am I thinking “cross-culturally” looking at this point?

    I hope more join in the dialogue.

    Thanking you again.

  3. Victor Francis says:

    Since there are many different cultures and cultural practices on the planet, one can say that a cross-cultural designing would be designing without specific images that are inclusive of just one culture but, that create a feeling of multi user imagery. This could lead one to say that a new culture is being produced as we speak.

  4. ayanabaltrip says:

    I think you are touching upon my point, Victor. For me, it’s looking at what common values, practices, etc. the users share. I think it’s a mistake to get locked into specific beliefs that people of specific cultures, i.e. African American, Asian American, Latino American, will respond to the same visual cues.

    Tevi also lists Jews, which, while I agree, there are cultural practices shared by practitioners of Judaism, there are ethnic considerations that come to play as well. The practitioners of Judaism are multi-ethnic, just as the practitioners of Christianity and Islam our. So, again, I feel that the practices that are only specific to a cultural group, should be deemed as secondary to those practices the group shares with other cultures when designing.

    Thanks for joining the dialogue.

  5. Originally posted by Christian Choi or Choimation, Inc. in the International Service Design Network Group on

    “A good example of a cross cultural audience is an asian-american or latin-american news station that wants to keep up with both foreign and domestic affairs. “

  6. ayanabaltrip says:

    I think these are good examples of cross-cultural audiences, Christian. The news stations cover news that may specifically address the latin or asian cultures while also presenting news that addresses the overlying “american” culture. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. éricamoreti says:

    Originally posted by Érica Moreti in the International Service Design Network Group on
    Cross Cultural Audience would be the individuals from different nationalities that coexist in a same place or share the same purposes. We can say that the web is made of Cross Cultural Audience and we, as service or interaction designers, should project in a way to respect each culture peculiarities and at the same time offer the tools to satisfy its general necessities. An interesting way to find usefull informations about this is seach for the ethnographical group of Cultural Studies.

  8. Bhavna says:

    It is important to consider that a group of people’s culture is not only defined by their regions, religions or nationality. Even if pop, fashion etc seen like common and binding factors, other cultures that a user group is a part of influences those common factors. Along with culture, other factors must also be studied which affect the integration and amalgamation of cultures

    I think everyone is a part of a number of cultures. And every group would be unique. There is no particular way how you would design for cross cultural audiences, therefore.

    In a country like India, where today’s youth has perfected the art of balancing traditional values, with western thought and lifestyle along with other political, economic and media influences it becomes highly important to identify your user group well and study them.

  9. reinoudbosman says:

    Originally posted by Reinoud Bosman in the International Service Design Network Group on
    Yesterday I saw a presentation by Steve Portigal on the topic of cross-cultural differences (at the UX cocktail hour, Amsterdam). From his perspective the most interesting ‘touch points’ between two cultures happen when a common gesture has two distinctly different meanings in the two cultures.

    For instance, when you see two men on the street walking arm-in-arm in Amsterdam it is interpreted very differently than when it happens in Bangalore, India.

    From this angle, a good cross-cultural design(er) is aware of these differences and can put them in the right context, to prevent this type of confusion happening.

    For more examples/thoughts visit Portigal’s blog:

  10. ayanabaltrip says:

    Books of interest regarding this topic: Designing Across Cultures, and Cross Cultural Design

  11. Todd Blank says:

    To me, I see the term “culture” as being applicable on a grand spectrum, from micro / neighborhood to macro / nation-state and/or groups that share the same language. I guess being of a culture means having a deep connection to its music, food and sense of humor; the latter being the most difficult to transcend cultural boundaries. But then some people would argue that you can further use the word culture to split these groups by gender, age, political and religious beliefs, sexuality, able-bodied, disabled and so forth.

    So where do you draw the line? And why draw lines in the first place? Well, money / commerce, of course, for starters. And also to give structure to solving design problems, especially in a user-centered design process, where each design decision is made based on a thorough understanding of the audience. For example, a check-box with an “x” (as opposed to the standard check-mark) would still make sense to most of us here in the USA, but in Japan it would have foreboding and even sinister connotations.

    Regional cultures, worldwide, have been steadily diluted, basically under attack, since the introduction of “mass media,” probably starting with radio in the 1920’s-30’s and the introduction of corporate-produced goods and services. Take for example, today’s American Idol TV show, which is based on a judgmental process of exclusion, as it values only what is capable of selling the most units to the most people, hence the terms “mass culture” and “pop-music.” Before radio, there were so many varieties of regional dialects and musical sounds that captured the myriad, unique essences of local, backwater places, and music was a force that held community together, a process of inclusion.

    We need to communicate with, understand and appreciate our neighbors — whether they be across town or across the globe. And yet we give up so much when we buy into the idea of mass-media, mass-culture. I liken it to biodiversity of species. If it’s unhealthy for the planet when species/organisms die out, then isn’t it also unhealthy for ALL of us humans when, for example languages, musical styles and old family recipes die out?

    Wouldn’t it be a beautiful irony IF through social media, we were able to use this new medium, to learn and share in a more inclusive way, the scads of differences out there in the great world; as opposed to trying to create one, single “sell-able” global pop-culture: burgers, fries and a coke (for example). Image the many new forms that would emerge through cross-pollinating the countless hybrids of pure local forms, linguistically, food-wise and musically, and design-wise too (it’s already happening, take Pecha-kucha for example). This would look like the cultural version of a rich biodiversity of species, gone right (in my mind). Am I dreaming, too idealistic? Anyone?

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