The Importance of Culture in UX Strategy

A good UX strategy is backed up by solid UX research. That research is critical to developing the right business model that delivers value to the customer and to the business. We’ve been conducting UX research and building resulting strategies or informing them for clients for over a decade. We’ve noted something that is missing in UX strategy and thus the resulting strategy. The inclusion of cultural considerations.

So what then, does the role of culture play in a UX strategy? It can be the key to unlocking the telling of a good story behind the product and going beyond just personas and demographic profiling. Understanding the cultural context in which a digital (or even physical) product will exist adds a new dimension.

Lets first define what we mean by culture in the context of a UX strategy and applying it to the research. Anthropologists define culture in its most basic sense as the knowledge we use to navigate our lives. This can be as specific as say, a tribe or community in a small town to as big as a nation or even a company or non-profit organisation.

In UX research, the focus is mostly on the user, we prefer to say human, in a singular sense. This is right and important. Later, once a user profile is built and perhaps some product testing done, demographics are considered. But these mostly some data points ( personal income, HHI, city, state/province, average ages) with some psychographic aspects thrown in such as values, desires, goals. This provides the context within which the user profile resides.

When we add cultural aspects into the research, we start to get a deeper human insight. The cultural elements we look at in a UX strategy and the research is to understand the sociocultural system in which the user operates, the kinship and reciprocity models within the culture surrounding the user.

For example, if your product is going to be designed for enterprise applications, you’ll want to consider typical cultural traits within enterprises. Each company has its own culture, but there are commonalities that can be applied. Is the company hierarchical or relatively flat in structure? How is the IT department seen in the organisation; loved, hated, neutral, annoying? Is the organisation deeply siloed or highly collaborative? Corporate culture can be researched using netnographic techniques. By gaining cultural context, the product marketing team can develop better creative and brand positioning, especially as it relates to the website.

For a consumer product, understanding the cultural context in which your product will sit will help create better storytelling and provide insights for inbound marketing campaigns for the product. In this sense you would look at societal values and implicit rules and codes. An individual may like the product, but they may not tell others about it if there are social taboos around what the product does. These may also limit usage and impact the time/place considerations. You can also gain insights into product brand positioning and messaging that will resonate with different cultural groups that might otherwise be missed giving you more growth opportunities.

We’ve yet to see a UX research app that includes cultural elements, which is unfortunate. But we’ve yet to see a UX research app that applies much of any cultural anthropology. Which is also odd. You can add in cultural elements if you’re using a template spreadsheet easily enough. We’ve been doing this for years. It’s always an eye opener and discussion starter for product development teams.

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