Abstract

This paper addresses culturally rooted factors within user interface design. The design implications of globalisation are discussed, together with the related processes of internationalisation, localisation, ‘glocalisation’, iconisation and culturalisation, in order to establish a basis for a new approach to HCI design. The potential for a more diverse culture-centred, design-based system—‘Culture-Centred Design’ (CCD) is introduced, and a CCD process developed.

A redesigned computer interface, incorporating a consistent and culturally rooted metaphor for a Chinese user target group is discussed. A culturally specific ‘garden’ metaphor is developed and applied as an alternative to the current global ‘office’ or ‘desktop’ metaphor. A working demonstration of the interface is piloted with a group of Chinese users to assess its success in terms of interactivity, usability and cultural significance. The overall results of the first two evaluation phases have shown very positive outcomes for the use of the CCD system and Chinese garden metaphor.

Introduction

Chinese technological developments in the field of information and communication engineering will have a major impact on our everyday lives (Parasuram, 2003). It is predicted that the Chinese economy will surpass that of the US by 2050; many economists think that they may do it much sooner.

According to the most recent statistical survey report on Internet development in China, by the end of July 2005, there were approximately 45.6 million computer hosts and 103 million Internet users in China. However, this only accounts for a penetration rate of 7.9% of the population. Even with this low rate, China is second only to the USA (224 million) in terms of the number of Internet users. If, as predicted, China follows the Hong Kong model (70.7% penetration) the number of Internet users will increase 10-fold over the next decade. The implications of this expansion, on computing and HCI will be dramatic (CNNIC, 2005).

The supply of universal software has played an important part in the promotion of globalisation, and the standardisation of technology has had the obvious advantage of compatibility. However, evidence has shown that the application of a standardised interface posed usability problems for certain ethnic groups, as the origins of its metaphors and visualisation were largely foreign (Marcus, 2001). A sense of individualisation/customisation was being offered only through a choice of preference settings or themes, rather than culturally specific design options.

The majority of software is developed in, or contracted by the USA, and its interfaces have therefore been based primarily on American metaphors, representations, colour associations and navigational logic. Ignoring the fact that for example, colour associations differ widely from culture to culture, or that some cultures prefer other text layouts to the West, which is left to right, top to bottom oriented. Other cultural sensitivities include visual representations such as the use of icons. The Japanese for instance preferring to use no pictorial representations of body parts for icons.

In the quest, for compatibility through a level of standardisation, there is a danger of a loss of cultural identity and tradition. Examples are the traditional Japanese and Chinese literature or calligraphy that is written right to left and books that are read back to front. Through shortcomings in software it has become difficult to realise this and subsequently it has become a rarity in traditional media, such as newspapers, and is almost non-existent in electronic media. Thereby, a significant part of a culture has been ignored and could possibly be lost because of shortcomings in ‘global’ software.

Recent research conducted by Legend Holdings Ltd has highlighted differences in colour preferences amongst Chinese regions; with people from the southern province preferring bright colours and people from the north more subdued colours (Marcus, 2005).

The power of interactive media such as the Internet and computer software applications, which can enrich individual experience in virtual space, has endangered a new dimension of human–computer interfaces. By graphical user interfaces, networks and the virtual reality environment, the distinction between the real and the virtual has become obscure. Employment of the desktop metaphor, which was intended to help the user interact with computers more intuitively, and make them easy to use through visual representations such as windows, icons, menus and buttons, is currently the standard interface design on personal computers. However, the desktop, which in theory should empower users to customise and personalise, according to their cultural context; as manufacturers promise in their marketing slogans, has been restricted by existing operating systems, which only give the user a certain level of autonomy, such as freely chosen multiple languages, character sets and national formats.

Examples of confused icons, which include the function of the Macintosh trashcan and Finder, can be found in many publications (Gentner and Nielsen, 1996). The discrepancy of the graphical user-interface design that has failed to make the physical forms, and the artificial representations cohere between the reality and the virtual world has eroded the connotation of user interface. Not only the adaptation of iconic interfaces with which users are familiar, has become a custom, but also user interface has turned itself into another new semiotic language. The consequence is that the more aesthetic and functional artefacts we create, the more intricate ones we have. It is likely that the concept of user-friendliness, which should enhance the usability of products, has lost its original meaning.

Marzano (2000) suggested that we are in the midst of a shift from commodities to experiences in terms of the economic order that is parallel to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, from satisfying first basic needs, then intellectual, emotional and cultural needs to reaching the highest level, self-actualisation. Only through a better understanding of people’s sensorial perceptions and cultural values, will we be able to move into a new paradigm of quality where products have added value, meeting user’s true needs and making their experience more meaningful (Marzano, 2000). Given this consideration, we therefore envisage a new perspective of user-interface design, which is the challenge of designing a cultural-centred interface that goes beyond the desktop and embraces our character and imagination in a more natural way.

It has been widely acknowledged that established design approaches with its standards, rules and guidelines, falls short with respect to issues relating to the cultural context. Cross-cultural user research has shown a significant difference in results by testing individuals from various socio-cultural backgrounds on accuracy and duration of task performance, user experience and user satisfaction.

One effective tool at the disposal of the designer is the application of suitable metaphors within the design process. In order for a metaphor to work it would need to be localised and culturally rooted (Evers, 2002; Nielsen and Del Galdo, 1996). Too often a sub-metaphor is applied out of context of the overarching one and is open to misinterpretation. For example, the ‘my computer’ icon of MS Windows has proved to have lead to much confusion as it suggests ownership which often is not the case. In some cultures the idea of something that can be retrieved from the trash bin after it has been deleted seems illogical and degrading.

Other influences for successful user-interface design include good information visualisation that included the understanding of semiotics (iconic design) and aesthetics (colour, spatial layout and composition, and typography), a clear navigational flow (direction of visual scanning) and interaction (user experience). All these issues are carefully addressed and examined in the following sections.

The primary goal of a user interface should be to support users who play multiple roles in accordance with their contextual environment and purposes of use. In most cases, user interface should be simple, natural to use and enjoyable for the user to interact with, adjustable and sensitive enough to deal with cultural issues, and embedded with added values that make the user’s experience richer and more meaningful.

Globalisation

In 1967, Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980) coined the term ‘Global village’ in which time has ceased and space has vanished (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967). He suggested that the electronic media of the future would unify the human race by one collective perception of the world. In his view the advent of print, which was a forerunner of the Industrial Revolution, had fragmented society through reading in isolation. Based on a concept of ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ media such as television, personal computers and the Internet further extend our senses to a global scale (McLuhan, 1994). However, this sender/receiver society is based on a one-way system whereby the sender superimposes its global message, ignorant of its context and sidelining interaction.

The Internet has superficially substituted tribal (ethical) or national (geographical) communities for virtual ones to which individuals with common interests are linked. In a way society has traded its local cultural identities for new global ones and has transformed into product affinity groups or hobby/fan clubs regardless of cultural and religious background. The members or ‘netizens’ of these newly created ‘cyburbia’ remain largely anonymous and as a group lack identity across the wider community.

The effects of globalisation are becoming increasingly evident. Globalisation has achieved a level of homogeneity of cultures through the influence of multinationals and of mass media communication and information. It could be said that globalisation strives for cultural compatibility and destroys its diversity in the process, by denying or ignoring cultural identity. On the other hand it could also be argued that some originally homogenous societies are becoming heterogeneous by becoming multicultural societies. Some societies have embraced globalisation, while others try to defy it or are selective.

Internationalisation

Technically speaking, internationalisation is the process of developing an application whose feature design and code design do not make assumptions based on a single locale and whose source code simplifies the creation of different language editions of a program (Kano, 1995). In other words, internationalisation is the process of creating a base design that can be easily adapted for various international markets (Fernandes, 1995). A properly internationalised product, which extracts all cultural context, can deal with multiple languages and cultural conventions (Luong et al., 1995; O’Donnell, 1994; Taylor, 1992). Internationalised software products are easier to manage and expand to new markets for different countries. Furthermore, they can minimise time delay in reaching users, lower cost and maintenance in terms of bug fixing and adding new features (Luong et al., 1995; O’Donnell, 1994).

Localisation

Localisation is the process of adapting a program for a specific international market, which includes translating the user interface, resizing dialog boxes, customising features (if necessary), and testing results to ensure that the program still works (Kano, 1995). In other words, localisation is the process of making a specific version of the product for a target market. A properly localised product allows users to concentrate on exploiting the software in their own language and appropriate cultural context (Uren et al., 1993). Localised software is not only easy to understand and meet customers’ needs but also has no impact on the original development team and minimal system performance degradation compared with internationalised software (O’Donnell, 1994).

Glocalisation

An emergent form of the relationship between globalisation and localisation can be synthesised into the term ‘glocalisation’. In some instances, countries or cultures have become eclectic in a sense, by adopting specific elements from other cultures without losing their own identity. This has led to the emergence of phenomena such as world music, gourmet cooking and ethnic body adornment. Glocalisation involves the processes of acculturation and enculturation and could encourage global availability while ensuring localised quality. Acculturation may involve cultural modification by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture. Enculturation is the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values. Some researchers have likened this to a ‘lifestyle’ adoption process.

The concept of glocalisation was defined by Thomas Friedman (2000) in his book ‘The Lexus and the Olive Tree’ as ‘the ability of a culture, when it encounters other strong cultures, to absorb influences that naturally fit into and can enrich that culture, to resist those things that are truly alien and to compartmentalise those things that, while different, can nevertheless be enjoyed and celebrated as different’ (Friedman, 2000).

Iconisation

With visually oriented global communications, there has been a tendency to swap the verbal for the visual by the rapid increase of the use of icons. This has happened in different many fields from corporate branding to information design and corporate brands have frequently shed their names in favour of representation by icons. In 1996, Nike dropped its name, which was followed by other companies such as Pepsi, Renault, Shell and BP, amongst others. These corporate brands have turned into consumer icons. On the other hand, icons have increasingly been used for the communication of information or instructions on labels, packaging, in manuals and user interfaces. Many such icons have become standardised and carry a silent authority that is rarely questioned (Evamy, 2003).

Interestingly, a new phenomenon has appeared whereby established global icons have been adopted and some have been localised or glocalised to meet local requirements or reflect and represent local traditions and values. For instance, in India the standard ISO-type man has been adapted to one in traditional Indian dress with a white turban and a sarong (see Fig. 1).

Culturalisation1

In a reaction to globalisation, an opposite trend is emerging, which promotes local identity and highlights cultural values and traditions. The global process of homogenisation may provoke people to be more aware of their national and cultural identities (Fernandes, 1995). Globalisation has sparked off a new awareness of local identity and there is a growing reluctance to give up the cultural cocoon for a piece of the electronic revolution. In the book, The Solid Side (a publication by Philips 1995) Ezio Manzini argues that (Manzini and Susani):

“When society and individuals are increasingly realising what it means to live in a limited and interconnected world, what is emerging is not a unified global society but an exasperated search for identity, both individual and collective. This search for identity also includes claiming the right to maintain different values.”

Fig. 1

Male toilet symbols from the US and India.

Fig. 1

Male toilet symbols from the US and India.

In effect, through a constant flow of global influences, retro styles are being celebrated, as many cultures today seem to be in search of their own identity and authenticity. Within the area of user-interface design, this concept would come down to the development of a product from within a cultural context, instead of the global product adapted for a target culture.

Approaches to cultural issues in UI design

As part of this research, the cultural issues associated with user-interface design were identified by a wide-ranging literature survey and analysed by various usability assessment methods. Beyond usability and accessibility there are signs that a third discipline is emerging. The term ‘culturability’ has been suggested by Barber and Badre (1998) by combining the words culture and usability. They developed a systematic usability method by inspecting hundreds of Web sites to identify specific culture and genre design elements by using ‘cultural markers’ such as religion, language, customs, colour, metaphors, icons and flags to facilitate user performance (Barber and Badre, 1998).

Another proposal by Bourges-Waldegg and Scrivener (1998) illustrated a method of ‘meaning in mediated action’ (MMA) that aims to tackle culturally determined usability problems. The MMA approach focuses on the understanding of representations, the meanings of which are rooted in culturally specific contexts was an iterative evaluation process of Representation R’s, Meaning M in Context C that deals with multilingualism and other forms of cultural heterogeneity (Bourges-Waldegg and Scrivener, 1998). Yeo (1996) also proposed a strategy to solve usability problems by localising the software through a Cultural User Interface (CUI) for each of the target cultures. The CUI that aims to take advantage of the shared or common knowledge of a target culture that could be defined by country boundaries, language, cultural conventions, race, shared activities or workplace was developed collaboratively with the group of ‘experts’ of the target culture, and evaluated and modified through usability tests to ensure satisfaction (Yeo, 1996).

Evers and Day (1997) used a ‘modified technology acceptance model’ to examine users’ culturally specific design preferences with regard to globally marketed software through questionnaires. They discovered differences between Chinese and Indonesian students and found that interface acceptance corresponds with the user’s cultural background. The Chinese regarded the usefulness of the system as being more important than ease of use, compared with the Indonesians. The different attitudes and behaviours of both sets of subjects could be explained from the view of anthropology such as Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (Evers and Day, 1997).

There seems to be a gap between notions of technology and culture, and a lack of appropriate and valid approaches to their synchronisation. More positively, researchers have been encouraged recently to establish more empirical and practised-based studies within the field of culture and usability. It is likely that a deeper understanding of culture, human cognition and perception followed by the evolution of technology, may help to bridge the gap.

The need for effective (culture-centred) interface metaphors

According to Johnson (1997), ‘for the digital revolution to take place, a computer must also represent itself to the user, in a language that the user understands’ (Johnson, 1997). This statement points out the main question of how to minimise the misunderstanding of visual representations and support metaphorical reasoning in cognition. The role of metaphors in user-interface design is the key. Metaphors are culturally biased and may serve as a powerful communication tool, but only if implemented properly. Making good user-interface design should acknowledge the value of culture and take into account the intrinsic needs and preferences of the user (Evers, 2002). To make an effective cultural leap, one has to employ a good interface metaphor.

Successful interface metaphors should be developed or adapted through cultural requirements by, or with reference to, representatives of the culture for which they are intended. Many gurus such as Donald Norman have claimed that our technology has reached a point of saturation, and to accommodate a wide range of users has proved to be crucial, yet not easy to achieve. Nelson (1990) in ‘The Right Way to Think About Software Design’ considered the main problem of the metaphor was that ‘slavish adherence’ to the predominant metaphor, which prevents the emergence of things that are genuinely new (Nelson, 1990). Rather than emphasising updated technological functionality and aesthetic enhancement, designers should therefore re-aim their focus and recognise the inter-relationship between culture and interface metaphor. Marzano (1995) once suggested ‘products that are relevant to specific needs should be given cultural significance and value for the user, meeting the user’s need to express his or her personal identity as part of the quality of their life as an individual’. He further pointed out that products should not only have form and function, but also have ‘content’ that is meaningful for the user (Manzini and Susani). To achieve this level requires understanding of how to make interfaces that have more cultural compatibility.

In short, a good user interface is dependent on an effective metaphor that echoes the user’s conceptual model and enhances human computer interactions.

The desktop metaphor has proved successful during the past three decades, in particular, by helping users adapt to early computer systems. However, this ‘one-for-all’ metaphor can no longer sufficiently support the modern environment of multiplying multimedia platforms.

Several problems associated with the desktop metaphor have been identified (e.g. arbitrary criteria between visual representations and real-world objects, and a lack of conveyance of cultural identity and expression), and there have been numerous attempts (e.g. Inxight’s Star Tree and Mirror Worlds Technology’s Scopeware), mostly research based, to find alternatives to replace it. Nevertheless, the results have not been significant in terms of successful market penetration.

Perhaps, incorporating the idea of ‘Funology’2 from computer games into the design of operating systems and browsers is worth exploring. Lessons should be learnt from the commercial success of computer games, that realistic simulation and fun are the key components, which can release the power of the metaphor.

To investigate the applicability of the CCD system to the design process, we have evaluated CCD by testing a new metaphor on a specific target group. A substituted metaphor should not only be able to create a sense of fun and relaxation, but also represent cultural identity and values. A successful metaphor should also meet the listed criteria (see Table 1). Based on the weighted matrix method, a selection of possible metaphors was evaluated and is presented in Table 2 . Apart from the home metaphor and other previous metaphors (e.g. data mountains, theatres, campus, painter’s palettes and diary), the possible alternative metaphors that we came up with were: art gallery, restaurant, castle and garden. All of these are open spaces for the public to use. The interface should be private and personal. Practically speaking, it has to deal with the operating systems that are capable of managing data and other functions such as Internet communication and home entertainment. The results in Table 2 illustrate that the garden metaphor has great potential to fit these requirements.

Table 1

Metaphor selection criteria

Richness A metaphor needs to provide a rich source of symbolism, language, meaning, values, morphology and historic and cultural references. 
Suitability A metaphor needs to translate effectively and to address every functionality and accommodate possible future expansion. 
Fun and interesting (alluring) A metaphor should be comprehensible and pleasurable. A metaphor should not distract or annoy users, but rather be fun, entertaining and interesting. 
Originality A metaphor may lead to an entirely novel way in which technology is applied and represented and influence user behaviour and interaction. 
Adaptability and transferability A metaphor should be flexible enough to be adapted and applied to various situations and circumstances. A metaphor should be able to be extended to other functional contexts and perhaps even across cultural contexts. 
Richness A metaphor needs to provide a rich source of symbolism, language, meaning, values, morphology and historic and cultural references. 
Suitability A metaphor needs to translate effectively and to address every functionality and accommodate possible future expansion. 
Fun and interesting (alluring) A metaphor should be comprehensible and pleasurable. A metaphor should not distract or annoy users, but rather be fun, entertaining and interesting. 
Originality A metaphor may lead to an entirely novel way in which technology is applied and represented and influence user behaviour and interaction. 
Adaptability and transferability A metaphor should be flexible enough to be adapted and applied to various situations and circumstances. A metaphor should be able to be extended to other functional contexts and perhaps even across cultural contexts. 

Culture-centred design (CCD)

The authors hereby introduce a new culturally oriented system, namely, Culture-Centred Design, whose development was based on existing literature and research by Marcus, Röse and others, who refer to cross-cultural interface design (Aykin, 2005).

In order, to exploit Culture-Centred Design to its full potential, the design process should be concentrated around the target user and his/her specific cultural conditions. Therefore, the design process needs to be characterised by iterative analyses. These analyses checked design choices in each phase in the design process on cultural appropriateness, relevance, semiotics, functionality and usability. A wide range of literature references such as Nielsen’s (1993) Usability Engineering Lifecycle Model, Apple computer’s (1992a) Human Computer Interface Guidelines, the International Standard Organization (ISO) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines have provided suggestions for software design and development processes. In general, they did not clarify all potential cultural-specific end-user issues, but rather further defined and addressed how interfaces should ‘look and feel’ and how users would expect to interact with them. Good interface design should not only consider the need of the user and the task he/she accomplishes, but also acknowledge the value of the user’s cultural context to enhance the comprehensibility and transparency of the interface. Therefore, CCD offered a complementary rather than an opposing view to existing design methodologies, e.g. Gourd’s (1995) four design phases, and Lewis and Rieman’s (1993) ‘task-centered design process’ (Baecker, 1995). Furthermore, CCD could be seen as a holistic approach to design. The selected approach was based on Hix and Hartson’s (1993) Star Life Cycle (Hix and Hartson, 1993). The reason for this choice was that iteration and evaluation are encouraged at every level or stage, since it places evaluation at the center of its methodology. This was not the case, with the linear, sequential, spiral and other approaches that have been evaluated.

Table 2

Weighted matrix evaluation of alternative original metaphors

Metaphor Criteria 
 Cultural richness (0.25) Suitability for tasks (0.22) Fun and interesting (0.22) Originality (0.16) Transferability/adaptability (0.15) Total score (1.00) 
Art Gallery 2.5 1.5 2.225 
Restaurant 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.500 
Castle 2.5 1.5 2.195 
Garden 3.5 3.080 
Total score (10)       
Metaphor Criteria 
 Cultural richness (0.25) Suitability for tasks (0.22) Fun and interesting (0.22) Originality (0.16) Transferability/adaptability (0.15) Total score (1.00) 
Art Gallery 2.5 1.5 2.225 
Restaurant 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.500 
Castle 2.5 1.5 2.195 
Garden 3.5 3.080 
Total score (10)       

The main research findings are built upon a practice-based project, i.e. the design of a computer operating system and browser for Chinese users. The system led to a process through which it was applied to the design project. The experiences drawn from the development and tests of the design contributed to the refinement of the CCD system. The CCD system needed to address a series of issues including the conveyance of cultural identity, language, visual communication, and research on target user group related to cognition and usability (see Fig. 2).

A user’s perception and behaviour is greatly influenced by previous experience and background, both social and cultural. There needs to be a greater understanding of differences of cultural perspective in order to make Culture-Centred Design work. The idea of a ‘cultural filter’ was derived from the book ‘Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism’ by Erich Fromm (German philosopher 1900–1980) (Fromm, 1960). The CCD model consists of two parallel planes projecting towards an interface (see Fig. 3).

In comparison, user-centred design is based on an ‘average user’ and supplies translations according to nationality. The ‘one-for-all’ concept makes systems compatible by standardisation but it also has a homogenous effect on multi-cultural society by suppressing all cultural expression and ignoring its social context. Within this uniformity, User-Centred Design offers individualisation through customisation in a new quest for identity that may lead to social isolation or the formation of affinity groups.

Fig. 2

The simplified Culture-Centred Design process.

Fig. 2

The simplified Culture-Centred Design process.

Fig. 3

Graphical representation of the Cultural Filter.

Fig. 3

Graphical representation of the Cultural Filter.

The CCD cultural filter consists of:

1. The designer’s filter. The upper filter plane represents the designer, who approaches the design of the interface on the basis of personal experience, knowledge and ideas derived from a particular socio-cultural background. All this is projected onto the interface design through the designer’s own cultural filter. Whether they share the same cultural origin or are foreign to that culture, the designer is required to be sensitive to the user’s culture and to be able to view it through the user’s cultural filter plane.

On the first level of the filter, the role of the designer is to select the target group, collect relevant cultural data, and check the available technical requirements such as usability and evaluation tools. On the second level of the filter, it is necessary for the designer to create a ‘fact book’ (e.g. CIA Yearbook of country information) or visual ‘collage’ (e.g. a set of culturally distinctive images that could be obtained from electronic sources) of their target culture including language, logical thinking patterns and social taboo issues, for building up an appropriate interface for the target users. A similar process has been used successfully by the design consultancy IDEO for a number of years via their so-called 51 method cards™ product (IDEO, 2003; Mackay, 2004).

2. The end user’s filter. Similarly, the lower plane represents end users who would observe the product interface through their own cultural filter. On the first level of the filter, the users understand an interface through a cultural filter. Theoretically, it is possible that elements within the design of an interface would be noticed by users of one culture and remain unnoticed by users of another, because of different forms of awareness and perceptions.

The interface designer needs to be aware that the potential user might not share the same background regarding language, logic and taboos. The decisions the designer makes may feel ‘natural’ and logical within his/her own context, but might not to a target culture. The ideal interface is able to exemplify the total user experience, and represents cultural values and identities.

The closer the similarity in socio-cultural background between the user and the designer, the stronger the assurance of a successful human-computer interaction. The CCD cultural filter should not to be seen as a tool, but as a reflective mental map between the designer’s perception and the end user’s perception. This is in stark contrast to the conventional design approach for global products, which applies one cultural filter for all. By respecting and understanding the user’s cultural filter, a designer could improve the usability and help convey cultural identity. Usability might be further improved by applying local metaphors and representations.

The redesign of a computer interface for a Chinese user group

The point of a design test case was to check the practicality of the application of the CCD system within the process of design. Another motive was to find out whether CCD could lead to improvements in the usability of a product and to see whether the design was able to convey cultural identity.

The main motives for choosing a computer interface for the design test case were:

  • It provided a chance to project and explore an overarching metaphor to its full potential, applied to its layout and applications.

  • A computer interface is ideal for testing usability.

  • It would be interesting to see whether a digital product could convey cultural identity.

The redesign of a computer interface for a Chinese user target group meant a rethink of the ‘desktop’ metaphor, which had been developed back in the 1960s and is now widely adopted. Somehow the desktop interface has not really evolved since its initial adoption and one its main shortcomings is the limited means allowed to organise data on the desktop. The aim of designing a Web browser as part of this research was not to provide a total solution, but to explore a cohesive alternative to the desktop metaphor, i.e. the garden as an overarching metaphor.

Fig. 4

Chinese garden icons derived from the cultural filter.

Fig. 4

Chinese garden icons derived from the cultural filter.

Motives for choosing the garden as the overarching metaphor included:

  • The fact that the Chinese view the traditional garden as a reflection of the world around them.

  • The garden and the computer could be used as a medium for relaxation and entertainment, inspiration and creation, knowledge and information, communication and socialising.

  • Both the desktop and garden metaphors require spatial management and maintenance.

  • The digital format has many similarities with organic cycles, with elements that grow, reduce, reproduce, die off, recycle, remain, move and relate.

  • The garden metaphor applied opposites like ’natural’ versus ’artificial’ and ‘organic’ versus ‘geometric’ that can be relevant to different types of computing.

  • A garden is often considered to be the doorway to a culture, so that garden design could offer insight into cultural specific design principles such as layout, styles, and aesthetics.

  • The concept of a garden was highly transferable and adaptable to other cultural contexts, as the garden is present in some form or other in most cultures and periods.

A demonstration of the interface was developed in HTML so it could be reviewed on the web. The demonstration showed the basic concept of the garden OS interface with an example of a file browser and a web browser. It was hoped the HTML-based demo would represent the ‘look and feel’ of the OS interface behaviour well enough.

Using the cultural filter approach, certain iconic symbols representative of the Chinese culture were elicited (see Fig. 4). The ones most highly ranked by the user groups were then incorporated into the final version of the OS.

Firstly, it must be stated that it is unrealistic to believe that the Chinese garden metaphor will revolutionise the way the world uses computers, however, it is a significant step in the right direction, which will hopefully prove its usefulness over time.

The results to date are not conclusive, but do point to strong benefits and user acceptance. In terms of the recognition of new icons for the web design, one should not be dissuaded by low rates of cognition, as any design of interface will require a certain learning curve from the user. Microsoft has had 25 years of development experience with its windows interface. The need to learn a new system or software package is not in itself a bad thing. The younger generation have grown up in an on-line world and many people relish the challenge of learning new software games and aspire to become experts.

The choice of the weighted matrix method (see Table 3) is inevitably subjective. However, the criteria and weightings were carefully chosen to reflect a fair and equitable set of important characteristics, by which the two alternatives can be judged. In the final analysis, the Garden metaphor has emerged as the most appropriate choice and we therefore believe that it has the potential to contribute significantly to the next generation of cultural interface designs.

Design process

Several stages were planned for the design process including:

Defining and researching the user target group. The target group is Chinese users from ages 18–40 in the first instance (the largest group of Chinese internet users (38%) are between 18–24 years old (CNNIC, 2005).

Table 3

Comparison between the desktop and garden metaphors

Metaphor Criteria 
 Cultural richness (0.25) Effectiveness (0.25) Fun and interesting (0.1) Efficiency (0.2) Transferability/expandability (0.2) Total Score (1.00) 
Desktop 4.85 
Garden 5.15 
Total Score (10)       
Metaphor Criteria 
 Cultural richness (0.25) Effectiveness (0.25) Fun and interesting (0.1) Efficiency (0.2) Transferability/expandability (0.2) Total Score (1.00) 
Desktop 4.85 
Garden 5.15 
Total Score (10)       

Indicative design (giving direction to design which is not visible or obvious). At the initial stage it was decided to apply an indicative design method in order to avoid the over-influence of trends, stylistic issues and any association by use of colour and features. At this early stage the designs are typically diagrammatic, pure and visually devoid of any deliberate cultural reference. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the design is not culturally rooted.

Demonstration. The designs were translated into working demonstration and it was decided to use HTML to make the demonstration accessible online and to mimic to some extend the look and feel of a real interface.

Heuristic evaluation (ideal user number is between 3 and 5) (Nielsen, 1994). Every stage or part in the development of the design was checked through heuristic evaluation following Nielsen’s principles (it is accepted that no current heuristic method is culturally sensitive). The results and conclusions from the evaluations were used in the redesign of parts of the design.

User evaluation. User evaluation is one of the most common evaluation methods in use today. It measures whether a developed system prototype meets the users’ expectations and needs. It involves users carrying out experimental tasks to identify the problems within a primitive system. In comparison with other evaluation techniques, a combination of heuristic evaluation and empiric user evaluation is stated to be the best (Baecker, 1995).

Design implementation. At the final stage after the adjustments have been carried out, the total design was accessed and the visual elements were fine-tuned to the target culture.

Goals and requirements

The goals were set to improve the design of the ‘garden’ beyond the limitations of the ‘desktop’ interface:

Customisation/personalisation. This may translate to a simple change of colour or look of the garden or its elements. Another idea was to develop a range of garden types, which could be offered as ‘themes’ with their own set of layouts, metaphors and visuals such as Chinese, Japanese, French, English, Spanish and Indian gardens.

Improved organisational structure. An improved organisational structure had been achieved through the design of an interface that had been divided up into a series of specialised spaces. These spaces allow for a more intuitive organisation of data storage. Also the file browser has been designed for a better overview of data storage to help improve localising files better.

Improved overall usability. It is believed that the metaphor will be beneficial to the usability in that it conveys a certain familiarity because it is culturally rooted and therefore makes the interface more intuitive.

Conveyance of cultural identity. While the garden metaphor incorporates tradition and ritual, its visualisation ought to reflect cultural heritage.

The garden OS interface

Points of departure. The Chinese garden was a microcosm of society, just as the Empirical garden came to represent the state or well being of China, with ordinary citizens making donations to these parks to strengthen China. In this respect, a personal computer with a garden interface may reflect or influence its user’s or owner’s world. A garden requires maintenance, organisation, management and devotion. In some cultures, rugs were crafted as interfaces representing gardens, conveying information.

Indicative design. A demonstration of the interface was required to be developed based on an indicative design. The demonstration was developed in HTML so that it could be reviewed on the web and showed the basic concept of the garden OS interface, with an example of a file browser and a web browser. It was hoped the HTML-based demonstration would represent the ‘look, feel and behaviour’ of the OS interface.

Customisation. The garden interface needed to allow rearrangement and redesign from a default position by drag and drop actions. The new layout needed to be saved as a preference setting, so that it would be retrieved when the computer was started up again.

Another option might be the theme of the garden. Although the Chinese traditional garden was the point of departure for this CCD case, it would be interesting to see whether the garden concept could be translated to the gardens of other cultures. After all, the garden probably has been and still is a universal concept. This would mean that the user would be offered a series of gardens to choose from, much like the ‘themes’ offered by Windows or Mac OS. The garden themes might include a Spanish/Moorish garden, a French/Italian renaissance garden, a Japanese Zen garden, and an English maze garden. Although each of these gardens has a similar functionality, they are all very individualistic enterprises (see Fig. 5).

A typical Chinese pleasure garden plan was chosen to serve as a point of departure for the layout for the interface.

Functionality. The interface layout relies on a division into territories, mirroring the concept of the traditional Chinese garden. Each territory is a specialised area and has a specific function that has to make sense in the computer environment. Several suitable territories had been identified and mapped to computer functions (see Table 4).

Test methods

There were two major aims when testing the usability of the Web-based operating system based on the Chinese garden metaphor. The first was to collect valuable feedback to improve the usability of the interface. The second was to measure the effectiveness of the selected evaluation methods. In the user evaluation, Chinese participants who had good computer and Internet skills and experience were recruited from amongst postgraduate students at goldsmiths college. The chosen evaluation methods for this research were heuristic evaluation and user evaluation. The heuristic evaluation was intended to collect subjective feedback, whilst user evaluation was aimed at gathering objective feedback.

Fig. 5

Different garden styles from around the world (English:Maze, French:Renaissance, Arabic:Moorish and Japanese:Zen).

Fig. 5

Different garden styles from around the world (English:Maze, French:Renaissance, Arabic:Moorish and Japanese:Zen).

The testing of the interface was divided into two parts. Heuristic evaluation concentrated on details within the interface and pinpointed cognitive problems at the design stage. User evaluation accessed the interactivity of the interface and the success of the metaphor on the basis of a working demonstration.

The initial evaluation was conducted with three Taiwanese students using the think aloud protocol, observation and questionnaire survey (see Table 5). Data collection techniques included taking notes, screen capture software and video recording.

The heuristic evaluation was applied throughout the design stage and involved details which included (see Fig. 6):

  • The testing of icons for both browser and OS. This tested the cognition of each representation that corresponds to its function;

  • The testing of layout for both browser and OS;

  • Testing other issues that are influenced by colour, size, proportion, position, etc.;

  • Testing of the metaphor, and

  • Testing the interactivity.

Table 4

Functionality of the garden layout

Territories Usage of the traditional Chinese garden Implementation of interface functions 
1. Atrium A focal point in the centre of the garden. Usually a rock or a building (such as pavilion and chapel) serves as an eye catcher, which can be viewed from all other points of the garden. Sometimes it was used as a pond for relaxation and creation. Relaxation/creativity. For practicing arts e.g. panting, calligraphy and poetry. Perhaps for inspiration e.g. meditative screensaver with the interactive sound of water. 
2. Gallery For exhibition and display Display/show case. Data to be published like a portfolio, homepage, Web-log, and photo albums. 
3. Hall or Courtyard For storing a tool shed/garden shed. Maintenance. For garden tools, compost heap and fire. 
4. Home Usually situated on one side of the garden. The Chinese considered the house to be part of the garden by blurring the concept of outside/inside. A place where decisions are made. Management. For preferences, settings such as seasonal and time changes, agenda, calculator, the system folder and Hard Drive. 
5. Leisure A teahouse for social events and entertainment, e.g. ball courts and music concerts. Entertainment. For MP3 music, Real player, Quick Time applications, DVD, games and movies. 
6. Library For reading and private collection. Storage of data. 
7. Nursery A greenhouse with flowerpots like bonsai. Recent/on-going projects. Data files which are recent or in progress, shortcuts, links, etc. 
8. Study Self-learning and organisation. Administration/information. For Internet access and Office applications. 
Territories Usage of the traditional Chinese garden Implementation of interface functions 
1. Atrium A focal point in the centre of the garden. Usually a rock or a building (such as pavilion and chapel) serves as an eye catcher, which can be viewed from all other points of the garden. Sometimes it was used as a pond for relaxation and creation. Relaxation/creativity. For practicing arts e.g. panting, calligraphy and poetry. Perhaps for inspiration e.g. meditative screensaver with the interactive sound of water. 
2. Gallery For exhibition and display Display/show case. Data to be published like a portfolio, homepage, Web-log, and photo albums. 
3. Hall or Courtyard For storing a tool shed/garden shed. Maintenance. For garden tools, compost heap and fire. 
4. Home Usually situated on one side of the garden. The Chinese considered the house to be part of the garden by blurring the concept of outside/inside. A place where decisions are made. Management. For preferences, settings such as seasonal and time changes, agenda, calculator, the system folder and Hard Drive. 
5. Leisure A teahouse for social events and entertainment, e.g. ball courts and music concerts. Entertainment. For MP3 music, Real player, Quick Time applications, DVD, games and movies. 
6. Library For reading and private collection. Storage of data. 
7. Nursery A greenhouse with flowerpots like bonsai. Recent/on-going projects. Data files which are recent or in progress, shortcuts, links, etc. 
8. Study Self-learning and organisation. Administration/information. For Internet access and Office applications. 

After the outcomes of the heuristic evaluation were collected and analysed, the design was reassessed and improved. This mainly consisted of improving the usability and conspicuity of icons and user areas of the ‘Garden’ which the evaluators had found to difficult to recognise intuitvely.

A further study with six Taiwanese students, which included the three original evaluators (see Table 6) consisted of a task instruction form (to visit the redesigned website/OS), iconic survey and three-part questionnaire (16 questions).

Heuristic results and discussion

The initial findings of the two evaluation protocols point to a positive feedback from all pilot users. The two phases of interaction testing, although small in scale, gave the researcher a great deal of insight into the usability of the CCD approach in a real world situation. The evaluators’ satisfaction is presented in Table 5 based on the Likert scale (1, strongly disagree; 2, disagree; 3, neutral; 4, agree; 5, strongly agree). The results show that the evaluators were satisfied with the system and interface; although improvements in the visual representations and the overall design would be welcomed. The results of Questions 1 and 4 although marginally neutral, showed that the garden visual icons and layout needed to be improved, in terms of iconic suitability and consistency. Question 3 reflected two different aesthetic views due to its high SD. Question 6 showed that the three evaluators agreed that the overall design and concept was innovative and user-friendly. They showed great interest in the development of the Web-based operating system based on the Chinese garden metaphor because they wanted to try something different from the desktop metaphor. Their satisfaction was also shown in their responses to other questions, e.g. the favourite elements were fire, a frog, compost, files, a Chinese guitar and plants. The home icon was the least favourite element and was thought to be confusing because it did not look like a Chinese style icon. They also suggested adding more visual objects and options, and the deployment of appropriate sizes throughout the design of all elements, such as plant icons that should not be bigger than home icons.

Table 5

General satisfaction results of Evaluation 1

Questions/evaluator number Mean SD 
1. The concept of gardening is familiar to the user and information display is in a natural and logical order. 3.33 0.47 
2. The visual icons and layout fit appropriately to the Chinese gardening cultural context and allow users to customise frequent actions and speed up the interaction. 4.0 0.00 
3. The visual icons and layout contain relevant information and the overall design is visually pleasant. 3.0 0.82 
4. Design elements such as icons and interactive actions indicate the same meaning across the whole platform. 3.33 0.47 
5. The visual icons, actions and options are visible and the user doesn’t need to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. 4.0 0.00 
6. The overall design based on the garden metaphor offers an enhancement to the desktop metaphor in cultural significance. 4.33 0.47 
Mean 3.5 3.67 3.83   
Questions/evaluator number Mean SD 
1. The concept of gardening is familiar to the user and information display is in a natural and logical order. 3.33 0.47 
2. The visual icons and layout fit appropriately to the Chinese gardening cultural context and allow users to customise frequent actions and speed up the interaction. 4.0 0.00 
3. The visual icons and layout contain relevant information and the overall design is visually pleasant. 3.0 0.82 
4. Design elements such as icons and interactive actions indicate the same meaning across the whole platform. 3.33 0.47 
5. The visual icons, actions and options are visible and the user doesn’t need to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. 4.0 0.00 
6. The overall design based on the garden metaphor offers an enhancement to the desktop metaphor in cultural significance. 4.33 0.47 
Mean 3.5 3.67 3.83   

Based on Evaluation 1, the researcher redesigned the interface to support more iconic communication. The interface that functioned as a gateway provided access to a wide range of tools for communication, information management and entertainment. Evaluation 2 aimed to strengthen the goals of Evaluation 1 and support the whole CCD design process. It focused on the evaluation of the redesigned interface and the evaluation of icons in the operating system, the file and Web browsers.

In general, all six evaluators could clearly identify the interface as the Chinese garden and were largely satisfied with its visualisation.

Table 6 relates to the evaluators satisfaction with the interface layout. Questions 1 and 8 are associated with the visibility of the garden interface. Most of the evaluators agreed that the interface could be easily identified as a Chinese garden, and the horizontal view might help orientation. Responses to Questions 2 and 3 indicated that most of the evaluators had no preference on a notebook computer interface based on the garden metaphor, but they thought the garden metaphor had the potential to be used for business applications.

Fig. 6

The Chinese garden screen layout with sectors marked.

Fig. 6

The Chinese garden screen layout with sectors marked.

Question 4 showed how many of the eight sectors had been identified by the evaluators. However, the layout that consists of eight sectors whereby each one represents a specific function had proved to be difficult to use (19% recognition). It was anticipated that the evaluators would at least be able to recognise five sectors, i.e. Leisure, Maintenance, Relaxation/creativity, Administration/information, and Recent/on-going projects, through their visual icons, this clearly was not the case. It is speculated that the ones that were identified could have resulted from their position and/or size of the sectors. This area obviously requires further development in terms of the layout and recognition of the icon used.

In Question 5, most of the evaluators agreed that the division of the garden into different spaces helps the user organise data on the screen better than with the conventional desktop. Responses to Questions 6 and 7 reflected how desirable it is to have a choice of garden themes from different cultures, and have variation in seasonal, day or night, or weather changes on the screen.

Table 7 shows the evaluators satisfaction with the OS and file browser. Responses to Question 1 indicated that most evaluators agreed with the interpretation of the fire and compost heap icons for deleting and disposing/retrieval of data. In Question 2, four evaluators agreed that the poem and calligraphy icons could represent regularly based applications. The results of Questions 3 and 4 showed that evaluators had no preference as to whether the garden building icons should be movable, but they thought that their appearance is sufficiently identifiable as a Chinese roof. Question 5 showed that three evaluators agreed that the rock icons should not be fixed, but moveable, however we note the high SD in this data (1.11), which highlights the level of disagreement between the evaluators. Questions 6, 7 and 8 were related to visual representations of pots, plants, seeds, and leafs. Most of the evaluators agreed that sets of plants that are stored inside the garden building of the file browser could be logically matched to the hierarchical relationship of folders, files and documents. The concepts of the compost heap and fire icons were very easily recognised.

Table 6

Evaluator’s satisfaction results of interface layout in Evaluation 2

Questions/evaluator number Mean SD 
1. The Chinese garden metaphor can clearly be identified by the way the interface is visualised. 3.67 0.75 
2. This interface, based on the garden metaphor, is more suitable for a notebook computer. 2.83 0.37 
3. The garden interface concept is also suitable for business applications. 3.50 0.76 
4. The layout is made up of eight sectors. Could you identify the functionality of each sector? (Score represents the number of sectors identified) 1.50 0.96 
5. The division of the ‘garden’ into spaces helps the user organise data on the computer better than with the conventional ‘desktop’. 3.50 0.76 
6. Besides the Chinese garden layout it would be desirable to have a choice of garden themes from other cultures. 3.50 0.76 
7. An option to have seasonal, day/night, or weather changes would be desirable. 4.33 0.47 
8. The horizontal view (by clicking the rock) is useful because it helps in the orientation. 3.67 0.94 
Mean 3.75 3.13 3.50 3.63 2.75 3.13   
Questions/evaluator number Mean SD 
1. The Chinese garden metaphor can clearly be identified by the way the interface is visualised. 3.67 0.75 
2. This interface, based on the garden metaphor, is more suitable for a notebook computer. 2.83 0.37 
3. The garden interface concept is also suitable for business applications. 3.50 0.76 
4. The layout is made up of eight sectors. Could you identify the functionality of each sector? (Score represents the number of sectors identified) 1.50 0.96 
5. The division of the ‘garden’ into spaces helps the user organise data on the computer better than with the conventional ‘desktop’. 3.50 0.76 
6. Besides the Chinese garden layout it would be desirable to have a choice of garden themes from other cultures. 3.50 0.76 
7. An option to have seasonal, day/night, or weather changes would be desirable. 4.33 0.47 
8. The horizontal view (by clicking the rock) is useful because it helps in the orientation. 3.67 0.94 
Mean 3.75 3.13 3.50 3.63 2.75 3.13   

The final questions from Evaluation 2 asked the six users which icons they thought were best suited for the following web browser functions: Forward; Home; Refresh; Search; Favourite; Stop and Browse (see Fig. 4). Each evaluator was asked to make a choice out of three possible icons. The most popular icons are shown within the web browser window (see Fig. 7).

Table 7

Evaluator’s satisfaction results of OS and File Browser Icons in Evaluation 2

Questions/evaluator number Mean SD 
1. Besides having a ‘fire’ icon for deleting data, the ‘compost heap’ is useful for disposing of data but with the possibility of retrieval. 4.17 0.69 
2. The ‘poem’ and ‘calligraphy’ icons represent useful applications that would be used regularly. 3.83 0.69 
3. The icons for the ‘garden buildings’ should be movable and not fixed. 3.00 0.82 
4. The ‘garden buildings’ icons are sufficiently recognisable as Chinese roofs. 3.83 0.90 
5. The ‘rock’ icons should be movable and not fixed. 3.33 1.11 
6. A ‘plant/pot’ icon in a garden sector clearly represents a shortcut/link to a project. 2.67 0.75 
7. The pots, plants, roots, seeds and leafs are logical representational equivalents for folders, files and documents (the ‘tree view’ in the file browser). 4.00 0.00 
8. It is logical that projects (plant icons) are stored inside the garden buildings (the file browser). 3.67 0.75 
Mean 3.38 3.50 3.75 4.25 3.25 3.25   
Questions/evaluator number Mean SD 
1. Besides having a ‘fire’ icon for deleting data, the ‘compost heap’ is useful for disposing of data but with the possibility of retrieval. 4.17 0.69 
2. The ‘poem’ and ‘calligraphy’ icons represent useful applications that would be used regularly. 3.83 0.69 
3. The icons for the ‘garden buildings’ should be movable and not fixed. 3.00 0.82 
4. The ‘garden buildings’ icons are sufficiently recognisable as Chinese roofs. 3.83 0.90 
5. The ‘rock’ icons should be movable and not fixed. 3.33 1.11 
6. A ‘plant/pot’ icon in a garden sector clearly represents a shortcut/link to a project. 2.67 0.75 
7. The pots, plants, roots, seeds and leafs are logical representational equivalents for folders, files and documents (the ‘tree view’ in the file browser). 4.00 0.00 
8. It is logical that projects (plant icons) are stored inside the garden buildings (the file browser). 3.67 0.75 
Mean 3.38 3.50 3.75 4.25 3.25 3.25   

User evaluation and analysis

Objectives. The user evaluation phase was set up to evaluate the success of the garden metaphor and the overall user satisfaction of the interface interaction with the intended target group. The test showed whether the metaphor was strong enough to make the interface naturally intuitive, and whether the visualisation had translated the metaphor convincingly enough for efficiency of use.

A secondary objective was to discover whether the garden metaphor was portable to other target users from other cultures.

Participants. Ideally the participants in a usability study should represent the various age groups and backgrounds of the target audience. The users in this empirical study were therefore chosen to fulfil this criterion. To test the CCD process within cultural domains it was decided to analyse three user groups, i.e. Chinese, Oriental (non-Chinese) and International. For the experimental group, eight participants from the Chinese target group, including Taiwanese, Mainland Chinese and British Chinese, with ranging Internet and computer skills and experience were asked to participate. For the oriental (non-Chinese) group, six participants including Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai and South Korean were also invited to experience the interface and check the transferability of the Chinese garden metaphor. For the control group, a selection of 14 international participants from different cultural backgrounds, i.e. British, Danish, Dutch, Greek, Israeli, Indian, Uruguayan and Norwegian were invited to explore the suitability of the garden metaphor to other cultures.

Fig. 7

The web browser interface showing the selected Chinese icons.

Fig. 7

The web browser interface showing the selected Chinese icons.

Procedures. The user evaluation in this study was conducted through emails. All the participants received an email message and were asked to evaluate the website online and reply by completing a nine-item questionnaire and user background survey (see Appendix A—user evaluation).

Further to this, the researcher decided to observe and record the actions concerning individual behaviour and communication variables of selected members from each of the three groups. Three Chinese, two oriental (non-Chinese) (one South Korean and one Thai), and three International participants (2 British and 1 Greek) were therefore invited to the researcher’s office to explore the interface. These sessions were recorded for reference, through screen recording software and a digital video. The conclusions from the user evaluation were analysed and the CCD theory and system was adapted accordingly.

Test environment and tools. The test was carried out on the Interface of Evaluation 3 using the web address http://www.velthuizen.be/testing. For the walk-in participants, an office environment was provided and the tools included a Macintosh PowerPC G4 with the OS 10.1.5 version, a digital recorder, and SnapzProX were used.

User evaluation results

The overall reaction to the user evaluation phase was remarkably positive, considering the variety of cultural backgrounds of the three groups of participants.

Chinese group (average age 27 years—SD 5 years)

In Table 8 , the Chinese target participants’ background information and the overall user satisfaction of the interface are presented. The results show that all eight of them (four males and four females) use a PC on a daily basis and most of them were willing to interact with an interface/operating system that comprised localised icons and symbols according to their cultural background. In Question 1, most of them were satisfied with the ‘look and feel’ of the interface. Question 2 showed that the concept and metaphor of the Chinese garden could be clearly distinguished through its visual representations. Question 3 showed that half of the participants agreed that the visibility of the visual representations such as buildings, fire, compost heap and plant pot icons could be understood and recognised. Question 4 related to the efficiency of finding the Web and other browsers. Most of the participants agreed that it is easy to locate them. In response to Question 5, three of the participants agreed that the icons of the Web browser could be easily associated with their functions. Due to its high SD (1.05), this reflected the different viewpoints amongst the participants. Questions 6 and 7 showed that functionality of the sectors of the interface could be identified by half of the participants, and the division of the interface into eight sectors was regarded as a useful method of data organisation and orientation. In Question 8, most of the participants showed positive agreement regarding using the Chinese garden interface, if it was subsequently developed into marketable software. Question 9 acknowledged that the Chinese garden conveyed cultural significance (this question rated the highest average score of 4.38).

Oriental (non-Chinese) group (average age 28 years—SD 5 years)

In Table 9 , the oriental (non-Chinese) participants’ background information and their overall satisfaction are presented. All six of them (four males and two females) use a PC daily and prefer to interact with localised icons and symbols on an interface/operating system in accordance with their cultural background. In response to Questions 1 and 9, most of them kept neutral attitudes towards the satisfaction of the overall design and improvement in cultural identity. The result of Question 2 showed that most of them tended to disagree that the concept and metaphor of the Chinese garden could be sufficiently distinguished through its visual representations. Question 3 showed that the visual representations were not easily recognised and understood. Its high SD of 1.21 reflected diverse opinions among all the participants. Question 4 showed that most of them found that the Web browser, file browser and the horizontal moon window were not easy to find. The result of Question 5 showed that the icons of the Web browser were confusing and hard to associate with their functions. Questions 6 and 7 showed that functionality of the sectors of the interface could not be identified, so that the eight sectors were not useful for data organisation and orientation. In response to Question 8, most of them kept neutral attitudes towards the use of further development of the Chinese garden interface. Note that this question also had a high SD of 1.07.

Table 8

Chinese target participants

Participant number Mean SD 
Background information 
Name SL EC YCH XL ZY YZ CC YJH   
Gender   
Age 38 25 24 32 25 25 23 23 26.88 4.99 
Nationality ROC British Chinese ROC PRC PRC PRC ROC ROC   
Education level PhD BA MBA MBA MA MA MA BA   
Frequency of use Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily   
Type of computer PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC   
Experience with non-desktop metaphor No No Yes No No Yes Yes No   
Preference to interact with an localised interface/OS No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No   
Questions 
Q.1 3.63 0.48 
Q.2 4.00 0.71 
Q.3 3.50 0.50 
Q.4 4.00 0.87 
Q.5 3.13 1.05 
Q.6 3.50 0.87 
Q.7 3.50 0.87 
Q.8 3.88 0.60 
Q.9 4.38 0.48 
Mean         3.72  
Participant number Mean SD 
Background information 
Name SL EC YCH XL ZY YZ CC YJH   
Gender   
Age 38 25 24 32 25 25 23 23 26.88 4.99 
Nationality ROC British Chinese ROC PRC PRC PRC ROC ROC   
Education level PhD BA MBA MBA MA MA MA BA   
Frequency of use Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily   
Type of computer PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC   
Experience with non-desktop metaphor No No Yes No No Yes Yes No   
Preference to interact with an localised interface/OS No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No   
Questions 
Q.1 3.63 0.48 
Q.2 4.00 0.71 
Q.3 3.50 0.50 
Q.4 4.00 0.87 
Q.5 3.13 1.05 
Q.6 3.50 0.87 
Q.7 3.50 0.87 
Q.8 3.88 0.60 
Q.9 4.38 0.48 
Mean         3.72  
Table 9

Oriental/Non-Chinese participants

Participant number Mean SD 
Background information 
Name KT HT AS DL CB SL   
Gender   
Age 23 22 35 31 31 26 28 4.69 
Nationality Malaysian Japanese Indonesian Indonesian Thai South Korean   
Education level BSc BA PhD candidate PhD candidate PhD candidate MA   
Frequency of use Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily   
Type of computer PC PC PC PC PC PC/Mac   
Experience with non-desktop metaphor No No No No Yes Yes   
Preference to interact with an localised interface/OS No No Yes Yes Yes Yes   
Questions 
Q.1 3.50 0.96 
Q.2 2.83 0.69 
Q.3 2.83 1.21 
Q.4 2.33 0.47 
Q.5 2.33 0.94 
Q.6 3.00 0.82 
Q.7 3.17 0.90 
Q.8 3.17 1.07 
Q.9 3.33 0.75 
Mean       2.94  
Participant number Mean SD 
Background information 
Name KT HT AS DL CB SL   
Gender   
Age 23 22 35 31 31 26 28 4.69 
Nationality Malaysian Japanese Indonesian Indonesian Thai South Korean   
Education level BSc BA PhD candidate PhD candidate PhD candidate MA   
Frequency of use Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily   
Type of computer PC PC PC PC PC PC/Mac   
Experience with non-desktop metaphor No No No No Yes Yes   
Preference to interact with an localised interface/OS No No Yes Yes Yes Yes   
Questions 
Q.1 3.50 0.96 
Q.2 2.83 0.69 
Q.3 2.83 1.21 
Q.4 2.33 0.47 
Q.5 2.33 0.94 
Q.6 3.00 0.82 
Q.7 3.17 0.90 
Q.8 3.17 1.07 
Q.9 3.33 0.75 
Mean       2.94  
International group (average age 34 years—SD 9 years)

In Table 10 , the international participants’ background information and their overall satisfaction are presented. The results showed that all 14 participants (11 males and three females) use computers (12 PCs and 2 Macs) daily, and most of them desire to interact with localised icons and symbols on an interface/operating system according to their cultural background. In response, to Questions 1 and 9, most of them were satisfied with the overall design of the interface and acknowledged that the Chinese garden represented cultural significance. Question 2 showed that the concept and metaphor of the Chinese garden could be clearly identified through its visual representations. However, its high SD of 1.16 reflected diverse opinions amongst the participants. Question 3 showed that the visual representations could be understood and recognised. Question 4 showed that most of them agreed that the Web browser and other browsers were not difficult to find. Question 5 showed that half of them agreed that the icons of the Web browser could be associated with their functions. However, its high SD of 1.30 reflected diverse opinions amongst the participants. The result of Question 6 showed that the functionality of the sectors of the interface could be identified. Nevertheless, its high SD of 0.97 reflected diverse views. Question 7 showed that most of the participants believed that the division of the eight sectors on the screen was useful for data organisation and orientation. In response to Question 8, most of them agreed that it was simple to explore the Chinese garden interface and were willing to try this, when developed further.

Discussion

In general, all of the 28 participants had high levels of qualifications, all users were degree holders, and some of them had masters and/or PhD degrees. It is interesting to note that all but three were PC users, one can only speculate as to whether more Mac users would have had an effect on the results. This may form the basis of a further study.

Looking at the overall results from Tables 8–10, it is significant to note that both the Chinese group (3.72) and the International group (3.72) have remarkably similar average results. This contrasts with the oriental (non-Chinese) group that has a markedly lower value of 2.94. The reasons for this difference may result, in part, from the fact that there were two Indonesian users in this small group—Indonesia with its multitude of 300 tribal cultures is well known for its ethnic diversity and hence different viewpoints (Taylor, 2004).

In terms of individual questions, clearly Question 5 elicited the most negative overall average result (2.87) and the biggest SD (1.10), followed by Questions 4, 6 and 7. This indicates areas that require further development work.

One of the international participants pointed out the benefits of privacy and protection that would derive from having an interface, which few other users would be able to understand. In conclusion, possible factors of influence on the results could be regional variations, more countries represented and a higher age group of users.

Table 10

International participants

Participant number 10 11 12 13 14 Mean SD 
Background Information 
Name DC BJ JF NC MG EK JM AJ CA DL AS SP OM AM   
Gender   
Age 41 45 23 27 34 34 29 31 28 25 59 41 33 30 34.29 9.18 
Nationality British British British Israeli Greek Dutch Indian Danish Uruguay Greek British British Norway British   
Education Level BSc PhD Cand. BA PhD Cand. PhD Cand. MA MA PhD Cand. MA PhD Cand. GCE PhD PhD Cand. MA   
Frequency of Use Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily   
Type of Computer PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC MAC PC PC MAC   
Experience with non-desktop metaphor Yes No Yes No No Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes No Yes   
Preference to interact with a localised interface/OS No Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No   
Questions 
Q.1 4.5 4.04 0.67 
Q.2 3.93 1.16 
Q.3 2.5 3.82 0.59 
Q.4 2.5 3.18 0.96 
Q.5 3.14 1.30 
Q.6 3.5 3.39 0.97 
Q.7 4.5 4.04 0.67 
Q.8 3.5 3.89 0.71 
Q.9 4.5 4.04 0.77 
Mean               3.72  
Participant number 10 11 12 13 14 Mean SD 
Background Information 
Name DC BJ JF NC MG EK JM AJ CA DL AS SP OM AM   
Gender   
Age 41 45 23 27 34 34 29 31 28 25 59 41 33 30 34.29 9.18 
Nationality British British British Israeli Greek Dutch Indian Danish Uruguay Greek British British Norway British   
Education Level BSc PhD Cand. BA PhD Cand. PhD Cand. MA MA PhD Cand. MA PhD Cand. GCE PhD PhD Cand. MA   
Frequency of Use Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily Daily   
Type of Computer PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC PC MAC PC PC MAC   
Experience with non-desktop metaphor Yes No Yes No No Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes No Yes   
Preference to interact with a localised interface/OS No Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No   
Questions 
Q.1 4.5 4.04 0.67 
Q.2 3.93 1.16 
Q.3 2.5 3.82 0.59 
Q.4 2.5 3.18 0.96 
Q.5 3.14 1.30 
Q.6 3.5 3.39 0.97 
Q.7 4.5 4.04 0.67 
Q.8 3.5 3.89 0.71 
Q.9 4.5 4.04 0.77 
Mean               3.72  

Conclusions and further implications

This research project is a first attempt at formulating a theoretical basis for the adoption of cultural factors into the design process. The importance of this work is exemplified by the fact that China will become (in the not too distant future) a dominant force, in both an economic and literal sense.

The desktop interface, which is based on an American–English metaphor, offers particular complexities for users who come from different cultural backgrounds. The ‘one-for-all’ concept of user-centred design makes systems compatible by standardisation, but it also has a homogenising effect on multi-cultural society by suppressing cultural expression and often ignoring social context. Despite much empirical research on adaptability and usability in the cultural context, it is argued that there is still a lack of appropriate methods to assist interface designers in dealing with cultural issues (Aykin, 2005).

Another interesting socio-cultural phenomenon concerns a reaction against the homogenisation of cultures and in favour of the preservation of cultural diversity through a renewed awareness and expression of cultural identity and a search for authenticity. A culture rooted design approach is therefore believed to be the way to allow cultural identity, meaning, values and tradition to be truly integrated and conveyed. Through practice-based research focussed on the design of a computer interface for a Chinese user group, the basis for a Culture-Centred Design system evolved. In particular the iterative process of heuristic evaluation was found to be particularly appropriate to the design process. Background knowledge of the user target group and its culture and consideration of the cultural filter (language, logic and taboos) are essential to the anticipation of user behaviour. The appropriate choice of metaphor and its consistent use are believed to be the keys to successful user-computer interaction.

The resulting interface was largely icon based, as research showed that Chinese users have little problem in identifying and interpreting icons, because their language is character based. The choice of the Chinese traditional garden for the overarching metaphor proved insightful and was sufficiently accommodating to be translated to computer related systems and processes. The on-line HTML demonstration of the computer interface served as an indicative design, but was perhaps too basic for user evaluation purposes, as most details were not properly interactive. Prior knowledge and familiarity of computer interfaces has undoubtedly influenced or affected the respondent’s experience of the interface design.

The garden metaphor, we believe, provides a direct link to the Chinese socio-cultural context, and is a concept which has been, in our opinion, remarkably under-utilised. This metaphor also has the advantage of being additionally applicable to other cultural contexts.

The importance of the culture-rooted metaphor has been acknowledged when considering current cultural trends (Bentley, 2004), but as yet there are very few ways of tackling the culture-rooted usability problems that often occur in user interaction. The identification of a suitable culture-rooted metaphor lies at the basis of CCD.

It should be noted that it is unrealistic to believe that the Chinese garden metaphor will revolutionise the way the world uses computers, however, it is a significant step in the right direction, which will hopefully prove its usefulness over time. The results to date are not conclusive, but do point to strong benefits and user acceptance.

From the results, it is clear that the mean values and standard deviations are susceptible to changes in evaluator’s scores due to the small sample sizes and interpretation of the questions.

However, the overall results of this study have shown very positive outcomes for the use of the CCD system and Chinese garden metaphor. The next phase involves the full user evaluation with a larger, culturally diverse population, including novices and experienced users, students, academic staff, remote users, and professional user interface designers.

As stated by Marcus (2003) “The journey with China involved as a major participant will be an exciting and rewarding adventure in the future history of user-interface design”(Marcus, 2003).

Appendix A. The user evaluation questionnaire

Introduction

Welcome. Thank you in advance for your participation. This evaluation is part of a practical design for my PhD thesis. My topic is Culture-Centred Design and is focussed on computer interface design. A clickable demonstration of the computer interface is in the process of being developed applying an alternative to the ‘desktop’ metaphor. The design of the interface is developed for a Chinese user group and incorporates Chinese symbolism and morphology.

Go to: http://www.velthuizen.be/testing

Please click the interface of Evaluation 3 and explore it. Can you find the file browser, the Web browser, and others? This evaluation is basically to test and improve the “look and feel” of the interface concept, layout, behaviour and design. Please try out as much as possible and comment on things that you believe are not logical.

Usability Study Questionnaire

Q1. Overall, I am satisfied with the ‘look and feel’ of the interface.

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q2. The concept and metaphor of the Chinese garden is sufficiently clear through its visual representations (i.e. icons and layout).

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q3. The visual representations (such as buildings, fire, compost heap and plant/pot icons) provided in this interface are easy to understand and recognise.

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q4. It is easy to find the Web browser (by clicking the frog), the file browser (by clicking the building icons) and the horizontal moon window (by clicking the rocks).

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q5. The icons of the Web browser (such as Backward and Forward) can easily be associated with their functions.

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q6. The purpose or specialisation of each sector of the interface (such as Leisure, Maintenance and Relaxation) can easily be identified.

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q7. The division of the interface into eight sectors is a useful feature for data organisation and orientation.

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q8. It was simple to explore this interface and I would like to use it if it is further developed into software.

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Q9. The overall interface is visually pleasant and offers an enhancement to the desktop metaphor in terms of cultural significance

Strongly disagree  Disagree  Neutral  Agree  Strongly agree

Background Information

Name:

Gender:

Age:

Nationality:

Educational level/Qualifications:

Frequency of using computers (e.g. daily/weekly):

Which type of computer do you use on a regular basis:

Have you had any experience with a non-desktop metaphor interface? If yes, please describe:

Would you prefer to interact with an interface/Operating System that comprises localised icons and symbols, which directly relates to your cultural background?

Is there anything else I should know about your interests or background? If yes, please describe:

THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME

References

Aykin
N.
Usability and Internationalization of Information Technology
 , 
2005
New York
Lawrence Erlbaum
pg. 
392
 
Baecker
R.M.
Readings in Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000
 , 
1995
San Francisco, CA
Morgan Kaufmann
pg. 
950
  
second ed., vol. xxi
 
Barber, W., Badre, A., 1998. Culturability: the merging of culture and usability. In: Proceedings of the fourth Human Factors and the Web Conference.
 
Bentley, P.J., 2004. Software seeds: the garden where perfect software grows. In: New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd, London, p. 28–31.
Blythe
M.
Overbeeke
C.
Monk
A.F.
Wright
P.C.
Funology: from Usability to Enjoyment
 , 
2003
Dordrecht
Kluwer Academic Publishers
 
Bourges-Waldegg, P., Scrivener, S., 1998. Meaning, the central issue in cross-cultural HCI design. Shared values and shared interfaces: the role of culture in the globalisation of human-computer systems. Interacting with Computers: the interdisciplinary Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 9(3), 287–309.
 
CNNIC, 2005. Statistical Survey Report on the Internet Development of China. China Internet Network Information Centre.
Evamy
M.
World without Words
 , 
2003
London
Laurence King
 
Evers, V., 2002. Cross-cultural applicability of user evaluation methods: a case study amongst Japanese, north American, English and Dutch users. In: Proceedings CHI 2002, Minneapolis.
 
Evers, V., Day, D., 1997. The role of culture in interface acceptance. In: IFIP TC13 International Conference on Human–Computer Interaction INTERACT’97, Chapman & Hall, London, Sydney, Australia.
Fernandes
T.
Global Interface Design
 , 
1995
London
Academic Press
pg. 
191
 
Friedman
T.L.
1st Anchor Books
The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization
 , 
2000
New York
Anchor Books
pg. 
490
  
vol. xxii
Fromm
E.
Fromm
E.
Suzuki
D.T.
Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism & Psychoanalysis
 , 
1960
New York
Harper
(pg. 
77
-
141
)
Gentner
D.
Nielsen
J.
The Anti-Mac Interface
 , 
1996
New York
ACM
Hix
D.
Hartson
H.R.
Developing user interfaces: ensuring usability through product & process.
Wiley Professional Computing
 , 
1993
New York
Wiley
pg. 
381
  
vol. xxix
IDEO
IDEO Method Cards: 51 Ways to Inspire Design
 , 
2003
San Francisco, USA
W. Stout Architectural Books
 
Johnson, S., 1997. Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. first ed. HarperEdge, San Francisco, p. 264.
 
Kano, N., 1995. Developing international software for Windows 95 and Windows NT. Microsoft Programming Series vol. xvi, Microsoft Press, Redmond, Wash, p. 743.
Luong
T.V.
Lok
J.S.H.
Taylor
D.J.
Driscoll
K.
Internationalization: Developing Software for Global Markets
 , 
1995
New York
Wiley
pg. 
293
  
vol. vii
 
Mackay, W.E., 2004. The interactive thread: exploring methods for multi-disciplinary design. In: Proceedings of the 2004 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, and Techniques. ACM Press, Cambridge, MA, USA.
 
Malone, T.W., 1982. Heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces: lessons from computer games. In: Proceedings of the 1982 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Addison-Wesley, Washington, DC.
 
Manzini, E., Susani, M., (Eds.). The Solid Side. V+K Publishing, Philips Corporate Design, p. 175.
Marcus
A.
Stephanidis
C.
International and intercultural user interfaces
User Interfaces for All: Concepts, Methods, and Tools
 , 
2001
Mahwah, NJ
Lawrence Erlbaum
(pg. 
47
-
63
)
Marcus
A.
Fast Forward: User-Interface Design and China: A Great Leap Forward
 , 
2003
New York
ACM
 
Marcus, A., 2005. Cross-cultural, global, and mobile user-interface design. In: HCI International: 11th International Conference on Human–Computer Interaction, Las Vegas, USA.
 
Marzano, S., 2000. New values for the new millennium. Philips Corporate Design.
McLuhan
M.
1st MIT Press
Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man
 , 
1994
Cambridge, MA
MIT Press
pg. 
365
  
vol. xxiii
McLuhan
M.
Fiore
Q.
The Medium is the Message
 , 
1967
New York
Random House
pg. 
157
 
Nelson
T.H.
Laurel
B.
Mountford
S.J.
The right way to think about software design
The Art of Human–Computer Interface Design
 , 
1990
Reading, MA
Addison-Wesley
(pg. 
235
-
243
)
Nielsen
J.
Nielsen
J.
Mack
R.L.
Heuristic Evaluation, in Usability Inspection Methods
 , 
1994
New York, NY
Wiley
pg. 
413
  
vol. xxiv
Nielsen
J.
Del Galdo
E.
International User Interfaces
 , 
1996
New York
Wiley
pg. 
276
  
vol. x
O’Donnell
S.M.
Programming for the World: a Guide to Internationalization
 , 
1994
Englewood Cliffs, NJ
PTR Prentice-Hall
pg. 
440
  
vol. xv
 
Parasuram, T.V., 2003. China to Top Global Economy by 2050, India to Come Third. The Indian Express.
Taylor
D.
Global Software: Developing Applications for the International Market
 , 
1992
New York
Springer
pg. 
319
  
vol. xvi
 
Taylor, S., 2004. Indonesia. University of Texas at Dallas–MBA International Management Studies.
Uren
E.
Howard
R.
Perinotti
T.
Software Internationalization and Localization: An Introduction
 , 
1993
New York
Van Nostrand Reinhold
pg. 
300
  
vol. xx
Yeo
A.
World-Wide CHI: cultural user interfaces, a silver lining in cultural diversity
SIGCHI
 , 
1996
, vol. 
28
 
3
(pg. 
4
-
7
)
1
Note: Not to be confused with Bourges-Waldegg & Scrivener’s (1998) term ‘Culturalisation’ that referred to the internationalise–localise process. They argued that culturalisation were inappropriate for the design of interfaces intended to be shared by culturally diverse users (Bourges-Waldegg and Scrivener, 1998)
2
The phrase ‘Funology’ which has been recently coined (Blythe et al., 2003) seems to be the latest buzzword in a long line of catchphrases. However, the idea of taking lessons from computer games is not new and dates back to the beginnings of interface design - Malone (1982).