12 Feb 2023 Frank Spillers


Why Localization UX matters

Why Localization UX matters

EXAMPLE 1: In 2005, IKEA released a workbench named “FARTFULL.” With the root word Fährt standing for “traveling in a vehicle with wheels” in Swedish, the name made perfect sense. However, in English, the word is obviously a synonym for flatulence, leading to some not-so-fresh connotations. The product was eventually taken off the market, but not before people worldwide had a good laugh. – Source: Phrase.com


Worse than using a word with an unintended meaning (a translation issue) is not understanding cultural rhythms.

Understanding cultural rhythms

Cultural rhythms describe the felt cultural experiences of another country. Rhythms include time, social phenomenon, rituals, historical influence, expected behavior (rules), and more. The more you understand the subtleties of cross-cultural user experience, you can create a better cultural fit (Spillers and Gavine 2018).

starbucks japan localization- page layoutImage: This Starbucks japan page uses a culturally sensitive layout appropriate to Japan. Note: English appears on the left, and right. This is a strings management issue that developers need to manage. Starbucks’ multi-country framed interface (menus left and right for all countries, localized content in the middle) means Starbucks offers partial translation (or broken strings in the frame) which does not provide a good localization user experience.

What do we need to design for multiple country audiences?

Designers need cultural sensitivity or ‘culturability’. Like usability, which means a design works, culturability means the design metaphor (or conceptual model) works–for that local culture. Designing for other cultures starts with de-biasing your own comfort zones (your culture) and assumptions (about their culture).

EXAMPLE 2: Twister the hands-on game, is played on a large plastic mat that is spread on the floor or ground. The mat has six rows of large colored circles on it with a different color in each row: red, yellow, green and blue. A spinner tells players where they have to place their hand or foot. The game promotes itself as “the game that ties you up in knots” (source: Wikipedia).

twister game showing silhouttes on dots

Image: Hasbro.

A popular game in the US, however in Japan, Twister failed because it mismatched the prevailing norms around touching. It earned the nickname “the eroticism box”.  (Range, David Epstein)

In this Miniclass, (30 min. webinar) we will focus on these 10 core principles of importance in Localization UX or Cross-cultural design.

10 Localization UX principles by Frank Spillers

  1. A translation-led approach to localization will miss out on important UX skills. A UX Lead can bring these skills to a localization project: cultural (user) advocacy, research-based evidence, and rich ethnographic insights. Instead, treat your multi-country project like a localization UX problem, not a translation one.
  2. Localization UX involves centering your localization approach around culturability- ease of cultural acceptance. UX research and design techniques are used to align and de-risk design for other cultures.
  3. Cultural insights need to be understood before design. Even translation efforts require cultural meaning to do what translators call ‘transcreation’. It means localizing words & phrases (think in-country UX Writer) for meaning-fit.
  4. In addition to being a strategy for countries outside of your own, localization can be thought of as at any “level of local”:  Community level, Regional level, National level. For some companies, just contacting users is so foreign, it can be thought of as localization (company culture vs user culture).
  5. Getting to know the rules and expectations of another culture before you design for them is what it’s all about.
  6. Behavioral analysis of a target locale is the first step to understanding your PESTLE criteria (P for Political, E for Economic, S for Social, T for Technological, L for Legal, and E for Environmental).
  7. Global user field research is essential to spot cultural and behavioral trends, patterns, cultural cues, and expectations (mental models).
  8. Localization UX comes at the start of product or service development, it gathers evidence, seeks validates, and adjusts design strategy for a seamless cultural fit.
  9. How localization UX gets done: by using Subject Matter Experts (SMEs); Conducting in-country culture research; Specifying a UX design strategy based on cultural insights, and finally, prototyping and testing with target country users. From here, a product or service can be built and translated (Machine Learning provided or a simultaneously translated Web session).
  10. Global user testing is key to performing with the intended target country audience.

To learn more, join this webinar: Beyond Translation: Getting cross-cultural design right Miniclass with Frank Spillers.

Beyond Translation: Getting Cross-cultural Design Right Miniclass


About the Author

headshot of frank spillers

Frank Spillers

Founder - UX Inner Circle

Frank Spillers, MS, founded the UX Inner Circle to share his knowledge and skills with his students from the Interaction Design Foundation where he has provided select trainings for the past 8 years. He leads UX and Service Design consulting at Experience Dynamics, an award-winning consultancy. He works with the world’s leading brands to deliver cutting-edge strategy for products, services, and experiences. Starting out in the mid-’90s in social VR, Frank has consulted on 600 UX projects including enterprise web applications, nonprofits, government and more. He’s an Inclusive Design evangelist, and expert in Accessibility, Emotion Design, VR/AR, Cross-cultural Design and UX Management. Frank brings 25 years of experience as a Sr. UX Director and Service Design leader. He has lifted conversion rates by 88% and enhanced revenue by 300% for firms like Nike, Intel, Microsoft, the City of New York, Global Disability Rights Now!, Four Seasons, Capital One, the World Bank, Women Enabled International, and many more.

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