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Have you ever come into a room where an intense conversation commanded the air?

Imagine it ending with these phrases:

A.B.: "I'll never believe in that person again."

L.M.: "The facts are clear, it's all over. Nobody can deny it."

What just happened? Were you witness to the end / take-over / bankruptcy of your organization? The untimely demise of a project? YOUR project? (Of course, we always take the worst case, thinking it applies to us, right?)

But wait a minute. We're letting our imagination run wild with minimal data.

Keeping our cool, we ask Sushmita as she leaves, "What was that all about?"

"Oh, nothing," she says. "We were talking about the Super Bowl. Jason said the Steelers were going to win. He was so, so wrong, I'll never believe him again.

But now that it's all over, we know the Green Bay Packers are the better team. Nobody can deny it anymore."

Toyota Prius

Yes, context matters a lot

Notice how our first interpretation seemed ego-centric, concerned with our own pre-occupations. Does that sound familiar?

Our mind naturally applies whatever we see or hear to ourselves. When window shopping, what other pleasure do we get than imagining ourselves in those clothes, or camping with that equipment, or driving that car?

Luckily, we had a chance to ask Sushmita who was "on the inside of the story." She had the context.

Our usability work involves getting the context of how end-users see their work. So we interview them.

But what if they are from a different culture? What if your end-user has different sense of what "individualism" means when faced with a marketing proposition that "makes you stand out?"

What if your interview participant wants to agree with you on everything! Or, what if they're just not good at verbalizing?

In these cases we also need help setting the context for our interviews. We need to understand the context of even getting the context (!)

Let's check out the solutions to these problems in a 2011 book, Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today's Emerging Markets, the conclusion to our 2-part review.
Toyota Prius

Figure 1. BRIC Geert Hofstede Scores.
(Bar diagram from the University of Iowa Center for International Finance and Development.)

Who is that OTHER in the room?

The notion of "other" perspectives gets taught at an early age. We learn not to take other kids' toys and not to make fun of someone wearing glasses or who looks "different."

Accepting "others" becomes the foundation for civil discourse and just getting along.

But when trying to understand how others perceive, react, and conduct their lives we typically lack the wisdom that overcomes invisible walls of misunderstanding.

The two editors of Innovation Solutions, Apala Lahiri Chavan and Girish V. Prabhu, provide ample tools to help break down those invisible walls.

For instance, emerging markets include the BRIC quartet: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. We learn early about "Culture – Is It Predictably the Same?" The answer comes to us in clear usability-informing metrics devised by early cross-cultural researchers.

Power Distance – The United States scores lower than the BRIC countries in acceptance of an innate social hierarchy. We learn this influences how interview participants respond to usability researchers who they perceive as being "higher" in the social hierarchy.

Individualism – The US scores highest among the BRIC who are all more group-oriented or collective in their behaviors. Individualism makes you stand out. This can be good for U.S. advertising. Not so good for BRIC consumers.

Masculinity – On the whole, the entire world is more or less in the same range when it comes to being more masculine than feminine.

Uncertainty Avoidance – Brazil and Russia score high in this measure of risk aversion, above the U.S. India and China score somewhat lower than the US. This has implications for our understanding of how people accept new products in these countries.

Long-Term Orientation – The BRIC countries all scored higher than the U.S. where people seem to live for today. China and the U.S. appear on the opposite extreme ends of this dimension, thus offering a clear contrast in cultural difference.

These cultural dimensions provide the starting point for defining your user profiles and cultural personae. How would you plan your data gathering interviews or usability testing, knowing what you read (above) about the gulf in understanding between your own cultural expectations and the expectations of your participants?

Chapter Five, by Apala, shows us how to compensate with the following sample innovative solutions.

1. Interviewing amidst cultural differences
For example, cross-cultural researchers have long asked whether they should ask questions of their informant using the frame of reference (rules, vocabulary, logic, etc.) of the end-user, or instead, acknowledge their own outsider's perspective. Apala's experience suggests the latter. She calls it the Stranger in the Strange Land technique. She writes:

"The feeling that participants get of 'Oh, this chap is a foreigner and therefore it's ok that he is asking such strange/stupid questions' makes it much easier for us to ask questions that would normally be thought of as awkward or even a strict no-no, and equally easy for the participants to answer what would otherwise be considered embarrassing or very personal questions."

2. Getting honest assessment
When eliciting frank comments about a new financial Web site that was being introduced in China, users refused to say anything negative about the web site.

Her team purchased sets of little pewter statues of characters from Chinese folk tales that were very well known to all. She called this technique Jungian Archetype Folk Probes.

"What we did was to write down the names of the various Web site features we were evaluating on little cards. Next, we asked each participant to match each card with a pewter statue of their choice... In fact, the features that had proved frustrating for users were the first ones to be associated with the statues with negative attributes."

3. Testing for frank usability
Apala's team found that users would generally "take the middle ground", saying that every product was good. If there were any problems with the product, they would say it is the user's responsibility to solve the problem. She used the Bollywood Style to add flavor to the normal "think aloud" usability test method.

"When watching a Bollywood film, every member of the family (irrespective of hierarchy) suddenly feels free to voice their opinion about every aspect of the film... We created a dramatic (very Bollywoodish) story line and each task became a part of the plot. The idea was to 'immerse' the participant in a familiar 'story' (woven around the product to be tested) as if they were a character within the story and thereby make them 'forget' their normal hesitation to be critical."

4. Getting comments from the inscrutable
When comparing new product concepts in Asia, asking for people's feelings in a neutral environment gave little new information. Instead, Apala's team simulated the dynamics of a normal mercantile environment called The Bizarre-Bazaar Method.

"We provided a set of stalls with vendors (trained HFI facilitators) who were 'selling' mock-ups of selected concepts along with distracter items. The vendors described the concepts as if selling them to the participants and then gauged their reaction. In the fray of bargaining we gauged people's ability to grasp the concepts, appreciate the functions, and assign value to the designs."

Setting contexts for getting contexts

By now, you have the flavor of this new volume, just released in 2011. I tried to give a sense of what "Innovative" means in the context of finding cross-cultural design "Solutions". The book avoids the pedantic tone of academic writing. But it does not sacrifice factual data and research-oriented recommendations.

The wide range of contributors also leaves me with the sense that the book represents a healthy amalgam of design experiences. This contributes to feeling more confident that I'm not reading the lucky experiences of one or two people.

The range of contexts, experiences, data, and recommendations helps us generalize to our own design challenges. Based on the variety of situations, we gain confidence that when the time comes, we have background to start finding our own innovative solutions for investigating context.

While thinking how to make this review exciting (as well as informative!) I searched on Innovative Solutions in Google Books. What did I learn?

Well, I learned the book does a good job at representing current thinking. Also, you can sample pages by reading portions right in Google Books!

The phrase "innovative solutions" returned search solutions for graphic designers, software methods, and of immediate interest "BoP Markets". Note that BoP refers to "Bottom of the Pyramid" when referring to market categories.

If you are looking for a clear amalgam of these hot topics as they apply to your usability work, then read Apala's and Girish's book Innovative Solutions. As stated in Chapter One of their manual (I would call it).

"Today, the majority of designers do not personally come from the BOP and so lack the overlapping life experiences that can help them understand the context of BOP users. However, businesses are increasingly motivated to develop successful models for BOP and are engaging the design community on the BOP challenge." (p. 5)

Toyota Prius

Figure 2. Setting the context for Innovative Solutions in "usability" for emerging markets.
This figure shows that Google Books indeed provides an important context for appreciating our current review topic.

Toyota Prius

Figure 3. Getting context for evaluating books through Google Books preview service.

And you can sample the chapters!

Drilling down into Google Books brings you to the famous Google "preview" materials (see circled link). I found a satisfying sample not only of the Innovative Solutions book, but also other books with which I could do comparison shopping.

As a demonstration of the value of setting context for getting context, here we see how Google Books helps you to rapidly get context for deciding what to read about innovative design.

Check out Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today's Emerging Markets when you need a reality-tested context for your next challenge in defining and serving emerging end-users.

(Context matters.)


Charlton, S.G. (2009) Driving while conversing: Cell phones that distract and passengers who react. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 41(1), 160.

Drews, F.A., Pasupathi, M., & Strayer, D.L. (2008). Passenger and cell phone conversations in simulated driving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14(4), 392.

Eisert, J., Garcia, A., Payne, J., & Baldwin, C.L. (2013). Tactile Route Guidance Performance and Preference. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting 2013 57: 1504

Chavan, Apala Lahiri and Prabhu, Girish V. (2011). Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today's Emerging Markets. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, New York, London.

Message from the author, Apala Lahiri Chavan

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

Leave a comment here

Reader comments

John Smelcer
Fairfield Professionals

Fascinating review to a topic of growing importance. It reminds me of a usability project I completed in Mexico for a large bank. As I arrived in Mexico City, I felt like a paranoid gringo, wary of everything new. And it was all new. But I assumed that the locals had no such wariness. Field research revealed otherwise, as Mexicans do not write checks. They are afraid of the postal service losing their letters and prefer to pay electronically. Ten years ago their cultural uniqueness had driven them to more rapidly adopt technology than the US. Emerging markets must be full of these issues.


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