A few years ago, Aaron Marcus and Emilie West Gould applied the principles in Geert Hofstede’s study of cultures in organizations to Web interface design in their article Cultural Dimensions and Global Web User-Interface Design.
It may be a bit dated now, but thanks to persistence on the Web I only came across it recently, and the ideas remain relevant. I found Hofstede’s “cultural dimensions” interesting and strange, and Marcus and Gould’s application of them to Web design provocative. These dimensions include:
Collectivism vs. individualism
Femininity vs. masculinity
Long- vs. short-term orientation
As I read through the article and the international examples, I couldn’t help but attempt to apply these dimensions to the SDN itself. So here’s my pop-analysis of the SDN ala Marcus and Gould, via the principles of Geert Hofstede.
As expected in US-based design, the SDN has a low power-distance index. Among other things, this means that the focus on expertise, authority, experts, certifications, and official stamps or logos is weak, and prominence is given to all members equally as opposed to leaders only. Witness: hey, do they just let anybody write about anything in these weblogs, anyway?
Collectivism vs. Individualism
Not surprisingly, the US ranks first place in the study’s next dimension, the “individualism index.” On the SDN, individualism is also valued over collectivism. This might sound odd for a community site, but “individualism” as defined in the study places emphasis on what is new, values the user and his or her own individual values and actions, promotes willingness to provide personal information, and definitely exhibits tolerance of controversial opinions… Now this sounds like a community-based site such as the SDN where we can babble on about things like cultural dimensions!
Femininity vs. Masculinity
This is another curious one. The US ranks fairly masculine in this index. Japan ranks the highest on the masculinity index; Sweden ranks the lowest. The SDN, I would say, has a low masculinity index.
Now this doesn’t mean you only find gals writing weblogs. Instead, a low masculinity index means a lack of distinction based on gender or age; a focus on mutual cooperation, exchange, and support (rather than mastery and winning); attention gained through poetry and visual aesthetics; and appeals to unifying values. Hey, you just need to look at Mark Finnern’s weblogs to see the emphasis on poetry and aesthetics!
Interestingly, the US is about in the middle of the uncertainty avoidance index as well. I would definitely rank the SDN on the low side of this index. A low need to avoid uncertainty means maximal content and choices, acceptance (even encouragement) of wandering and risk, and less control of navigation — for example, links might open new windows leading away from the original location. You only need to have wandered onto this weblog to realize the SDN is quite accepting of the wandering, uncontrolled spirit.
Long- vs. Short-Term Orientation
Lastly, also expected in US-based Web design, the SDN exhibits a low long-term orientation index. Another curious one, and you should check out the article for more on the cross-cultural implications, but a low long-term orientation index means that the SDN promotes equal relationships, emphasizes individualism, and finds fulfillment through creativity and self-actualization, among other things.
What’s the Conclusion?
That’s just my pop-psychoanalysis, if you will. Based on this, according to the article, the implication is that for something like the SDN, which is decidedly “western-oriented” in its cultural dimensions, to be highly-accepted in east-Asian countries (for example), we’d need an entirely different design template. Is it true? Do east-Asian visitors to western-designed sites feel alienated?
Food for thought.