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Usability themes in high and low context cultures: A comparative study

Alexander, Rukshan (2019) Usability themes in high and low context cultures: A comparative study. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Cultural diversity makes it difficult for website developers to depend on their own instinctive knowledge or personal experiences to design usable websites between cultures, yet studies on cross-cultural website usability are limited. The overall aim of this research is to advance cross-cultural HCI by providing an effective solution in terms of minimising cost and time for website cultural adaptation to improve user experience. This aim has been addressed with contributions in the areas of identifying prominent web design elements that encapsulate the significant characteristics of a culturally specific website, the development of a novel Cross-cultural Web Usability Model to offer both: cross-cultural web design guidelines and a usability measuring instrument, and subsequent empirical evaluation of the developed model that helps to attract culturally diverse users and improve their overall usability, specifically, increasing work efficiency and user satisfaction.

The first contribution examines the Australian, Chinese, and Saudi Arabian web pages for the presence of design attributes including layout, navigation, links, multimedia, visual representation, colour, and text. Significant differences were found in each of the listed design attributes, suggesting that different interfaces are needed for successful communication with different cultural groups.

The second contribution incorporates design elements, cultural factors, and HCI factors that describe the style of information processing and the user’s interaction characteristics, to create cross-cultural web design guidelines. These guidelines provide culturally specific functionality, look, and feel to enhance clear and effective communication between cultures. A usability measuring instrument is proposed, to measure usability attributes, which in turn may influence the overall satisfaction of a web page. By offering these cross-cultural web design guidelines and the usability measuring instrument, a novel Cross-cultural Web Usability Model was introduced. This model simplifies the creation of cross-cultural websites, while enabling developers to evaluate page usability for different cultures.

The third major contribution evaluated the developed model by hypothesising that website cultural adaptation improves the overall website usability. Australian and Chinese cultures were chosen to minimise the cost involved in the usability tests. Cross-cultural websites were designed, and the efficacy of cross-cultural websites was evaluated. Behavioural data including: effectiveness (task success rate), efficiency (average time on task), and errors (average number of clicks for a task) was acquired. Attitudinal data such as perceived navigability, aesthetics, and satisfaction was also obtained based on a real-world study which required users to complete tasks on a web page. The results confirmed that the model can anticipate the culturally specific user preferences, and that there were statistically significant differences. Users who interacted with the culturally specific website had greater levels of user performance and perception than users who used the non-adapted version.

This research has theoretical and practical implications for website cultural adaptation. The findings confirmed that website cultural adaptation can improve user performance and perception. The resultant model contributes to the knowledge of how to design effective web pages for Australian and Chinese cultures and is replicable when designing for other cultures. This is the first model to be created using broad design attributes and variety of usability attributes. The proposed cultural adaptation closes the knowledge gap, the “divergence”, regarding the relationship between culture, HCI, and website design.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Information Technology, Mathematics and Statistics
Supervisor(s): Murray, David, Dixon, Michael and Thompson, Nik
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