[Response] Calibrating Your Cultural Compass

Just like the title of the book, Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products for Tomorrow’s Customers, the contents that Chipchase touched upon in this reading is indeed knowledge that I feel, is subconsciously within all of us, and only requires a bit of probing to get people to start thinking about them. In fact, I feel that this is the purpose of User Experience in Design, to get us to notice things that we often take for granted.

In chapter 5, Chipchase talks about rapid cultural calibration and introduced eight techniques that would help to quickly put researchers or designers in the local mind-set within an allocated time frame.

Chipchase packed all eight techniques with examples of the same scenario happening in different countries to illustrate that every country has their own distinct cultures. While the examples are straightforward, they really allowed to readers to see that so many information can be gathered just by observing the everyday life of the locals as well as their daily operations.

Coincidentally, I am taking a cross-cultural communication module this semester and the professor mentioned that she felt that it was not possible for one to assimilate into a culture unless they are staying there for a long time and are prepared to fully immerse themselves into it. Hence, I especially liked that he advises a collaboration between the local team and the visiting team.

I also really liked how he brought up a very common household item ­­­— the microwave, as an example to show how understanding cultures can play a part in the final design. He also addresses the concerns of practicality issues — in terms of cost, with this example. However, I still reserve some doubts about designing an already universally accepted microwave. Perhaps in terms of rapid cultural calibration, it plays a bigger part in the improvement and reinvention of a current product.

Reading this after Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things really helped to put things into perspective in terms of how they all play a part in user-experience design. It is only by combining the knowledge from Norman with that of this reading, that we are not only able to design good products, but great products. While Norman seems to place more emphasis on the relationship between a design and an individual (micro), this reading zooms out (macro) and shows us that ultimately, what shapes an individual is not only their state of mind or ergonomics, but also the cultures that they are brought up in.


  1. If this consciousness of designing products with different cultures in mind exist, why then — aside from small differences such as language perhaps — settings and functions of existing products, especially household products like microwaves, are generally universal and have little differences?
  2. Do you think that there are some products that are simply universal enough to not require the studying of different cultures, and consciously designing for a certain country?


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