Designing for other cultures

After doing some research on the influx of hispanics into american society and their spending habits, I am wondering how I shift my own tastes and values in order to design products that will appeal to this new, growing market.
I’m about as white as they come. I’m not particularly open to others’ likes and cultures. it’s my own worse enemy as a designer, but I want to get past it, and I will work hard to do so. But, as a person that prefers German sports cars, fine italian shoes and wool suits, I think I’m going to have a difficult time designing for a culture that prides themselves with 29" wheels on Navigators and crunched velvet interiors. The portraits of the Virgin Mary on the truck tailgates really throw me for a spin.
How do I learn to throw my own tastes out and design for a market that is completely opposite to the thinking that I was raised on?

Research baby, research.

You don’t need to change yourself, other than to aspire to user-centered principles.

Designing for the end user is more important than actually being the end-user.

First thing I would do if I were you is to stop making generalizations about entire cultures.

Really not meaning to offend anyone at all. It’s called a stereotype. We all do it, it’s just a natural process your brain performs in order to handle all the information it receives. No, I don’t believe that every member of a certain culture acts the same way, has the same beliefs or tastes. It’s a generalization, and a false one at that. I’m trying to be constructive and open about this, as I do want to learn to design for cultures completely different than my own.
I don’t want this thread to turn into some sort of segment bashing, as that won’t solve anything, nor will it help.
As for research, I have found that the more I do, the more I seem to not be able to relate. Some of the projects I have on my plate are so horrendous in my eyes that I would never even want them seen by peers. They are that bad, but how do I get past that? I know it’s all about making the almighty dollar, but man, this is getting rough!

I know where you are coming from. As long as we can get past the stereotypes that I know you did not mean you will realize design is not all that different. Living in California, being married to a Mexican woman, having an Austrian Governor (Kal•e•forn•e•a), either a taco stand, chinese resraraunt, sushi, Tai, Indian, Middle eastern and everything in between on almost every corner and a large part of the population not knowing or having a full understanding of the english language and little exceptance or American culture there is still a basic understanding across the board when it comes to design. Sure, adjustments need to be made for individual cultures but in all your research just realize that you must keep your own style but keep a multi-cultural eye open. I think design goes bad once it decides to focus on just one culture.

If you’re in the SF Bay Area and are interested in this topic, you may want to check out Tuesday, February 10, 2004: Monthly Program (BayCHI) - an upcoming BayCHI talk

Kawaii: Adventures in a Parallel Universe
Steve Portigal
When conducting user research, we always strive to get outside our own default expectations and perceptions, to better see the details of what we’re looking at. Some interesting things can happen when you get completely outside your own experiences, perhaps in another country where the language (and food, and everything else!) is beyond your own experiences. Steve will use examples from fieldwork in Japan to illustrate some of the advantages of being a bewildered and naive outsider and suggest some tactics for best managing a foray into a strange land.

Hi. I’m a South American designer in the USA and to kick off your research you first need to dig deeper, beyond the “mexican construction worker” stereotype. First of all, there are sectors within the ‘latino’ community. You have the lower-class blue-collar worker, of which many are illegal immigrants (the mexican stereotype). You have your mid to high-class latino, which usually comes to the USA through family links, going to school or business. And then you have the rich latinos, which are pretty much like most rich people but with a more active social life.

The whole stereotype you are talking about (29" rims, and a statue of the virgin on the dash) applies to the minority, and one that is or was raised from the lower-class sector. Go to South Beach in Miami, go to the high-class clubs, and there you will be amazed to find a totally different latino sector with different tastes and activities.

It all depends where you go and who you talk to. My advice is, go where they go, eat where they eat, and party where they party. That is the best research I can think of. It wont hurt to hit on the ladies and get a dose of what their expectations of men/women are. And check the entire spectrum, from low-class to very high-class…there is a big variety of people out there.

Sorry this got long, just trying to help out.

i agree…

i’d like to share with you some work i did almost two years ago…it, ironically enough, was around the same time the first rover landed on mars.

i was really fascinated and humbled by the fact that we had achieved such a feat. i had a realization that not only were we able to see what it was like to be on another planet 300 million miles away, we also were the first ones to leave something there…now unused, obsolete technology by the time we are able to retrieve it…which makes it waste. we are starting to pollute not just the earth, but the stuff around us as well. granted, they’ll make valuable artifacts on ebay someday…but until that day comes, it’s garbage.

but what if it didn’t have to be.

what if, as a designer, we were able to design something for some other place, some other PLANET, that was useful by the time we got there. even if it was marginally useful. would that object still be garbage? if it was useful, then no. hell, if i was 300 million miles away and encountered something that made my life a little easier, then it definitely would not be garbage.

but what could that thing be?

which brings me to all the stuff i was learning about this place we had never been to before.

one thing the earth shares in common with mars is that it can get fairly windy.

i thought,

“what if we could take advantage of that natural resource as a source of energy?”

“what if we were given a second chance to start over and start fresh?”

“what if we could live somewhere and never, have to be dependent on a source of energy that was we difficult to find, collect, transport, refine, distribute, and when used, didn’t pollute the place we lived in?”

“what if the wind was plentiful enough for everyone to use?”

we all need energy, but at least with today’s technolgy, it doesn’t always have to require so much effort to get it.

what if one thing you designed could help not just you, but maybe the person next to you, or maybe everyone in the room with you, or everyone in your building by giving back to you a little bit of energy that was in great abundance, readily available, and was clean. all you needed was something to harness that energy.

for us on earth, i thought the wind was a good start. someone near / at the beach could benefit from a small-scale wind generator since unlike solar power, wind energy is available during the day and night. and if a group of people (i.e. a beach party, weekend holiday, car show) collectively had these small scale wind generators then their COLLECTIVE energy-harnessing efforts would, over time, actually be beneficial.

so i thought for some product to be like this, if were it to be used in more than one location, it had to be portable. safe, of course and maybe even had the ability to be unseen. i first thought of lowriders with their dancing beds and truck compartments jammed with stereo equipment. this is what inspired me for the lowrider fan concept.

now, it is true that the lowrider is a small community, in the realm of all things transportation related. but it’s environment isn’t negative:

and the lowrider culture is also something i can totally relate to. i had a neon that was all tricked out at when my hair wasn’t receding and my dad had a '57 chevy that “apparently” was able to snap your neck in 3 gears. a passion for transportation runs in my blood.

so, yeah, do some research. you might surprise yourself when you find that you have something in common with the subject at hand.

by designing something for the end user you have to “become” the end-user. and you can only really do that by learning who that end user is.

how you know what you know is a critical part of the design process…

just get familiar whatever it is you’d like to know and everything you need to know will come to you. you’ll find out stuff you didn’t know, may not want to know, and may even stuff that may cause you some discomfort. but at least you won’t be ignorant. it’s a fun part of the design process!

you’ve at least acknowledged an interest which is a great start, your mind is starting to open.

good luck!

Do a search on hispanic marketing, culture. This would be a good place to start:

Understanding the Hispanic Culture

Hispanic business

Hispanic & Asian Marketing Communication Research, Inc.
Cultural Sense Making Through Research and Consulting

Really great stuff! Thanks to everyone, this is all very, very helpful. Definately on the right track!!


Being an older Indiana farmboy, I’m as pastey-white as you are friend.

If you haven’t already had the opportunity (and I’m guessing you haven’t), try getting away from your cubicle for a while … as in, travel abroad.

I was fortunate to be able to do that (Venezuela, Columbia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, thirty-five of our fifty states) as a young designer and it certainly opened my mind.

Are you bi-lingual? … another method of mental expansion.

The next thing I would do if I were you is to remind yourself you are a professional. You should have the ability to objectively design to any market segment, from a 17-year-old Hispanic female living in a large metropolitan area to an 81-year-old Asian male living in Italy. Your subjective likes and dislikes don’t matter to the end user. This is important so I will repeat it, your subjective likes and dislikes don’t matter to the end user. Your ego should never be a part of your design, even if you are designing to your own demographic. How many of these products will you be purchasing? 1, 2? Not a whole lot of data points to base a decision. Very few organizations exist on making products for so few customers. Also, IMO, blaming making the almighty dollar is a bit cynical. I will give an example. I think all porcelain cat figurines are a waste of time and money. They are ugly, destined to a landfill and I would go as far as they are offensive to my tastes. But somebody out there gets great pleasure at viewing their porcelain cat figurine, as much as I enjoy looking at the sculptures I have acquired over the years. The person who loves the cats may very well hate my sculptures, and it really doesn’t matter either way, we are both happy. BTW, I could design the hell out of a porcelain cat figurine.