• Research Team
  • Co-ordinators
  • - Sharp, Helen
  • Researchers
  • - Blyth, Richard
  • - Woodroffe, Mark
  • - Lotz, Nicole
  • External Collaborators
  • - Ram, Ananth
  • - Dino, Rajah

Novice interaction design behaviour in different cultures

The Challenge

Designing interactive products for different cultures is challenging. While the need to design products for the target end user group is well-understood in HCI and Interaction Design, mistakes are still commonly made (e.g. Chavan et al, 2009). It is clear that cultural factors influence not just the design of the product itself (e.g. Moalosi et al, 2007) but also the definition of usability (Smith, 2007) and the process of design (e.g. Marsden et al, 2008; Blake, 2010).  This project has been funded by the Leverhulme trust.

Product Analysis

In a product analysis of designs in Botswana, Moalosi et al (2007) found that socio-cultural factors relating to materiality and social behaviour are not incorporated in local product designs. Patterns of cultural variations in design behaviour were identified in a comparative study of novices’ sketches of concepts of product designs (Razzaghi et al, 2009). While differences in design behaviour seem particularly pronounced in novice designers, studies on service design industries in different cultures revealed more similarities than differences (Candi & Saemundsson, 2008). This can be explained due to strong corporate culture. Good design includes explicating any underlying assumptions, but many of the most widely-used design approaches embed assumptions based on the developed world, which have not been questioned until recently.

Local Context

Understanding the local context is critical to success – for both the product and the process – but there is also a wealth of design knowledge and experience embedded in design approaches that is relevant in a range of contexts. So the question is how to identify and teach sound, relevant, contextually-appropriate design expertise when the most accepted approaches have inappropriate assumptions built in. Fendler and Winchiers-Theophilus (2010) have highlighted this issue in software engineering and propose a framework that challenges the notion of “universally transferable” education and takes account of specific software development contexts. This work emphasises that the way forward is not to take ‘western’ approaches and tailor them to developing nations, but to take a holistic view that examines a range of methods and knowledge to assess similarities, differences and local influential factors, while also acknowledging that the student is part of that same context. Our project will contribute to this approach, but focusing specifically on Interaction Design.

Project team

The project team brings together a unique combination of expertise and opportunity. The team will be led by Professor Helen Sharp, who chaired the development of M(YT)364 and is joint author of the Interaction Design textbook underpinning the module.




Dr Mark Woodroffe is joint author of User interface design and evaluation and has over 15 years of teaching the subject both at a distance and face-to-face; he has a strong, ongoing relationship with the partner college in Botswana.




Nicole Schadewitz specialises in researching design across cultures. She has published papers on how best educational practice in design can be identified and communicated using design patterns. She is co-investigator in JISC and European funded projects in design education.





Richard Blyth (the UK-based RA) has been tutoring M364 and working closely with Prof Sharp and Dr Woodroffe for 5 years. Until October 2007 Richard Blyth was Manager of BT Design Group, specialising in providing design, development and consultancy on user-centred design of BT’s products and services.




Ananth Ram is Education Manager at Botho College, where he has established links with the Tertiary Education Council of Botswana

Dino Rajah is a dedicated MYT364 tutor who has engaged with additional module duties such as exam marking. He has a Masters in Medical Science and has produced internal research publications on a range of topics within this field. In addition to his wide experience of Botho College students and tutors, he has enhanced his understanding of the subject and of relevant research approaches by applying his Interaction Design skills to the Electronic Medical Records systems area

Background For the past three years

the Department of Computing at the Open University has been partnering Botho College, Botswana to deliver a degree programme of Computing and its Practice. This programme includes the module MYT364 Fundamentals of Interaction Design which is concurrently delivered in the UK (as M364) using the same teaching materials.