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style guide from bbc-global-experience-language

I recently had to do some research on style guides for websites and I came across some wonderful references. It is so generous of the designers to take the time to post their experiences and knowledge for the greater good of the design community. All I can say is thank you and here again I share them.

Anna Debenham is a freelance front-end developer and I put her link at the top as it is the most thorough article I found that discusses the different type of style guides that one might need to create.

The BBC’s online style guide is one of Anna’s favorite references and I can see why. It is so easy to digest the information.

And some others to check out;

And social media and some other types of style guides:

This is a very comprehensive checklist of website best practices.

(Courtesy of SEOMoz)

Check indexed pages

  • Do a site: search
  • How many pages are returned (this can be way off so don’t put too much stock in this)?
  • Is the homepage showing up as the first result?
  • If the homepage isn’t showing up as the first result, there could be issues, like a penalty or poor site architecture/internal linking, affecting the site.

Search for the brand and branded terms

  • Is the homepage showing up at the top, or are correct pages showing up.
  • If the proper pages aren’t showing up as the first result, there could be issues, like a penalty, in play.

Check Google’s cache for key pages

  • Is the content showing up?
  • Are navigation links present?
  • Are there links that aren’t visible on the site?

PRO Tip: Don’t forget to check the text only version of the cached page.


Homepage content

  • Does the homepage have at least one paragraph?

Landing pages

  • Do these pages have at least a few paragraphs?
  • Is it template text or is it completely unique?

Site contains real and substantial content

  • Is there real content on the site or is the “content” simply a list of links.

Proper keyword targeting

  • Is the intent right?
  • Are there pages targeting head terms, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords?

Keyword cannibalization

  • Do a site: search Google for important keyword phrases.
  • Check for duplicate content/page titles in the SEOmoz Pro Campaign App.


  • Is the content formatted well and easy to read quickly?
  • Are H tags used?
  • Are images used?
  • Is the text broken down into easy to read paragraphs?

Good Headlines on Blog Posts

  • Good headlines go a long way. Make sure the headlines are well written and draw users in.

Amount of content v ads

  • Since the implementation of Panda, the amount of ad-space on a page has become important to evaluate.
  • Make sure there is significant unique content above the fold.
  • If you have more ads than unique content, you are probably going to have a problem.

Additional Reading:

How to Write Magnetic Headlines

SEO Copywriting Tips for Improved Link Building 

The Ultimate Blogger Writing Guide 

Tips to Earn Links and Tweets to Your Blog Post

Duplicate Content

There should be one URL for each piece of content

  • Do URLs include parameters or tracking code – This will result in multiple URLs for a piece of content.
  • Does the same content reside on completely different URLs?

Pro Tip:Exclude common parameters, such as those used to designate tracking code, in Google Webmaster Tools. Read more at Search Engine Land.

Do a search to check for duplicate content

  • Take a content snippet, put it in quotes and search for it.
  • Does the content show up elsewhere on the domain?
  • Has it been scraped? – If the content has been scraped, you should file a content removal request with Google.

Sub-domain duplicate content

  • Does the same content exist on different sub-domains?

Check for a secure version of the site

  • Does the content exist on a secure version of the site?

Check other sites owned by the company

  • Is the content replicated on other domains owned by the company?


Check the robots.txt

  • Has the entire site, or important content been blocked? Is link equity being orphaned due to pages being blocked via the robots.txt?

Turn off JavaScript, cookies, and CSS

Now change your user agent to Googlebot.

PRO Tip:Use SEO Browser to do a quick spot check.

Check the SEOmoz PRO Campaign

  • Check for 4xx errors and 5xx errors.

Site Architecture


  • Are category pages set up in the appropriate way to flow link equity to key pages?

Landing pages

  • Do they have landing pages high enough in the architecture to receive enough link equity to compete for competitive terms?

Number of category pages

  • How many category pages are there?
  • Have they been scaled out too much?
  • Category pages should be built out only when there is enough demand for new or sub category pages.

Pagination/Faceted Navigation

  • Is pagination or faceted navigation more appropriate? Or, should they be used in tandem?
  • Does pagination exist to help long tail content get indexed?
  • Is the pagination prohibitive to crawling (uses JavaScript).

Number of clicks to content

  • Pages targeting really competitive head terms should be one or two clicks from the homepage.
  • Pages targeting moderately competitive keywords should be 2 or three clicks from the homepage.
  • Pages targeting the long tail should be 5 clicks away (obviously exceptions must be made here for sites with a ton of content).

Prioritized content

  • Most important content should be higher up in the pagination

Additional Reading:

Successful Site Architecture for SEO

The SEO Guide to Site Architecture

Information Architecture and Faceted Navigation

Technical Issues

Proper use of 301’s

  • Are 301’s being used for all redirects?
  • If the root is being directed to a landing page, are they using a 301 instead of a 302?
  • Use Live HTTP Headers FireFox plugin to check 301s.

Use of JavaScript

  • Is content being served in JavaScript?
  • Are links being served in JavaScript? Is this to do PR sculpting or is it accidental?

Use of iframes

  • Is content being pulled in via iframes?

Use of Flash

  • Is the entire site done in flash, or is flash used sparingly in a way that doesn’t hinder crawling?

PRO Tip:Flash is like garlic. A little bit of garlic in your food can make it taste better. Eating a plate full of garlic would be quite terrible. Likewise, Flash can be added to a site in a way that improves the user’s experience, but creating the entire site in flash is not a good idea.

Site Speed

Alt text

  • Is alt text present?
  • Does the alt text use keyword phrases?
  • Does the alt text reinforce the topical themes presented in the content?

Check for Errors in Google Webmaster Tools

  • Google WMT will give you a good list of technical problems showing up on your site that they are encountering (such as: 4xx and 5xx errors, inaccessible pages in the XML sitemap, and soft 404’s)

XML Sitemaps

  • Are XML sitemaps in place?
  • Are XML sitemaps covering for poor site architecture?
  • Are XML sitemaps structured to show indexation problems?
  • Do the sitemaps follow proper XML protocols?


Canonical version of the site established through 301’s

Canonical version of site is specified in Google Webmaster Tools

Rel canonical link tag is properly implemented across the site

Uses absolute URLs instead of relative URLs

  • This can cause a lot of problems if you have a root domain with secure sections.


Clean URLs

  • No excessive parameters or session ID’s
  • URLs exposed to search engines should be static.

Short URLs

  • 115 characters or shorter – this character limit isn’t set in stone, but shorter URLs are better for usability.

Descriptive URLs

  • Get your primary keyword phrase in there.

Additional Reading:

Best Practices for URLs

URL Rewriting Tool

mod_rewrite Cheat Sheet

Creating 301 Redirects With .htaccess

Internal Linking

Number of links on a page

Vertical Links

  • Homepage links to category pages.
  • Category pages link to sub-category and product pages as appropriate.
  • Product pages link to relevant category pages.

Horizontal Links

  • Category pages link to other relevant category pages.
  • Product pages link to other relevant product pages.

Links are in content

  • Does not utilize massive blocks of links stuck in the content to do internal linking.

Footer links

  • Does not use a block of footer links instead of proper navigation.
  • Does not link to landing pages with optimized anchors.

Good internal anchor text

Check for broken links

  • Link Checker and Xenu are good tools for this.

Additional Reading:

Importance of Internal Linking

Internal Linking Tactics

Using Anchor Links to Make Google Ignore The First Link

Title Tags

Unique title tags

  • Every page should have a unique title tag.

Keyword rich

  • Pages should contain the primary keyword phrase.
  • Is possible to use the secondary keyword phrase in a non spammy way?

Primary keyword phrase at the beginning of the title tag

Page titles include branding

  • In most cases the brand should be included at the end of the page title to help build a brand or entice users if you are a well known brand

65 – 70 characters in length

  • If the title is longer than this, the entirety will not be displayed in the SERPs.

Have they been keyword stuffed by someone else?

Meta Tags

Meta keywords tag used

  • This data should be removed as competitors can scrape this data.

Meta description is appropriate

  • Each page has a unique meta description.
  • Meta descriptions are representative of the content and entice users.

Rewrite meta descriptions for key pages

  • For key landing pages, write meta descriptions by hand instead of systemically implementing.

Meta robots tag

  • Noindex pages only appropriate pages.
  • Not blocking important pages.

Product pages for e-commerce websites are often rife with ambitions: recreate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, provide users with every last drop of product information, build a brand persona, establish a seamless check-out process.

As the “strong link in any conversion,” product pages have so much potential. We can create user-centric descriptions and layouts that are downright appropriate in their effectiveness: as Erin Kissane says, “offering [users] precisely what they need, exactly when they need it, and in just the right form.”

Beyond that, a user-centered creation process for product pages can help brand the information as well as reduce the content clutter that so often bogs down retail websites.

User-centric product copy garners positive results because it anticipates the user’s immediate reaction. As Dr. Timo Saari and Dr. Marko Turpeinen, authors of “Towards Psychological Customization of Information for Individuals and Social Groups” suggest, individual differences in processing information implicates dramatic variances in type and/or intensity of psychological effects, such as positive emotion, persuasion, and depth of learning (2).

We can describe products in various ways. Highlighting certain aspects of a product will elicit different reactions from various users. Gearing product descriptions to a particular audience encourages those users to effectively process the information, heightens persuasion, and increases the potential to predict what the users want (but didn’t know they needed). The effort required of user-centric product descriptions demands that we understand how certain descriptors, contexts and inclusions of details affect the target user, and that we then put our discoveries into action.

This article offers a user-centric guide to producing product pages and provides examples of successful e-commerce websites that present user-centric approaches to product page descriptions and layouts.

[Editor’s note: Have you already got your copy of our Printed Smashing Book #2? The book covers best practices and techniques for professional Web designers and developers.]

Get To Know Your User

Approaching product page description and layout from a user-centric perspective demands that we have a rich understanding of the target user. As Saari and Turpeinen suggest, Web customization starts with some type of model, be it individual, group or community. With your user models in place, you can best assess what they need and how to write for them.

In her book Letting Go of the Words, Web usability expert Janice Redish suggests these strategies for getting to know your target user:

Scope the email responses that come through the website’s “Contact Us” form and other feedback links. Consider the profiles of the senders. You can discover commonalities in lifestyle, technological capability, education level and communication preference through these channels.

Talk to the customer service or marketing employees at your company. Don’t approach them with a broad demand to describe the typical client. Rather, ask questions about their interactions with clients. Who is calling in? Who is stopping by the office? What queries and complaints are common?

Offer short questionnaires to visitors to the website. Redish suggests asking people “a few questions about themselves, why they came to the site, and whether they were successful in finding what they came for.”

If possible, acquire a sense of the client simply by observing the people who walk through the front doors of the business. This is a great way to pick up on key phrases, jargon, emotional behavior and demographics.

Once you’re able to confidently brainstorm the major characteristics of your target user or group, then developing the models to guide the writing process comes next.

Keep in mind that gathering and compiling this information can take as little or as big an investment of time and money as you (or the client) can afford and still be effective. As Leonard Souza recently noted, even stopping in a nearby coffee shop to engage five to ten people in your target demographic can yield useful insight. With a bit of flexibility, you can find learning opportunities that are convenient and on the cheap.

The models created from your user research can be fashioned into personas, which Souza describes as “tools for creating empathy among everyone in the project.” Use personas to guide user-centric copywriting by establishing very specific user goals and preferences.

A persona is a fictional person amalgamated from the characteristics of your target user. You can get creative here with the persona’s name and image, but not too creative. The persona must be mindfully constructed according to the age, education, family status and other personal details culled from your research.

Now that you have a persona to please as you construct a product description and layout hierarchy, staying user-centric is that much easier. Take a look at the product description from Lululemon, a British Columbia-based yoga-wear retailer:

Product description from

The product description assumes that the reader knows a specific set of jargon: How many non-yoga participants would know what downward-dog means? Or “pipes”, as the “Key Features” section refers to arms? This content drives right to the needs and preferences of a very specific user. She wants warmth (four of the “Key Features” note the thermal quality of the product), convenience (pre-shrunk fabric, easy layering), and motivation for an active lifestyle (she recognizes the yoga jargon and enjoys giving her “pipes some air time”).

A rich understanding of the user has made this product page effective and delightfully specific to both the user and the brand.

Master S.M.A.R.T. Content and Layout

Without specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and trackable user goals driving the copy on the product page, the information will sag. I draw here from Dickson Fong’s enlightening article “The S.M.A.R.T. User Experience Strategy“ to suggest that care should be taken to develop user goals that guide the writing process for product pages.

The S.M.A.R.T. formula will keep you on track as you plot out product details and decide what descriptive angle to use.

Fong provides an excellent user goal for a product page: “I want to learn more about this product’s design, features and specifications to determine whether it fits my budget, needs and preferences.”

This will help you create a checklist when assessing what to present first and what to offer as optional information when structuring the layout of the page (more about that in the “Create Information Hierarchies” section below). It provides direction when you’re writing content and helps you focus on the benefits to the user. And as Darlene Maciuba-Koppel suggests in The Web Writer’s Guide, “In copywriting, your end goal is to sell benefits, not products, in your copy.”

For users, benefits and accomplished goals go hand in hand. A product that doesn’t fit their budget, needs or preferences offers them little benefit. So, in order for S.M.A.R.T. goal-driven product pages to serve user-centric purposes, the text must follow suit. Fong suggests presenting relevant content details that are specific to the consumer of that product type.

Let’s take Fong’s S.M.A.R.T. user goal for product pages and assess the specifications at play on the following two pages from Dell:

Product page for Alienware on

Featured on Alienware, Dell’s computer subsidiary for high-performance gaming, the description for this desktop computer has been tailored to the primary browsing goal of a very specific user. The needs and preferences of the user have already been predicted in the bullet-point outline, highlighting optimum graphics and top-notch liquid-cooling capabilities, thus harmonizing the checklist of features with a checklist of benefits for the user. A number of the product’s features could have been highlighted, but for optimal ease, the specifics most likely to help the user accomplish their goals are featured.

With the next Dell desktop computer, another goal of the target user is covered in the description:

Product page description for Inspiron 570 on

With a noticeable absence of technical details and a heavy emphasis on product personalization, this description plays to a user with very different needs than the Alienware shopper’s. Even the tabs have been re-arranged to best meet the user’s goals. The Inspiron 570 page shows “Customer ratings” as the first tab, while the Alienware page offers “Design” first and then “Tech specs.”

These decisions are all geared to accomplishing very specific user goals: find the required information and assess the benefits.

  • Use Personal Pronouns
  • Consider again Dell’s description of its Inspiron 570:
  • Make It Yours

The Inspiron 570 desktop is everything you want and nothing you don’t. Available in vibrant colors, so you can complement your style or stand out from the crowd. Plus, you can build your desktop according to your needs with a choice of multiple AMD processors and NVIDIA ATI graphics cards as well as other customizable features. So whether you are surfing the Web, emailing friends and family, downloading music and photos or blogging about it all, the Inspiron 570 desktop can handle it.

Your wants, your style, your needs, your friends and your Internet past-times. Including the title, eight instances of “you” or “your” turn up in this 86-word segment!

Personal pronouns in product descriptions are perfectly appropriate and quite effective at engaging users, because, as Redish states, “People are much more likely to take in [messages] if you write with ‘you’ because they can see themselves in the text.”

With Dell’s content, the personal pronouns target a specific user (one who is savvy enough to download music and email and who is interested in customization and feeling unique), while also managing a broad gender appeal.

Outdoor equipment retailer REI employs personal pronouns in its online product descriptions, creating dynamic scenarios aimed at a specific user:

Product description for

The description asserts that this canoe will help you navigate a waterway that “you’ve recently noticed,” anticipating a specific user reality (or dream).

The product showcase is devoted to the user’s needs and showing how the user will benefit from purchasing the canoe. Using “you” is the clearest and most direct way for this retailer to grab the user’s attention and to convince them, at any time of the year, that this canoe is the right buy.

Angie King backs this up in her article “Personal Pronouns: It’s Okay to Own Your Web Copy.” She suggests that using first- and second-person pronouns helps users connect with the content, and “reflect[s] the way real people write and speak,” fostering an immediate connection.

For a product description to speak directly to a specific user or group, the “you’s” should flow freely.

Use Information Hierarchies

Adopting a user-centric approach to the layout and copy of product pages helps you tackle the challenge articulated by Kean Richmond: “How do you cram so much information into a single Web page?”

In addition to technical specifications, shipping information, item details and preference options (and don’t forget that compelling product description), product pages must also list every describable service that the product performs for its user, including customer benefits (as Darlene Maciuba-Koppel explains, too).

By all means, provide the user with every last detail possible. Answer every conceivable question, or make the answer visible for discovery. Do so with information hierarchies that are based on a rich understanding of targeted users. This will keep each page tidy and drive users to complete your business goals.

In a structure in which, as Kean Richmond states, “all the important information is at the top and [the rest] flows naturally down the page,” details that might not be a top priority for the target user can be tucked into optional tabs or presented at the bottom of the page. The key is to gauge the structure of the page with the sensibilities of the targeted user in mind.

Look At User Context

Here’s where you become a mind-reader of sorts. Erin Kissane points to the approach of content strategist Daniel Eizan in understanding what specific users need to see on the page in order to be drawn into the information. Eizan looks at the user’s context to gauge their Web-browsing behaviors. Eizan asks, What are they doing? How are they feeling? What are they capable of?

Establishing user context aids in planning an information hierarchy, and it is demonstrated by small and large e-retailers. On the big-box side, we have Walmart:

By making the price and product name (including the unit number per order) immediately visible, Walmart has anticipated a possible user context. A Walmart visitor searching for granola bars has perhaps purchased the product before. With the unit price made visible, perhaps the anticipated user is judging the product based on whether this box size will suffice.

Details such as “Item description” and “Specifications” are options that are convenient to the user who is making a large order of a familiar product.

The user’s context shapes the hierarchy: the user seeks a quick calculation of units per product versus price. The targeted user does not immediately need an ingredients list, allergy information or a description of the flavor. But if they do, they are available in a neat options-based format.

Walmart has built its reputation on “Everyday low prices,” and the brick-and-mortar philosophy has crossed over to its website. Walmart anticipates users who have some familiarity with its products and who have expectations of certain price points. These factors play into the information hierarchy across the website.

Now look at the product page of a different kind of retailer, nutrition bar manufacturer Larabar:

Cashew Cookie product page from

Here is an online presentation of a retail product that is similar to Walmart’s Nature Valley granola bar (though some might argue otherwise).¬†However, the information hierarchy clearly speaks to a different user — a specific user, one who might be looking for gluten-free snack foods or a vegan protein solution. The Larabar user’s context is much less urgent than the Walmart user’s. The product page does not reveal pricing or unit number. Ingredients are visible here, with simple images that (when scrolled over) provide additional nutritional information.

The anticipated user has more time to peruse, to browse several varieties of product, and to read the delightful descriptions that help them imagine the tastes and textures of the bars.

This user might be very much like the targeted Walmart user but is likely visiting the Larabar website in a different context. This product page offers more immediate information on nutrition and taste, selling to a user who is perhaps hunting for a solution to a dietary restriction or for a healthy snack alternative.

However, the red-boxed “Buy Now” is positioned in a memorable, convenient spot on the page, leaving no guessing for the user, who, after reading a description of this healthy bar full of “rich and creamy flavor,” will likely click it to find out the purchasing options.

With these two pages for (arguably) similar products, we see two completely different ways to structure product details.

Both are effective — for their targeted users. A person seeking gluten-free snacks for a camping trip might be frustrated having to search through the hundreds of granola bar options on Walmart’s website. But they wouldn’t be going there in the first place; they would use a search engine and would find Larabar.

Information hierarchy solves the content-overload challenge that can overshadow the process of constructing a product page, and it is an opportunity to bolster user-centric copy and layout. As mentioned, the key is to gauge the user’s context.


While a user-centric consideration of product pages is not the only way to go, it does provide a focused approach that has appeared to be effective for some pretty successful e-commerce players. Consistency in product pages is key, especially when building a brand’s presence; a reliable guide can ease the writing process. The user-centric method does require some primary research, but this lays a sturdy foundation by which to gauge every bit of content on the page according to how it benefits the user.

As Maciuba-Koppel says, as a content writer or designer, your goal should not be to sell products, but to sell benefits.
(courtesy of Smashing Magazine) How User Experience Research Can Improve
Site Functionality and Drive More Traffic

by Megan Finaly | UX Designer
December 2011 is a national organization that helps people in need find social services. This nonprofit is well positioned to be able to better serve its target audiences with some simple modifications to the design and navigation of its website. New immigrants represent a growing segment of 211’s users; changes to the website could address the different ways these immigrants are used to interacting with technology.

The rapid diffusion and adoption of internet and cell phone usage around the world has made them both indispensable tools. And now with the use of smartphones and widely available access to the web via wi-fi and computers at libraries, is positioned to serve even more people in need. 211 could even increase the number of users of its website dramatically and introduce relevant, targeted advertising. Based on ethnographic observations, surveys, and contextual interviews, this report provides some recommendations.


Using the Rapid Contextual Design approach, by Holtzblatt, Wendell, & Wood (2005) along with data received from the 211 office, I evaluated how people are currently using Then I chose a subset of what I believe should be 211’s key users: immigrants, specifically Nepali immigrants in King County and I observed how they live with technology. I met with twenty Nepalis and contextually interviewed five. Using my laptop and SurveyMonkey I asked nine questions about their gender, age, employment, living situation,  social networking tools, and how they get help, both in Nepal and in the U.S. This method created an atmosphere that encouraged the interviewees to talk more openly and to elaborate on the questions that were asked in the survey.

There are many factors to consider that were outside the scope of my research, such as;  an indepth study of cultural differences in perception, aesthetics, and interpretation, cultivating trust and acceptance through use of design elements (alignment, proximity, repetition, contrast, color palette). This report does not cover the process for translating and managing the localization of content.  However my study of these cultural differences and similarities (1995, Hoft. 2010, Hofstede) did provide guidance for the redesign of

I did a task analysis of the current site with three female participants aged 17-29 years old. Using a paper prototype translated in to Nepali, they were asked to locate the Kent Food Bank & Emergency Services, which is where we conducted the test. The results are discussed on page three.

As found by Gould, “countries can be grouped together in useful typologies–democratic, socialist, authoritarian, and so forth. Within cultures, individuals cover a wide spectrum of belief and behavior but, in the aggregate, they cluster together and these clusters display a surprising amount of stability. Cultural anthropology can provide useful insights into designing interfaces for specific countries, but theories from the field of intercultural communication are generally better for culturally diverse audiences. Most designers do not have the mandate to develop entirely different products for each national or ethnic market. Intercultural communication theory makes it possible for them to focus on a few crucial variations” (2005, Gould).

With research using a model of culture, designers can identify;

•  Global information that can be put into the interface without requiring future translation.
•  Cultural bias in the existing site.
•  Parts of the site that should be localized for a specific culture.
•  Compelling cultural metaphors and cultural markers (2005, Aykin. 1995, Hoft.)


In 2010, 2-1-1 services in the United States answered more than 16.4 million calls. 211 is an umbrella group that connects people to local groups in their county.  They provide quick and easy access to information for those relocating to a new community and not settled into their new residences. Services include help finding food, housing, employment or money to pay electric bills. The last major redesign of was done in April of 2009. Very little research is currently available on the site’s target audiences, personas or task flows.

The United States has the fifth largest population of Nepalis outside of Nepal. There are 110,616 Nepali immigrants living in the United States.  They share common language and culture with main stream Nepal. As of June 20, 2010, 27,926 Nepali-Bhutanese have been resettled in the USA. It is estimated that around 50,000 of the current worldwide Bhutanese refugees will eventually be in U.S. There are over 2,000 Nepalis living in the King County area. (2011, Wikipedia).

Audience Analysis: Nepali Immigrants 

Nepali people have a basic distrust of information that does not come from known sources such as from friends or family.  Nepali people come from a very tight culture meaning they “have many strong norms and a low tolerance of deviant behavior,” while “loose” cultures “have weak social norms and a high tolerance of deviant behavior”.  The neighboring country of Pakistan is the “tightest” nation which Gelfand sampled (2011, Gelfand).

The Nepali people have a collectivist mindset and a high context culture. Their nature is towards interdependence as opposed to the Americans who tend to be more independent in thought and action.  Along with the language barrier and difficulty understanding the American accents, this hesitancy makes it difficult for Nepalis to attain the basic services they need to thrive in their new country.

A survey done in 2010 in Kathmandu, found that 44.85 percent Nepali consumers were cheated due to their lack of awareness, and 39.83 percent have been victim of illegal activities. They come from a culture where crimes and injustices are rarely reported and therefore feel it is best to rely on recommendations from friends and family. (2011, Shreshta)

All of the people I interviewed did not have a laptop when they came to the U.S. All but two interviewees did not know about public access to computers at libraries. In 2005, there were 7 computers or laptops for every 100 people in the U.S. whereas in Nepal there were .48 computers or laptops for every 100 Nepalis (2011, Wikipedia). Instead, the vast majority of Nepali immigrants rely on their cell phone to stay connected and to get referrals for basic needs.

Many non-profits in the U.S. are not allowed to help illegal immigrants so this alienates them further. The organizations that the interviewees mentioned the most were Refuge Women’s Alliance,  Asian Counseling and Referral Service,, and

Nepali Findings;

It was apparent that the difference between American and Nepali cultures was creating a barrier to Nepali people finding and using

Common Body of Knowledge
Knowing a country or culture’s common body of knowledge can be useful information when determining for example what to expect of internet users from that country. In the case of Nepalis, only one of the interview participants knew about, while all participants knew about 911. Two of the people I interviewed had used the library for accessing the internet. All of the interviewees listed Facebook as their first choice for the social networking site that they use the most.

Language and Literacy
Not all Nepalis were comfortable writing or reading Nepali since some of them did not complete their elementary schooling. It was explained to me also that the style of Nepali writing prevalent online is more formal than many of the immigrants were comfortable with in terms of reading and comprehending.

Technology and Computer Literacy
Regarding the results of the three paper prototype participants in locating the Kent Food Bank & Emergency Services, all three were unsuccessful. All had to use the back button and it was apparent they were not confident in their choices and were guessing.  Three of the interviewees had trouble understanding the meaning behind certain button functions such as “apply” or “submit” which caused them to hesitate. The same three also did not understand how to implement a multi-step search function that invovled choosing between two radio buttons and typing in a keyword. The sign in option was confusing for one participant who thought she had to sign in to use the search tool.

While this question was not in the survey, I noticed that most of the men had cell phones with text messaging, and a very few had smart phones that allowed for internet browsing. Most of the women had cell phones with text msging, but not smart phones. Nepalis aged 18 and younger were much more comfortable using the internet to get information or for social networking. Men spent more time on the computer (surfing the web, paying bills) than women.

The Nepali culture is a high-context culture which revolves around personal contacts and, as the internet is a relatively impersonal medium, attempts to automate processes and transactions are not likely to be well received” (1998, Samiee). Based on  Hall’s constructs (monochromic and polychromic, doing one thing at a time versus many things; proxemics, social use of space and context) in high-context societies, a message’s actual text is secondary.  This is the case with the Nepali people where they rely heavily on visual cues and photos. While in the U.S. a  low-context society, the information is explicitly expressed in the text of the message.

According to Gould, “the ‘architecture’ of a web page may differ in terms of color, mass, and balance between verbal and visual elements. Many American web sites currently sport subdued hues, arrange content in explicit hierarchies of indentation, and emphasize text over graphics. Web sites from other countries appear visually striking if they upset American expectations by using vivid colors, an asymmetric arrangement, or more graphics than text. Appropriate content may also vary. Text that lacks formal historical grounding will be unpersuasive to people who rely on tradition to justify their actions. Moreover, presentation and content may interact. Pictures that are read individually in one country can become part of an unintentional collage of meaning in another.” (2005, Gould)

What changes could be made to the site to cross the cultural divide? 

According to the Global Web Index (2011), more people are coming to trust online reviews, forums, and social media such as Blog Author and Consumer Review Online.  How does and its information fit into the lives of immigrants? It could become the virtual gateway for guiding immigrants through the United States’ infrastructure and ultimately could speed their adaptation to the American culture. According to research done by Nancy Hoft, localization helps overcome inherent resistance by making the interface secondary (hidden) to the user’s task of locating information or a service (1995, Hoft). Non-profits such as IRC and World Relief have an advantage here because they are recognised entities with existing offline and online relationships.

How to Drive More Traffic

I believe we can introduce a more entrepreneurial mindset to the non-profit arena. Any group that has a steady flow of users or that has built up a critical mass has created a ‘market’ just like any retail business. It is from this foundation that the directors of non-profits should be moving aggressively to help their customers in new and innovative ways. I don’t believe that these more corporate-like objectives weaken their potential impact on 211 as an organization. As the real estate motto has been “Location, location, location!” the internet motto is now “Information, information, information”, not just regurgitated reports or contact information, but current information about what services non-profits are providing. For example, which shelter has beds available tonight, which pantry is serving hot food, or where can I find a weekend job doing labor, child care or catering?

Please view online at:  The comp for the Nepali language page is in English for the purpose of understanding content and functionality.

Now that many non profit website use Twitter, WordPress or other Content Management Systems, could request RSS feeds or Tweets that publish regularly updated information from the various non profits. With a combination of fresh information and improved search engine optimization, could dramatically increase its traffic and eventually add some advertisements deeper in the architecture of their site which could bring in some revenue for the organization. Non-profits such as the International Rescue Committee (which has been in existence for 75 years) and World Relief have the resources and connections to develop rich content.

Suggested Site Changes

1) The biggest change would be to allow users to choose their language preference by creating a gateway page with all the main languages used by King County’s immigrant population (Spanish, Somalian, Bhutanese, Iraqi, Japanese, Chinese, Nepali, Ethiopian, Korean) From here each page can make culturally appropriate adjustment to icons, color, spacing, photo usage and so on.  Once the site switches to their native language, the primary difference would be that the search and navigation functions would be in their native language while much of the content would remain in English unless it is coming, for example, from a Nepali source.

2) Remove all competing nonprofit logos and branding except 211. 211 needs to build trust by showing a solid, singular and unified brand.

3) Create supplement visuals to the existing logo that explains what 211 delivers: 211 = (3 small icons –> icon of a bed, icon representing food such as a bowl of rice or a plate with knife and fork, icon of a worker or of two heads talking to each other). Just as we rely on the envelope icon to tell us that is the link to email and the red cross represents medical help, 211 can create icons that are more universally understood.

4) Drilling down to the Nepalese 211 homepage for King County, I would suggest adding audio recordings for directions on using the search tools.

5) The search tools should offer two main paths or tabs along with a permanent search box in the upper right of page;

• A to Z non-profit listing with the group’s logo for using as a visual cue
• Browse Topics options which would use the latin based A-Z alphabet

6) If possible, I would add the Devanagari-based (alphabet) translation to those non-profits that serve the Nepali or Sherpa community. The Devanagari will catch their eye and will be easier to scan the pages. Also previous users can tell their friends to look for the Devanagari on the page.


The United States with the cooperation of the government and non-profits could set the tone for how we welcome a diverse workforce, whether they start out unskilled or bring with them the skills we seek. The new global population seems to care less about their country of residence and more about the quality of their lives. I found that the Nepali people have an extremely strong work ethic, rarely get sick and would be an asset to any economy. Just as we created Foreign Service diplomats and trained them to work effectively overseas, the website should serve as the gateway to immigrants to the United States.

As stated by an Indian entrepreneur, Shibulal (2011), ‘We must remember that the consequences of economic disparity will not leave us alone. It will catch up with us through rising crime rates, violence, vandalism, social unrest and other desperate measures. The true success of Bangalore, lies not only in fuelling the dreams of visionaries but also fulfilling its responsibility to give hope to the underprivileged. This is where each one of us has to fulfill our unwritten social contract — to give back to the society in which we operate.’ The same applies to Seattle and the greater area. With the growing and ongoing economic downturn, there are a large number of not only Americans, but also immigrants who are in need of these services, yet are unaware of 211 and

References Caller Data for the month of July. pdf. 2011.

Aykin, Nuray. Usability and internationalization of information technology. 2005.

Easterling, Dana interview. 211 Manager. King County. 2011.

Gelfand Ph. D., Michele and colleagues,  Differences Between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study. May 2011 issue of      Science Magazine (

Hartley, Melissa interview. Partners For Our Children. 2011.

Hoft, Nancy L. International Technical Communication: How to Export Information about High Technology. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 1995.

Holtzblatt, Karen,  Burns Wendell, Jessamyn, Wood, Shelley. Rapid Contextual Design. 2005.

Hofstede, Geert, Hofstede, Gert Jan, Minkov, Michael. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. 2010.

Samiee, Saeed. Exporting and the Internet: a conceptual perspective. International Marketing Review, Vol. 15 Iss: 5, 1998.

Sherpa, Dawa interview. Asian Counseling and Referral Service. 2011.

Shresta, Ramesh. Consumer Survey in Kathmandu Valley. in-Kathmandu-Valley/341565/ . 2011.

Smith. celebrate-that/ (Dec 2011)

Shibulal. community . Bangalore: Hi-Tech city must meet needs of its lowest deck. 2011.

The Influence of High- and Low-Context Communication Styles On the Design, Content, and Language of Business-To-Business Web Sites. 2010.

Khan, Razib. 2011 Loose vs. tight societies

The foundation of our project is set in the exploration of differences between the United States and Japan. Keying off the “Onion Model” outlined in the Hofstede reading, we zeroed in on the heroes layer and identified a representative archetype for both countries: the cowboy for the United States, and the samurai for Japan. We examine these icons under the lenses of individualism, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. In an effort to draw out the differences along these dimensions, we’ve portrayed three pairs of contrasting scenes from the lives of both a cowboy and a samurai.

Hofstede defines heroes as “persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture and thus serve as models for behavior.”

Our study of the archetypes of cowboys and samurai helped us to understand and appreciate some of the significant cultural differences between the United States and Japan through the behavior of their heroes.