When creating a user guide, manual, or the user interface for a product, how often do you think about that product working in the mountains of Nepal, the Altiplano of Bolivia, or the deserts of Nigeria? Research by Dr. Keshab Raj Acharya shows the importance of thinking of different users that may use your products in different environments across the world.
Usability for Social Justice: Exploring the Implementation of Localization Usability in Global North Technology in the Context of a Global South’s Country, published in the Journal of Writing and Technical Communication, analyzes users’ perceptions and experiences with biotechnology products in Kathmandu, Nepal with a focus on the importance of participatory localization, contextual design, and how technical communication practitioners can promote inclusivity by involving different people, environments, and situations in our design processes.
Dr. Acharya’s research surveyed employees at a private hospital in Kathmandu who regularly worked with sophisticated biotechnology products that were imported from countries across the world. Their research found that employees had several complaints about the usability of biotechnology products, their interfaces, and their overall adaptability to the environment in which they operated. Employees also had difficulty understanding manuals, which impacted their ability to solve problems and made it harder to treat patients. With products as important as those in the biotechnology field, it’s crucial for technical communicators and other practitioners to make sure that products are localized and can be used by different people in different settings. Applying this thinking to other products is also important to create inclusive products that do not prioritize certain users over others.
In particular, technical communication practitioners can apply these findings by expanding “the scope of the design process to include both users and contexts” and include settings and locations within user research. Along with this, focusing on promoting international collaboration and participatory localization should be emphasized when creating products for users should be a top priority for practitioners. By doing this, we can better include a wider array of “contextually situated sociotechnical components” in a product’s problem definition and systematically seek better solutions that strive towards social justice within the technical communication field. This can help ensure that all of our users are treated equally, are respected, and that we create products that promote inclusivity.
On a personal level, I believe that localization and internationalization is a crucial aspect to not only technical communication, but to any field that interacts or engages with people from across the world. As our global connections become closer every passing day, it’s especially important to create products and experiences that serve individuals no matter their location, language, or culture. This research made me realize that while there is definite progress within the field, there is still a lot of work to be done – a lot of which I hadn’t even considered. Keeping in mind the size of our world, the different people that use our products, and the different situations and environments they may be using those products in can help us create products that are truly usable for everyone. Expanding the user testing process to include participatory design and localization, as well as contextualized design, can assist in promoting inclusivity and social justice through technical communication and better serve our users.
Viewpoint Written by Talia Baeza-Chavez, Texas State University
Edited by Elena Ofenstein, Texas State University