affective design

Exploring Emotional Design

How Does Culture Affect What We Focus on?

With globalization, more products and services are being distributed to a global, multicultural audience. What kinds of adjustments need to be made to tailor these products to different cultures? Different cultures have different ways of processing the information they sense in the world. Recent studies have revealed that those raised in western cultures pay attention to different things than those raised in eastern cultures. A study in Medical News Today confirms that East Asians and Westerners process visual information in different ways. The study used fMRI technology to determine which brain regions were activated when subjects viewed various images.

East Asians are more likely to pay attention to the context and relationships in a picture than are Westerners, who more often notice physical features or groupings of similar subjects. Westerners were more attentive to central, or dominant, objects, while East Asians paid more attention to the background, or scene.

Similarly, researchers found that Japanese people look to the eyes for emotional cues, while Americans look primarily to the mouth. According to the researchers, Japanese people tend to suppress their emotions more than Americans.

In both cases, the difference in the focus of attention affects the emotions that are experienced. Common notions about the nature of each culture also support these distinctions. Eastern cultures have stereotypically tended to be more conformist and less open to emotional expression. Western cultures are stereotypically more focused on individuation and emotional expression.

In terms of design, some broad applications are suggested. Design for eastern cultures should take more notice of the contextual elements that work together to build the design. Design for western cultures should acknowledge that a central object will be the focus of attention, and make sure that object is fully realized. I’ll be keeping an eye out for products that confirm or refute these ideas, so feel free to send me some examples that go either way.

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