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Product & Engineering

Designing for Culture at Duo

This article is part of a series of posts produced by the Duo interns, highlighting their experiences and the projects they worked on this summer. And be sure to check out our open internship positions.

For every native speaker of English in the world, there are twice as many non-native speakers, meaning English is their second, third, or even fourth language! As an avid learner and lover of culture and language, I was intrigued when I learned this fact. The world continues to expand and connect more every day, and with that expansion comes the spread of many different languages and cultures.

Consequently, a common misconception for many people is that everyone has a basic understanding of English and feels completely comfortable using it. However, this simply is not the case; everyone has a different comfort level, and some may not feel comfortable using English at all. As a result, the importance of localization and translation has never been clearer.

My intern project last summer was to localize and prepare the Duo Device Health Application (DHA) for translation. The intention was to create a better experience for non-US/non-English speaking users. As part of my project, I learned a great deal about cross-cultural design, internationalization, and localization. Throughout the process of learning more about these topics, I also gained a better understanding and a deeper appreciation of Duo’s culture. I’d like to share more about what is involved in localization, as well as my journey in connecting with Duo’s culture!

What is cross-cultural design?

Since its popularization in the mid 1990s, the web has globalized, meaning that more people and more devices are coming online around the world. Of course, the influx of people from around the world has also brought about various cultural and linguistic expectations.

Unfortunately, designers and developers often assume that users are from WEIRD (westernized, educated, industrialized, rich, developed) nations and speak English. While this may be a natural assumption initially, it’s important to recognize that users come from all over the world and speak many different languages other than English.

Cross-cultural design is a framework that addresses this idea of an ever-evolving global audience. It’s a way to navigate product design with empathy and respect for our incredibly diverse web. This framework can be broken down into several guiding principles, some of which include consideration for internationalization and localization, cultural aesthetics, and cultural dimensions such as individualism vs. collectivism.

When thinking about cultural aesthetics, consider this example: research has shown that Japanese web pages that are densely packed with information are considered aesthetically pleasing. However, English web pages are considered more aesthetically pleasing when information is spaced out.

The news section of the Japanese version of the Cisco website features very little space between articles and minimal padding within each article box.

The news section of the English version of the Cisco website features more space between articles, and extra padding within each article box.

Furthermore, when thinking about individualism vs. collectivism, consider this example: results from a research study reveal that Turkish users often prefer phone contacts to be structured by in-group connections. In other words, Turkish users prefer to see their contacts grouped by family members, friends, schoolmates, and others. Contrastingly, Turkish users did not prefer a list of individual contacts, as members of an individualistic society may.

In both cases, effective cross-cultural design involves crafting solutions that put the needs and preferences of people first. 

What is the Device Health Application and how does it fit into cross-cultural design?

As an intern on the Endpoint Health team last summer, my project was to begin localization of the DHA. For those unfamiliar, the DHA is a desktop application that performs health checks on a device during authentication. It checks if your operating system is up to date, if you have a system password set, and if you have disk encryption and a firewall turned on.

Previously, the DHA was only available in English due to hard-coded strings throughout the codebase. My project involved extracting those static strings and formatting them so that they could be easily translated into other languages. For macOS, I compiled all the static strings in a separate file and formatted the strings using the NSLocalizedString function. This function allows you to add a comment to explain the context of the string, which is helpful for translation. A similar approach was taken for the Windows application.

After I completed my project, the DHA had no more hard-coded strings, and was ready for translation into all the Priority 1 languages.

The main intent behind this project was to create a better experience for non-US/non-English speaking users. After all, one of Duo’s main goals is to democratize security for all, not just one type of user! This project was just one way of being intentional about creating a better experience for end users, which sets Duo apart.

How learning about cross-cultural design and my localization project helped me feel more connected to Duo’s culture

While learning about cross-cultural design and working through the DHA localization project, I came to understand and feel more connected to Duo’s culture. Duo’s culture is remarkably well-defined and engrained into our identities as Duonauts, and I believe our culture is an incredible asset.

For example, the principle of learning together is something I certainly experienced last summer. As a new intern, I knew very little about the Swift programming language that is used for macOS application development. However, my mentor, Dave Gross, worked closely with me to teach me fundamental concepts in Swift. Additionally, we were able to learn about macOS application localization together!

Furthermore, I also experienced the principle of being kinder than necessary. For example, my manager, Lauren Pully, facilitated open and honest communication and feedback to help me grow.

Overall, engineering the business, learning together, being kinder than necessary, and building for the future are building blocks of Duo’s culture that are very special to me, and learning about cross-cultural design helped bring that into focus.

Final reflection

As the web continues to diversify and the world continues to grow, I highly encourage you to consider how you can incorporate principles of cross-cultural design into your product.

To learn more about Duo’s internationalization and localization efforts, check out this article on how new data centers support data localization.