International user testing

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On a recent project with a Russian client we wanted to evaluate a new VoD product concept. The product was being developed as a prototype TV app and this, coupled with our international client and target users, presented some new challenges for us.

One of the first hurdles was the language barrier. Not only did we need to consider translation in the UI during the design process, but also translation during user testing sessions themselves. Throughout the design process we used English copy but were mindful that it had to be translated soon. Our client told us that from their experience when translating UI copy, and also film and TV titles, they found that Russian was up to 40% longer than English. We made calls to actions (buttons, menus) bigger, left larger space for copy such as TV and film synopses and included space for original language translations. We created a shared Google Doc spreadsheet for micro copy where we logged quick-guess Google Translate translations and client-agreed translations.

Cultural differences were also an issue and we had to gather user research from various sources, using different methods in order to feel confident that we were not generalising or being insensitive.

For a successful VoD product, it was important to have local content that was recognised by participants. This was best done with local knowledge - we guessed that ‘international’ hits such as Homeland or Doctor Who would be well received, but we also had to research the local hits. We asked people in diary studies what they watched and then used Google Translate and Search to learn what these shows were - genre, transmission details and images - all of which we made inferences from. Asking our client to then check our assumptions and fill in any gaps was essential.

Field research was difficult as we were targeting an unfamiliar foreign market. Our research started with creating ad hoc personas from our client’s market research segments, stakeholder workshops and brief diary studies with friends and family. We later validated and adjusted the personas from interviews in the lab before prototype testing.


  • Translate from the beginning of the project
  • Research whenever and however is possible and add to your findings as you learn
  • Local knowledge is essential for your content strategy

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