A Pictionary-inspired approach to designing for global markets


At KD we often work with large, global clients and that brings with it plenty of exciting opportunities but also its own set of unique challenges. Languages, cultures, needs and desires - all of these vary massively from one continent to another or even compared to our French neighbours across the channel. For example, just compare the way the French and British greet one another, kisses on either cheek or a much more formal handshake.

In key design tasks we're expected to handle these challenges with grace and ease.  We often need to consider how best to design for multiple geographic markets, and one of the most common challenges is how to deal with the use of text, particularly when designing packaging or user interfaces for physical products or devices.

The key issue with using text is the need to translate into different languages for multiple markets.  With text-heavy interfaces, this could mean producing set numbers of each product for each key language which may lead to issues with over or under-manufacturing.  Translation can also present other difficulties - how would you fit the seven letter word 'betalen' (Dutch for pay) into a spot designed for our mere three letter word? Suddenly the perfect design based on the short English word 'pay' needs a whole re-design, per market, to go along with the translation.

We have developed a simple and fun method to use as an immersion exercise to get project teams and our clients into the mindset of developing clear and concise iconography for user instructions and interfaces.  Called Sketchicon, it’s a simple game, based on the popular game Pictionary that many of us have played at family gatherings or at Christmas.

Traditionally in Pictionary one player is asked to communicate a word (randomly picked from a pile of cards) using only a pencil and paper pad. In 60 seconds that player, the picturist as we can call them, has to sketch out the meaning of that word to their often bemused team. If the team correctly guess the meaning behind the sketch and identify the illusive word, the team moves one space along the board. Multiple teams take turns to continue in this way until one team reaches the end and can declare themselves winner.

In Sketchicon we ask a bit more from our picturists. They take a phrase card from the pile on the board and find themselves presented with a short piece of text instead of a single word.  Conveying the meaning of whole phrases is more complex than single words but this allows us to tackle more complex communication requirements.   Each phrase is a short extract relating to the key user steps or instructions that need to be communicated as part of the project brief.   The approach is fast-paced and highly iterative as the team are effectively designing and testing at the same time.

At the recent Ladies that UX event held at KD we introduced Sketchicon to bring to life the challenge of designing physical products for multiple geographic markets.  The game was played in small teams of 5-6 people, who were provided with phrases from a set of gaming headphones.  For example “whilst charging the LED indicator will be red".

The sessions flew by, peppered with laughter and creativity as picturists struggled to convey some of the more tricky phrases. As a result we feel it's safe to say the Ladies that UX group left the room with a new perspective on designing for different geographic markets. To find out more about the event itself take a look here.

Written by Hannah Sage, Design Researcher