Review of
International User Interfaces
Edited by
Elisa M. del Galdo and Jakob Nielsen

del Galdo, E.M. & Nielsen, J. (Eds) (1996) International user interfaces. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Robert J. Renk
Northern Illinois University,
Program Administrative Assistant, Alumni Association
Graduate Student in Instructional Technology


International User Interfaces addresses common issues faced by interface designers when building programs for the international market. The contributors to the book address both surface level considerations that must be taken into account, such as choice of icons and screen layout, as well as the underlying cultural differences that should be paid attention to when designing software for the international market.

The thirteen chapters cover a wide range of topics including developing cultural models to guide interface design, how to develop an international usability program, computer mediated communication across cultures, and the design of multilingual documents.

The book list three levels the interface designer should address when designing international user interfaces.

  1. Being able to process and display the user's native language, character set, notations, and formats.
  2. Producing a user interface and information that is understandable and usable in the user's native language.
  3. The ability to produce systems that accommodate the users' cultural characteristics.
Specific chapters discuss each of the three levels in detail and offer possible solutions the interface designer can use.


The book provides a great deal of information regarding international interface design. It introduces the novice and experienced instructional designer to unique characteristics that are present when designing interfaces for different cultures. It offers views of different cultures including Arab, Chinese, French, German, and Japanese and gives a balanced treatment of how effective interface design can be accomplished in each of these cultures.

The editors point out the importance of competing in the global software marketplace and the rewards that cross-cultural collaboration can ensure. All the contributors stress the importance of collaboration among designers as a means to improving interface design for international markets. Many of the contributors supply tools and prototypes of models that the interface designer can use in their own work.

The beginning interface designer will find the book offers a range of topics that should be considered when designing both educational and application software. For seasoned interface designers the book supplies a valuable reference source of case studies of successful implementation of international interface design methods and models. These case studies demonstrate what is capable of being accomplished when dealing with different cultures other the one that the program was developed in.

The book is well crafted and each of the levels is well covered. It would have been nice to break the book up into divisions based on each of these three levels and offer a brief introduction and background about the level of design being discussed. I think this would have given the novice designer a more structured view of how the design process proceeds through its life cycle for products that will be used in the international marketplace.

The main strength of the book is its ability to present a wide range of topics about international interface design in a concise format. The editors' stress the important steps are, "to first understand the target culture, and reflect the findings into the human-computer interaction design"

The chapters on designing a cultural model, culture and design, and studying context across cultures should be required reading for beginning user interface designers that plan to work in multi-national environments. These chapters give the designer a solid understanding of why it is important to consider culture a variable from the outset of the design process. They provide methods to use when designing a cultural model for audience analysis and the stress the importance of using a different model when looking at the home verses the business market segment.

Two very practical chapters for interfaces designers are Nielsen's chapter on International Usability Engineering and Marcus's chapter on Icon and Symbol Design Issues for Graphical User Interfaces. Nielsen's chapter provides a model that an interface designer can follow when developing interfaces for international use that can improve the interface design. Marcus's chapter contains a section on general tips for good icon and symbol design that would be a helpful tool for a beginning interface designer.

The chapters dealing with first level design issues could have been group together for a more effective treatment. The chapters on Arabization of Graphical User Interfaces and A Chinese Text Display Supported by and Algorithm of Chinese Segmentation might be beyond some of the beginning user interface designers. These chapters were very informative about what must go on at the coding level to develop effective user interfaces for specific populations. This is where a brief introduction would have been helpful to the reader.

A summary chapter from the editors detailing new research in this area and future trends would have provide a good reference for those interested in the pursuing the subject in more detail. Also, an appendix listing resources would have been a nice touch.

Five main lessons can be gained from the book that all interface designers should be aware and apply to interface design when developing software that will be used in international markets.

  1. Considerations of globalization and localization of software should take on a more critical role as companies increase their international market share.
  2. Effective interface design for international users must go beyond surface changes and address the underlying cultural issues associated with particular international market segments.
  3. Interface design models should be based on planning that takes into account cultural models of the potential users.
  4. There is not a one size fits all solution and as interface designers we will be better rewarded for our efforts if we make use of collaborative cross-cultural teams when designing our software.
  5. Issues of programming and coding can have effects on the final product and its ease of use for different cultures
International User Interfaces is an informative and well-written book. It covers a topic that will become more critical to interface designers as the artificial boundaries and borders that separate us disappear with the increase in technology and the global marketplace that it produces. I would recommend the book to others in the field. It should be considered a must have any interface designer's library.

Steve Copeland in his chapter on Managing A Multiple-Language Document System sums up the frustration that interface designers encounter. He states in his conclusion, " revealed many biases that exist in the systems world that pose formidable obstacles in using systems transparently for multiple-languages - biases that one would not expect in a world whose basic elements reduce to just 1s and 0s. This case study points out several areas in which hardware and software alike have been developed without consideration for their use in multiple-language environments. In many cases the resulting barriers are artificial and quite unnecessary."

This book gives the designer a first step in overcoming many of those barriers.

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