Rebecca Cox - UX Designer
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Amping up te Reo Māori in your UX design work


The following is a transcript from my presentation for this year's UX Homegrown, held in Auckland on 21 July 2017.


Kia ora koutou. So, just to start by explaining the scope of my talk. Basically, I’m going to be talking about content and experiences designed for a broad cross section of New Zealanders.

This is oversimplified—but if you look at two spaces where content in te reo Māori sits, one of these is content produced by Māori for a Māori audience, and the other is mainstream content for all audiences including Māori—as a Pākehā, this is the area that I work in and it’s the focus for this talk.

Now, a couple of years ago I was asked to help with a te reo content project, and my initial response was that I felt it wasn’t appropriate, I’m not Māori and at that stage I had pretty much zero knowledge of the language.   

Then my fear of missing out started to rise—it’s really hard for me to say no to an interesting IA (information architecture) project!

And I changed my thinking to “what can I do, to become less useless at this, so that I could contribute to this kind of project in future”?   

And so I enrolled with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa on their night course, which I’ve been doing for about 18 months now.

Its pretty cool, it doesn’t feel like hard work, and it’s so much better than French when I was 13-14 at school. We have a big group class, it’s pretty social, we have a Facebook group and do heaps of stuff outside of class as well.

And what I find is that you start to be able to do a few things pretty quickly, a lot more than I could with my high school French, for example:

And in terms of the culture and tikanga side - we become a lot more used to hui and pōwhiri processes, what you can and can’t do on a marae, things like that.

Not everything is easy—I really struggled with being told that as a woman I should wear a skirt to the pōwhiri—but it’s really not my place as a Pākehā to ask for that to change.

In terms of UX work, the whole experience of learning, within a Māori organisation and being exposed to such a high level of knowledge around the language and tikanga means that:

Something that’s been described in research looking into issues around how people work in fields like social research and health research in New Zealand—is “Pākehā paralysis” —kinda serious, but it’s OK to laugh!

It’s about concerns, discomfort, mental blocks which can prevent work relating to Māori issues from moving forward. And there’s a lot of documentation around why that happens and the reasons behind it. It’s a kind of analysis paralysis perhaps. If you Google the term (Pākehā paralysis) you’ll find more of an exploration, and ideas around how people are addressing it.

And the problem is, that what can happen as a result of issues not being addressed, is that work gets delayed—so projects involving Māori content might end up sitting in a drawer for years, because people are not sure how to proceed.

And I think that the effect can be a form of institutional racism. Which we know is present here in New Zealand, with pretty bad consequences for people—explored in the final issue of Mana magazine.

The thing is, that some of the normal everyday things that happen in organisations, or that don’t happen, can actually be racist, simply because they suit one group of people more, or because they fail one group of people more than others.

And there are many stories of how this affects people, here in New Zealand.

The new “Give nothing to racism” campaign suggests how we can work together to stamp out racism, by changing our behaviour. I’ve been thinking about how can we get on board with this in our work as UX designers.

It’s really clear to me, as a member of the queer community, the positive impact—on people’s actual lives—that social change can have.

I can still remember how bad it felt, to be in environments where homophobia was rife, back maybe 15 years ago here in New Zealand. So much has improved now in terms of attitudes, and having much more expression of queer culture within the mainstream.

So much has changed since then in my life, and the lives of my friends for the better. We can have our gay and lesbian weddings; our parties and pride parades—that everyone can come along to.

But what’s really important I think, is the level of freedom that people like me now have, to choose to be in both queer community spaces, but also to be in mainstream spaces that work so much better for us.

And a lot of that change has come about from all sorts of people—individuals, organisations, and even corporates getting involved and taking action to support the community.

To get back to te reo, for us, as people who design experiences and present content to people in New Zealand, our audience is changing. The numbers of people who expect to see Māori content, wherever they go—and that includes in mainstream media, and when using everyday technology and services, is surely going to keep increasing.

So a key question that we need to ask in a UX context is:

What content does especially your Māori audience want to see, in te reo Māori?

The demand for, and expectation that we’ll be able to see and hear content in te reo Māori is surely only going to keep growing:

Another question is:

How is your te reo Māori content being usability and UX tested?

One of the things that we do is use bilingual signage to express something in a kind of symbolic way about say a bicultural aspect or relationship.

And this is also used in navigation patterns—even where there might be very little actual Māori content on a website.

Here’s another slightly different example that I found in the wild—here the te reo upper navigation label is the name of the sub page in each section which is in te reo Māori. I’m not sure how easy this navigation would be to use.

In another pattern, te reo is used to label just the content which is in te reo Māori, making this easier to identify than if the bilingual navigation pattern had been applied throughout.

There’s some really interesting UX problems to be explored—especially if you think about the user groups (in terms of language fluency) who might all be using the one interface design:

These groups will have potentially quite different expectations when encountering bilingual navigation patterns, that impact on qualities and experiences like usability and findability.

But, the thing is, in our industry and our networks, do we even have enough of the right people involved—to be able to do things like usability testing fully in te reo Māori, if we need to do that—and just to ensure that the user experience is great for the whole audience.

And lastly:

If you are doing UX testing or research, have you thought about how your methods might be based on what are actually pretty Western ways of thinking about research?

There’s a lot of visible discussion of bicultural, and Kaupapa Māori approaches in other fields:

But not so much visible discussion within our area—design research for primarily digital user experiences.

Perhaps we need to “New Zealand—ify” UX?

I’ll wrap up this talk now, and leave you with the questions that I’ve raised: