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Cross-cultural design practices have begun to rise in prominence, but these practices have infrequently intersected with common user-centered design practices that value the participation and lived experience of users. We identified the ways in which the design team referred to co-creation workshop participants during the design and debrief of the workshop, focusing on how these references invoked or implicated the design team’s understanding of Chinese culture. We identified referents to the participants, using occurrence of third-person plural pronouns to locate projection of and reflection on participant interaction. In parallel, we performed a thematic analysis of design and debrief activities to document the team’s articulation and activation of instrumental judgments relating to culture.
The team’s instrumental judgments shifted substantially across the design and debrief session, moving from totalizing cultural references in the design phase to frequent translator-mediated interactions in the debrief phase. Translators “nuanced” the cultural meanings being explored by the design team, while team members attempted to engage with cultural concerns by “making familiar” these concerns within the context of their own culture. Implications for considering culture as a part of standard user research methods and paradigms are considered, along with practical considerations for foregrounding cultural assumptions in design activity.