Transcultural Design in UX: A Margaret Mead Perspective

A drawing of Margaret Mead surrounded by some island motifs


In the world of UX design, the pursuit of creating products that resonate across cultures is akin to an anthropological expedition in many ways. So why don’t we use some insightful anthropological concepts and theories to create outstanding user experiences? Thinking about how these two worlds can be merged, the first name I though about was Margaret Mead, a pioneer in the anthropological world. Hence, I sat down on a Saturday afternoon and reflected about how Mead’s anthropological theories provide insightful parallels for UX designers working in our increasingly interconnected world.

Margaret Mead’s Anthropological Lens

Margaret Mead’s work in the early to mid-20th century revolutionised anthropology. She ventured into distant cultures, observing and documenting their social practices and norms. Her approach was radical for her time – immersive, empathetic, and keenly observant. Mead believed that to understand a culture, one must live it, see the world through its lens, and appreciate its unique values and behaviours.

One of her biggest battles was to debunk the idea that the sexual division of labor in the modern family was due to the innate difference between the instrumental behaviour of men and the expressive behaviour of women. In her comparative study “Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies,” Mead introduced the revolutionary idea in 1935 that, because the human species is highly malleable, gender roles and behaviours vary according to sociocultural contexts. And that is a brilliant concept to carry around in our UX practice. How?

Transcultural Design in UX

Transcultural design in UX is about creating products that transcend cultural boundaries. It’s an approach that considers diverse user backgrounds, languages, customs, and beliefs. Thus, according to Mead me need to embrace the idea that our differences are not innate but constructed by our surrounding and cultural context.

What I am doing to do now is an absolute crime, so please forgive me for it. I am going to reduce tones of books and research articles and a whole prosperous career into few bullet points. So before further ado, let’s delve into how Mead’s core concepts can be linked to UX design and have a practical application in our day to day:

  1. Understanding Cultural Context: Mead’s findings suggested that the turbulence often associated with adolescence in Western cultures was not a universal phenomenon but culturally specific. This insight underscores the importance of considering cultural context in UX design, particularly when designing for different age groups across cultures. This translates to recognising that users from different cultures have unique needs and expectations. For instance, a feature or design that appeals to users in the US might not be well received in China. This insight calls for culturally sensitive design processes that consider the local customs, habits, and values of the user base.
  2. Cultural Determinism: Mead’s belief in cultural determinism underscores the idea that user behavior in digital environments is heavily influenced by cultural background. UX designers must research and understand these cultural influences to create intuitive and user-friendly designs. This involves studying how cultural norms affect the way users interact with technology, perceive information, and make decisions.
  3. Fluidity of Gender Roles: Mead’s findings on gender roles suggest that UX designers should avoid stereotypes when designing. Interfaces and content should not make assumptions based on gender. Instead, inclusive design practices should be employed, ensuring that digital products are accessible and relevant to all users, irrespective of their gender identity.
  4. Adapting to Rapid Cultural Change: Mead studied the impact of rapid cultural change on South Pacific societies during and after World War II, as documented in her book “New Lives for Old”. Mead’s observation of societies undergoing rapid change is particularly relevant in designing for emerging markets or regions experiencing digital transformation. UX designers should consider how new technologies are adopted and adapted in different cultural settings, and design solutions that are both intuitive for new users and sophisticated for tech-savvy users.
  5. The Power of Observation: Mead’s methodological emphasis on observation and immersion can be mirrored in UX through ethnographic research. By closely observing users in their natural environment, designers can gain insights into how they interact with products in their daily lives, leading to more user-centered and contextually relevant design solutions.
  6. Overcoming Ethnocentrism: Mead’s work helped to articulate the concept of ethnocentrism – the tendency to view one’s own culture as superior to others. This concept is a critical reminder for UX designers to avoid designing with a bias towards their own cultural norms and preferences. It emphasizes the need for a global perspective in design, where understanding and respecting cultural differences is key. This can be achieved through diverse user testing, inclusive design practices, and ongoing learning about different cultures and user needs.

I could add a lot more here, but then it would become an extremely long article. At heart, Mead’s anthropological theories provide a robust framework for UX designers to create more empathetic, inclusive, and culturally aware digital experiences. By applying these concepts, we can ensure our products resonate and are accessible to a diverse, global audience.


Margaret Mead’s profound influence on anthropology is undeniable, with her pioneering research and theories offering timeless insights into the complexity of human cultures. As we navigate the intricate process of designing user experiences that resonate across diverse cultural landscapes, Mead’s work serves as a north star, guiding us towards a more inclusive and empathetic approach to UX design. Her dedication to understanding the nuanced diveristy of human societies underscores the importance of transcultural design in creating products that not only transcend geographical and cultural boundaries but also foster a sense of belonging and understanding among users worldwide.

In the spirit of Margaret Mead, let’s continue to explore, understand, and design for the fascinating mosaic of human cultures. And always challenge our assumptions, and delve deeply to unearth the invaluable truths that lie beneath the surface.


In case you want to read and learn from Margaret Mead’s herself, below you have some of her pieces. Her bibliography includes a range of influential books, articles, and other publications that explore various cultures around the world, with a particular focus on the Pacific Islands and issues of gender, and social dynamics. Here’s a list of some of her most notable works:

  1. “Coming of Age in Samoa” (1928): This groundbreaking book details Mead’s fieldwork in Samoa, focusing on the sexual freedom of adolescents in the Samoan culture, and it challenged Western perceptions of gender roles and sexuality.
  2. “Growing Up in New Guinea” (1930): A study of the Manus people of the South Pacific, focusing on how cultural conditions influence psychosexual development.
  3. “Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies” (1935): In this work, Mead discusses the variations in gender roles within three different cultures in New Guinea, challenging the notion that gender roles are universal.
  4. “Male and Female” (1949): A comparative analysis of gender roles across various cultures, arguing that many differences between the sexes are culturally, rather than biologically, determined.
  5. “New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—Manus, 1928–1953” (1956): This book revisits the Manus people of New Guinea, documenting dramatic changes over 25 years.
  6. “People and Places” (1959): A book that combines personal observation with anthropological insight to describe various cultures around the world.
  7. “Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap” (1970): In this work, Mead examines the generational changes and conflicts in post-war America.
  8. “Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years” (1972): Mead’s autobiography, providing insight into her own life, influences, and the development of her thinking.
  9. “Letters From the Field, 1925–1975” (1977): Published posthumously, this collection of letters offers a personal look at Mead’s fieldwork and thoughts across fifty years.

More Posts