We sat down with Elvina Shagvaleyeva to learn about her career background in Kazakhstan and the cultural differences she’s experienced since moving to Dubai.
Ever wondered: How do UX methods and fundamental best practices differ around the world? Does UX speak a universal human language?
Well, Digital of Thing’s very own UX Consultant Elvina Shagvaleyeva, has some fascinating insights into how the UX world differs between her humble home country of Kazakhstan to her new home here in the metropolis of Dubai.
As part of our Meet the Team series, we sat down with Elvina to explore her background in UX and to learn more about the cultural differences that she has encountered so far.
Elvina moved here to Dubai from Kazakhstan back in May 2022, and we’ve absolutely loved having her on the team. With her years of experience in the world of UX, Elvina continues to impress us with her breadth and depth of knowledge in her field – especially since her origins back in Kazakhstan tell a story of self-made skill…
According to Elvina, many Kazakhstanis who seek a profession in UX have to educate themselves, particularly from online sources in America and Europe written and published in the English language. For some, this might immediately be seen as a roadblock, but for Elvina, this was where her advantage came into play.
Language has always been her forte, or her secret weapon if you will, so learning about UX principles from English-written books and online articles became a pastime of hers. This included those from the US open courses of Coursera and IDF and another favourite, the Nielsen Norman articles (considered to be world leaders in UX training and research). Clearly she was learning from the best. And Elvina’s go-getter attitude is certainly inspiring.
One of the reasons Elvina decided to jump ship and continue her career in Dubai is the fact that UX is still a developing market in the Kazakhstan region. Most of the industry knowledge comes from Post-Soviet countries, so the resources and ideas greatly differ from what Western UX offers. While Western UX tends to focus more on the foundations of human-computer interaction and user-centric design, Kazakhstan UX focuses more on the product design itself – combining the two skills of UX/UI: something Elvina wasn’t too keen on. For example, there were times that she was expected to create an interface design system from scratch (AKA many true UXer’s worst nightmare!)
Instead, Elvina wanted to come to Dubai to pinpoint her skills in the speciality of UX rather than a combination of UX/UI. Why you might ask? Well, as she shrewdly states: “Here you are a specialist, there you are a generalist.”
Although Elvina believes the MENA region poses more opportunities within a multitude of companies and agencies, there’s one thing the Kazakhstan UX world excels in: a passionate sense of community. Elvina often felt more united with her fellow UXers there than she does here in Dubai. She was actively part of a community with her fellow peers back in Kazakhstan, in which they would often share knowledge, stories, and experiences as well as invite one another to upcoming conferences.
Another key difference Elvina has noticed is the lack of UX consultancy agencies in Kazakhstan, where companies tend to hire designers and UX specialists internally instead. Whereas in Dubai UX consultancy is plentiful. Elvina thinks this is perhaps because the users themselves are more demanding in the MENA region – making understanding their needs and desires much more important to the product development process.
She also points out that in Kazakhstan, people are prone to trust less and complain more about a product — and usually these complaints aren’t fluffed up in a polite way, like users in the MENA region tend to do. In comparison, Kazakhstan users are a lot more honest and straightforward in their reviews and feedback. Whether that’s a pro or con to UX research and design is certainly up for debate. What do you think?
Since the big move, Elvina has taken every learning so far in her career and applied it to her craft. It has certainly been an encouraging experience for her to know all those sleepless nights sitting down with a NNgroup articles and UX books have paid off.
However, no brave career move across borders comes without its challenges, and for Elvina, the main test continues to be the unique accents she encounters in Dubai’s heavily expat-driven culture. Elvina taught herself the English language in a non-English speaking country, so it’s no surprise that understanding pronunciations can be rather tricky, especially with Dubai’s work life being full of technical jargon and metrics not everyone has heard of, or used before. Nothing that time, patience, and perseverance can’t straighten out in the end.
In terms of Elvina’s day-to-day here at Digital of Things, a major change is her role’s client-facing duties, and that’s something our whole team can all vouch for. Our calendars are packed with lengthy client meetings and workshops designed to satisfy client expectations as much as possible.
Perhaps the biggest difference of all though, is the variety of user research that agencies like ours get to carry out. A simple survey, few user interviews and a usability testing might be considered enough in Kazakhstan (anything else could even be labelled as a waste of time), but here, clients are a lot more open to conducting further more complex research like focus groups, contextual inquiry, card sorting, tree testing too – especially when they see the capital coming in because of it. You can’t argue with heavier pockets!
We asked Elvina if she had any words of wisdom for those looking to move to Dubai and surrounding the MENA region…
Elvina says learning the language is the key to being an efficient communicator amongst the sea of so many other languages, accents, and cultures. Anyone moving from Kazakhstan should also beware that the banking and fintech products here are not as intelligent as those back home (so prepare to downgrade!). She says be kind to others in the ways that they are to you (we can confirm Elvina is nothing but caring and compassionate to us).
Oh, and definitely remember your sunscreen.
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