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The User-Centered Globalization Group at AT&T

Maria Gabriela Alvarez
Room 1L-216
101 Crawfords Corner Road
P.O. Box 3030
Holmdel, NJ 07733-3030 USA
+1 908 949 3846

Nuray Aykin
Room 1J-320
101 Crawfords Corner Road
P.O. Box 3030
Holmdel, NJ 07733-3030 USA
+1 908 949 4485

Diane Z. Lehder
Room 1L-216
101 Crawfords Corner Road
P.O. Box 3030
Holmdel, NJ 07733-3030 USA
+1 908 949 5531


This paper describes the User-Centered Globalization Group at AT&T, which provides internationalization and localization consulting services within AT&T and to outside customers. It reviews the group's history and areas of expertise, and discusses sample projects and future strategy.


globalization, internationalization, localization, user interface

© 1997 Copyright on this material is held by the authors.


AT&T is the world's largest communications company with almost $50 billion in annual revenues and approximately 110,000 employees. The company provides voice, data, online, and satellite communications via its Worldwide Intelligent Network (the largest digital transmission network in the world). This network includes approximately two billion miles of circuits in the U.S. The network also extends to more than 270 countries worldwide, covering millions of international circuit miles. While AT&T remains the dominant force in worldwide communications, it faces increasing competition in both the domestic and international markets, largely from its major rivals in the U.S., MCI and Sprint. Both companies are moving into the international communications arena with a variety of voice and data services.

One response to competition is for AT&T to increase its holdings and business ventures outside the U.S. International business, which in 1996 accounted for approximately 25 percent of the company's total revenues, is expected to grow to twice that level by the end of this decade. Currently AT&T maintains over 40 equity investments in conjunction with other telecommunications companies worldwide, e.g., Rosnet International (Russia), AT&T of China, AT&T Elecon Telesistemas (Venezuela), and many others.



Our goal is to provide a total solution for AT&T internationalization and localization needs that results in not only satisfying, but also exceeding customers' expectations. As described later, our work is not limited to user interface design. It includes all aspects of internationalization throughout all phases of design and development.


Internationalization is the process of developing an architecture, strategy, and base design that can be easily modified to support the requirements of different international locales.

Localization is the process of modifying an application or product to support the requirements of a particular locale.


The User-Centered Globalization Group grew out of AT&T's User-Experience Center of Excellence, which provides human factors consulting services to AT&T business units. As AT&T began expanding into global markets, business units requested our assistance designing a variety of products and services to be sold outside the U.S. At the same time, other Human Factors groups within AT&T were providing similar consulting services within their own business units. These internationalization efforts were generally uncoordinated, isolated, and lacked a guiding philosophy. Each Human Factors Specialist and product team learned about globalization as needed. Formed in February 1996, our group consolidated globalization expertise into one centralized consulting group.

Our philosophy is that products should be "designed for, rather than exported to" other countries. But "designing for" does not mean rewriting software or redesigning products for each new market. Instead, products should be built on global platforms that are easily modified to meet the needs of different markets.


As an integral part of the AT&T User Experience Center of Excellence, we work closely with the other User Interface Design Groups and share our expertise in implementing internationalization throughout design and development.


Our group provides expertise in user interface design, internationalization and localization of products and services for AT&T and outside companies. We work as an integrated member of the project teams, or on a consulting basis. The scope of our work includes (but is not limited to) the following:
  1. Customer Focus
    Needs Analysis
    Concept Evaluation
    User Trials/ Customer Satisfaction
  2. Requirements
    User Interface Design Requirements
    International Functional Requirements
    Internationalization Guide for Programmers
    Internationalization Guides for Writers
  3. User Interface Design
    User Interface Design
    User Interface Internationalization
    User Interface Localization
    Guidance on Software Internationalization
  4. Processes
    Overall Internationalization Process
    Usability Engineering Process
    Documentation Localization Process
    Training Localization Process
    Tools and Services Evaluation
  5. Resources
    Country Profiles and Cultures
    Information on Software Development Tools
    Information on Localization Services
    Information on Translation Services
    Reference Materials
    In-Country Contacts
  6. Reusable Assets Library
    Internationalized Software Elements
    Localized Software Elements
    Sample Software and Message Catalogs
  7. Education
  8. Other
    Licensing, Marketing, and Packaging
    Guidance on Country Regulations


Customer Care Centers

Our group has worked with several project teams on developing applications for Global Customer Care Centers. Customer Care Centers provide a variety of services to a company's customers (e.g., billing, technical support, hot line assistance, etc.). These centers require software applications to support the employees serving the customers. These applications are used to enter an order for service into the system, provide network facilities, and keep track of any trouble reports. On one project, we generated country profiles that specified the data format that tends to be country-specific, e.g., address, name, date, and time. We also provided expertise in user interface design, evaluation, and testing. On another project, we provided Global User Interface Design Guidelines, Guidelines for Global Software Development Vendors, functional requirements, training and awareness on localization issues, and ongoing consultation.

World Wide Web

Our group provides ongoing consulting services for designing user interfaces for WWW products and services. We provide guidelines on icon design, use of multiple languages, and other international design considerations.

Global Ethnographic Research

Our group also supports fundamental research by providing a global perspective on projects. This research is used as a foundation to help AT&T and its business units to develop their long-term strategies. In one study, which examined how businesses will work differently in the future, we identified critical markets and coordinated recruiting of businesses in those markets for site visits. We met with the businesses, documenting and analyzing our observations, so that our insights would be taken into consideration in the strategy-planning process.


As we become better known, there is an increasing demand for our services from customers both inside and outside AT&T. We will continue:


  1. Fernandes, T. Global Interface Design. A Guide to Designing International User Interfaces, Academic Press, Chestnut Hill, MA, 1995.
  2. Kano, N. Developing International Software, Microsoft Press, Redmond, WA, 1995.
  3. Luong, T.V., Lok, J.S.H., Taylor, D.J., Driscoll, K. Internationalization: Developing Software for Global Markets, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1995.

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CHI 97 Electronic Publications: Organizational Overviews