Proposals for the special issue of Technical Communication on “Localized Usability and Agency in Design: Investigating Advocacy in Technical Communication” are due 1 October 2021.



Dr. Amber Lancaster, Oregon Tech Dr. Carie S. T. King, The University of Texas at Dallas


Recent publications in Technical Communication have highlighted our field’s need to critically examine usability methods, practices, and meanings in response to numerous social issues including cultural sensitivity (Sun & Getto, 2017; Walwema, 2016); community and inclusion (Shivers-McNair, 2017); and voter registration and minority voting (Jones & Williams, 2018; Pryor, 2017). Other journals and publications in the field have also addressed usability and social issues, with great focus on environmental design (Sackey, 2020); accessibility (Hitt, 2018); social justice (Shirley, 2019); and participatory culture (Acharya, 2017; Arduser, 2018; Breuch, 2018).

One of the current challenges in UX is designing for localization that results in a design that may conflict with some users’ needs. We draw attention to the fact that design decisions may require reconciliation, compassion, empathy, and acceptance by both designer and user to ensure that the user population can be broadened to a more universal design.

Localization is defined as “creating or adapting an information product for use in a specific target country or specific target market” (Hoft, 1995, p. 11). Traditionally, “localization” originates in international TC globalization and translation subfields with focus on making a product’s use for one group work for others in international local contexts. At its roots, localization of products (e.g., interface, design, communication messages) increases the likelihood that  the target users will experience the product’s use, design, message, etc., in intended and favorable ways. However, the more traditional concept of localization limits designers, designs, and users geographically and culturally (Agboka, 2013; Sun, 2002; Sun, 2006; Sun & Getto, 2017).

More recently, localization practices have adopted participatory design approaches, allowing the designer to work with the target users as both an actor and a co-designer to construct products that more accurately reflect user needs (Acharya, 2018; Bannon & Ehn, 2013; Simmons, 2007; Spinuzzi, 2005; Stephens & DeLorme, 2019;  Zachry & Spyridakis, 2016). Furthermore, newer localization practices embrace unique research methods and design principles for designing for diverse users—per age, gender, ethnicity, culture, education, etc., particularly because users differ across cultures (Acharya, 2018).

Adding to this, industry is also considering usability as an interactive experience that is highly personalized: that is, different tools and processes need to interact for lifestyle, health, medical care, fitness, and other human experiences and needs. This interaction encourages personalization of the tools and processes in a way that requires artificial intelligence and an individual’s engagement with the tools to ensure individualization (as well as localization) of design and use. As a result, designers and UX researchers are left to consider so many user variables. How do they strike a balance in representing all voices in the design process? How do they determine whose voices to advocate for?

Drawing on “equilibrium” as “a state of intellectual or emotional balance”   and “a state of adjustment between opposing or divergent influences or elements” (“equilibrium,” n.d.), we situate our call for Usability/UX to consider agency for change but also the unique interacting influences that shape design.

We call for research that explores how our field might expand localized usability to examine how variables depend on, connect with, and contend with each other to maintain a state of balance in UX, particularly in a more global environment such as that which has been established since the pandemic. Additionally, we seek researchers who consider the challenge of balancing users voices (global, local, and personal) and examine how our field strikes a balance in representing all voices in the design process. Specifically, we encourage submissions that focus on take-aways unique to practitioners and that propose new approaches to designing for diverse users.

Proposals should address the manuscript’s final purpose and format:
  • Original research articles with specific applications to the practice of the field
  • Review articles of pertinent books and articles, synthesizing research and identifying key issues for further study
  • Case studies with implications for teaching and practice of technical communication


This special issue will answer questions, including
  • How can Usability/UX researchers more fully embrace research methods to understand the complex and diverse needs of all individuals?
  • What techniques and principles of localization can be reimagined to increase user agency and to support user advocacy?
  • How can TC academic programs adopt and teach burgeoning usability/UX professionals UX practices that balance all users’ voices and provide agency in design?
  • How can designers integrate and engage diverse user groups to effectively represent the users’ voices and perspectives and empower users through their designs?
  • How can TC advance usability evaluation and testing to expand relevancy, sensitivity, and design choices for global (diverse, universal – yet personalized) audiences?
  • How can designers acknowledge the audience and thus seek to eliminate potential imbalances in the voices they promote?


Submit a cover page with the author’s(s’) name(s), institutional affiliation(s), and email address(es) and a 400-word proposal in a DOCX, DOC, or RTF; submit proposal via email with subject line “Proposal: Localized Usability and Agency in Design” to and by 1 October, 2021.

  • 1 October, 2021—Deadline for proposals
  • 1 November, 2021—Decisions and Notifications from Editors
  • 15 February, 2022—Deadline for Full Manuscripts for Review
  • 1 April, 2022—Review Feedback to Authors
  • 1 July, 2022—Deadline for Revised Manuscripts
  • 1 November, 2022—Special Issue Publication


  • Acharya, K. R. (2017). Usability for social justice: Exploring the implementation of localization usability in Global North technology in the context of a Global South’s country. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 49(1), 6–32.
  • Acharya, K. R. (2018). Usability for user empowerment: Promoting social justice and human  rights through localized UX design. In Proceedings of the 36th ACM International Conference on the Design of Communication. Milwaukee, WI: ACM.
  • Agboka, G. (2013). Participatory localization: A social justice approach to navigating unenfranchised/disenfranchised cultural sites. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22,    28–49.
  • Arduser, L. (2018). Impatient patients: A DIY usability approach in diabetes wearable technologies. Communication Design Quarterly, 51(4), 31–39.
  • Bannon, L. J., & Ehn, P. (2013). Design matters in participatory design. In J. Simonsen & T. Robertson (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Participatory Design (pp. 37–63). New York,   NY: Routledge.
  • Breuch, L. K. (2018). From research to practice: How insights from social Web research  inform Website usability [extended abstract]. 2018 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference. 16–17.
  • Equilibrium. (n.d.). Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-
  • Hitt, A. (2018). Foregrounding accessibility through (inclusive) universal design in professional communication curricula. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 81(1).
  • Hoft, N. L. (1995). International Technical Communication: How to Export Information about             High Technology. New York, NY: Wiley.
  • Jones, N. N., & Williams, M. F. (2018). Technologies of disenfranchisement: Literacy tests  and Black voters in the US from 1890 to 1965. Technical Communication, 65(4), 371– 386.
  • Pryor, L. (2017). Designing for a culturally inclusive democracy: A case study of voter registration outreach postcards in Latino communities. Technical Communication, 64(2), 154–165.
  • Sackey, D. (2020). One-size-fits-none: A heuristic for proactive value sensitive  environmental design. Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 33–48.
  • Shirley, B. (2019). Working toward social justice by engaging other disciplines in engaging communities: A technical communication scholar’s role. In Proceedings for 2019 CPTSC Annual Conference. Retrieved from content/uploads/sites/4/2019/10/2019-Program_updated_12SEPT19.pdf
  • Shivers-McNair, A. (2017). Localizing communities, goals, communication, and inclusion: A collaborative approach. Technical Communication, 64(2), 97–112.
  • Simmons, W. M. (2007). Participation and Power: Civic Discourse in Environmental Policy Decisions. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  • Spinuzzi, C. (2005). The methodology of participatory design. Technical Communication,   52(2), 163–174.
  • Stephens, S. H., & DeLorme, D. E. (2019). A framework for user agency during development of interactive risk visualization tools. Technical Communication Quarterly,  28(4), 391–406.
  • Sun, H. (2002). Why cultural contexts are missing: A rhetorical critique of localization  practices. In Proceeding for the 2002 Annual Conference, Society for Technical Communication, 49, 164–168. Retrieved from al_Contexts_Are_Missing_A_Rhetorical_Critique_of_Localization_Practices/links/5b503 e380f7e9b240fec3d2c/Why-Cultural-Contexts-Are-Missing-A-Rhetorical-Critique-of- Localization-Practices.pdf
  • Sun, H. (2006). The triumph of users: Achieving cultural usability goals with user  localization. Technical Communication Quarterly, 15(4), 457–481.
  • Sun, H., & Getto, G. (2017). Localizing user experience: Strategies, practices, and techniques for culturally sensitive design. Technical Communication, 64(2), 89–94.
  • Walwema, J. (2016). Tailoring information and communication design to diverse international and intercultural audiences: How culturally sensitive ICD improves online  market penetration. Technical Communication, 63(1), 38–52.
  • Zachry, M., & Spyridakis, J. H. (2016). Human-centered design and the field of technical communication. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(4), 392–401.


Dr. Amber Lancaster is an Associate Professor of Communication, Director of Professional Writing (PWR), and IRB Chair at Oregon Tech. She has extensive experience in usability testing and client-based projects. Dr. Lancaster started the mobile usability lab at Oregon Tech and previously worked in the user research lab at Texas Tech. She administers usability research for corporate and academic clients and teaches user research, usability testing, risk communication, and written communication. Her publications in usability include  manuscripts on prototyping methods, distributed usability, social issues in UX, and transdisciplinary research models in UX. Her research focuses on the intersections of user centered design (UCD), ethics, and social issues as well as on technology and writing pedagogy. Current research includes a grant-funded project for programmatic development; engagement with professional writing students to co-create/co-design media messages for diverse stakeholders; and usability testing media messages for diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Dr. Carie S. T. King is a Clinical Professor and Associate Director of Rhetoric at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). She is also co-founder and partner in a communication and design consulting firm in North Texas. Her background is in medical editing and communication, specializing in technical communication and ethics. She is passionate about pedagogy, intercultural communication, ethics, and usability. She teaches a diverse load with classes in rhetoric, intercultural communication, usability, and STEM writing and chairs the Academic Integrity Committee at UTD. She created and implemented usability research for the UX and game-design program at UTD and integrates UCD in her curriculum. Carie researches pedagogy, design, and communication; currently, she is working on grant-funded research on student usability and faculty comments in writing classes. She is also active in study abroad and international education

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