Cross Cultural Usability in Web Design


A rewarding part of being a Web designer is that your work has immediate global reach. It’s pretty amazing to think that your design may be viewed by a visitor in Singapore or by your neighbor down the block.

Yet, as exciting as this seems, global reach also presents challenges to Web designers who need to be aware of the ways in which different cultures interact with the Web.

According to Christian Arno, founder and Managing Director of the global translations company Lingo24, there are five important factors to consider when designing a Web site for a global audience: Content; Use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); Layout of each page; Color Selection; and Web Analytics.

We discuss each of these considerations in detail below:

Content is king


Content is the most important aspect of any Web site. While your site visitors may find the design pleasing to the eye, it is the quality and relevancy of the content that matters most.Providing crisp, well-written content that is of interest to your target readership will help bridge the cross-cultural divide. Keep in mind that 75 percent of the world’s population does not speak English so that your content will likely need to be translated at some point. For this reason, write succinctly and get to the point quickly.

Avoid using overly technical jargon slang, colloquialisms, abbreviations, and compound sentences. Metaphors may also take on different meanings across cultures.Be culturally sensitive when using images or video. For example, pictures of a couple in an embrace may be acceptable in Western cultures but be offensive to audiences in other areas of the world.

Understand the tools of Web design


Knowing how to use CSS effectively will enable you to separate the content from the site’s design elements and layout. This will then make translation much easier, enabling you to present the content in various languages with minimal effort.  As per Mr. Arno of Lingo24, designers should also have a “UTF-8 character encoding device (for Unicode) because it is compatible with over 90 languages.”1

Layout Considerations


The layout of your pages can have a significant impact on how appealing the site is to visitors in different cultures. One consideration is that not all languages are read from left to right as in most Western cultures. As a result, the positioning of navigation bars and sidebar content will impact the ease of site usability. One way to avoid this is by incorporating a top horizontal navigation design and limiting the use of sidebar text.

Another important point is that the script of different languages will be of varying heights and widths. This difference should be kept in your mind as you select fonts. You should also allow for some variation in the size of text boxes because a paragraph in English may be lengthier than the same paragraph translated into, say, one the Slavic languages.

Choose color scheme wisely


The choice of color is one of the most subjective decisions in Web design. However, it is more than an issue of personal taste as colors can have different meanings and implications among different cultures.

For example, red is often associated with danger and carries a negative connotation for many people of the world. However, it can also symbolize happiness and celebration, particularly when paired with white—think of a candy cane or Santa’s outfit. For the people of China, red symbolizes patriotism as it is the color of their flag and is also a color that is used to ward off evil spirits so has the exact opposite association as in many Western societies.

Using Web Analytics


Web sites are not static but constantly evolving in response to the needs of their audience. Web analytics allows you to gage the geographic location of your most frequent visitors and adjust the design as necessary to accommodate their cultural preferences.

For example, if you notice that a high percentage of your site visitors come from the Middle East, you might want to change the colors scheme of your site to that which they will find appealing. You will also be able to ensure that text boxes will be of adequate size to accommodate Arabic script.

Special considerations for ecommerce


If yours is an online shopping site you need to incorporate an exchange rate calculator, as well as set up different payment options such as the use of credit cards, electronic money, or wire transfers form bank-to-bank. If you accept credit cards for purchases, you can set up an affiliate relationship with other Web sites that that promote credit cards from major banks, most of which now operate globally.

By remaining cognizant of the cultural implications of Web design, you are able to transcend cultural boundaries and create a site that can be enjoyed by a global readership.

Blogs at CreditDonkey where she helps small business owners compare small business credit cards to grow their business. Read her blog for reviews, deals and tips.


Leave a Reply