The internet is accessible in virtually every corner of the world today. So, it’s easy to believe that there are similarly universal best practices for culturally sensitive web design. However, there are thousands of different web design components available. Some of which are more appropriate for certain cultures and target audiences than others.
A lack of cultural sensitivity has led to the initial failure of several websites, with even Amazon tripping up along the way. The online marketplace launched in India in 2018, but they failed to realize that the magnifying glass search icon wasn’t a locally recognized symbol. This lack of cultural insight cost them a huge number of sales, and it wasn’t until they conducted regional research they discovered that in India, the icon represented a ping-pong paddle. To solve the issue, they added a text label in Hindi so that the functionality became evident.
Creating culturally sensitive web designs is important. Not only does it guide users and create a positive experience, but it also enables you to develop sites that foster lasting connections between people, brands, businesses, and their core audiences.
Read on as we explore what a culturally sensitive website might look like in the 21st century. You’ll find out how you can re-evaluate your global design choices to create a more engaging and culturally respectful website for your business.
Table of Contents
⇛ Considering How Much Information Your Audience Wants
One of the key factors in designing culturally sensitive websites is to assess exactly how much information your target audience wants from your site.
Western European and North American websites usually have a familiar look with oversized photographs, simplistic navigation, and a few visible stories or links on any given web page.
Western consumers generally prefer to seek information themselves, which means that designers should keep the amount of information visible limited for these audiences.
On the other hand, Asian web users often expect websites to use every inch of space available to showcase links, text, images, and more. Websites designed for these audiences often use thumbnail-sized images rather than larger photographs to fit as much text as possible onto each page.
Most web development languages are written in English. The complexity of Asian written languages has created a preference among Asian audiences for condensed web designs.
Bear your target groups in mind when deciding how much, or how little, information to include on each page of your website to optimize accessibility.
⇛ Focus on Color Interpretation
The colors you use for your website design have a huge influence on how much of a first impression you make on your audience.
Colors have vastly different meanings in different parts of the world. It’s crucial to bear this in mind when designing a site.
Some cultures see red, for instance, as the color of success, love, and happiness, while others view it as a color of sin or danger. Certain cultures also see specific colors as sacred or holy, which means that these hues are best avoided in web design projects.
Browse through a few websites from the region you’re focusing on, and pay attention to how and where certain colors are used for headline text, graphics, buttons, site borders, and other elements. This will give you a general idea of the most popular and widely accepted colors among your target audience.
Plus, it will help you to avoid certain similarities that may confuse your audiences and prompt them to mistake your brand for another local business.
⇛ Consider Your Audience’s Comfort
People of different cultures may or may not be comfortable taking certain actions online, like submitting personal data to web forms.
Many Western websites have extensive forms requesting personal and business-related information. While some people from other cultures are comfortable with this, others would prefer a more culturally sensitive web design that allows them to retain as much of their privacy as possible.
A recent study found that internet users in Chile had high rates of uncertainty avoidance, and preferred clear navigation and an organized information hierarchy, while US users preferred a high degree of personalization and multi-modality.
Conversely, some demographics are perfectly comfortable calling phone numbers they find online, while others might prefer to email or fill out a contact form.
Do some research to gain an understanding of your target audience’s comfort levels and willingness to perform certain tasks online, and you will be able to amplify your engagement rates.
⇛ Creating Culturally Sensitive Online Forms
Image Source: (Mailrelate)
Web forms are an important consideration in culturally sensitive web design.
Today’s websites have been designed to be user-friendly, mobile compatible, and highly accessible. But without intuitive web form design and information collection, these sites may still risk alienating users from certain cultures.
Most Western web forms ask for a first and last name, such as ‘John Doe’, as this convention fits Western cultural expectations. However, other audiences that have different expectations need to be accommodated, too.
Many cultures, including those of Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, have four-part names, so web forms should include enough space to accommodate consumers’ full names to show respect and avoid communication errors.
Name fields with character limits may pose challenges to certain people, including those with hyphenated names and suffixes that they would like to add to their identities.
You could design web forms that ask for both full names and preferred names to simplify communications with users and customers without being culturally insensitive. Your validation scripts should also be highly permissive.
It is recommended that you remind users not to use backslashes in their names, as these can interfere with your database code. However, remember to permit the use of apostrophes and hyphens to ensure that people of all cultures can write their full names in your web forms if they so desire.
⇛ Using Hofstede’s 5 Dimensions of Culture
Each country’s cultural preferences and values vary widely, so there is no single golden rule for culturally sensitive web design. However, Anthropologist Geert Hofstede’s five dimensions of culture provide more information about the cultural factors preferred by culture or demographic to help professional designers create accessible and appropriate designs.
The five dimensions are as follows:
- The masculinity vs. femininity index
- The long-term vs. short-term orientation
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Power distance
- Individualistic vs. collectivist societies
Cultures like China score highly on power distance and masculinity. Yet their scores are relatively low on long-term orientation and individualism. This means that Chinese web users may respond more positively to male subjects, photographs of people in groups instead of individuals, and brands that are seeking shorter-term connections.
Culture has the power to affect all aspects of a business and brand, including cultural attitudes towards the industry or sector your brand serves.
Researching this before designing a website will allow you to foster positive attitudes towards your brand and website, which can increase ROI and web traffic in the long term.
Tips and Tricks for Culturally Sensitive Web Design
⇨ Do Your Homework
Before starting on any design geared toward a specific culture, conduct some deep research into local brands that offer similar products and services to your own. Find consistent aspects of their website designs and try to emulate these with the help of other tools like Hofstede’s five dimensions of culture.
⇨ Listen to Your Target Audiences
Network with business owners, suppliers, consultants, and members of the local market you wish to target to find out exactly what they want to see in culturally sensitive web design. You’ll likely be able to pick up some valuable guidance to integrate into your culturally appropriate design strategy.
⇨ Identify Flexible Brand Assets
If you’re designing a website for a specific brand, identify which of the brand’s assets are negotiable or flexible before using an international template.
Focus on aspects like wording, use of color, templates, grids, alignment, text size, and more to find facets of your design that can be successfully localized without compromising on your brand identity.
⇨ Test Your Work
A global design template may work best in certain markets, industries, and countries, and it’s ideal for an online portfolio. However, this one size fits all approach needs testing if it’s the way you’re planning to go. It’s important to test any theories you have to ensure that your designs are in line with the expectations of your audiences. If not, revise your designs regularly using data and best practices.
⇨ Use Data to Your Advantage
The customer is always right. Remember to be flexible in your approach to web design and to use the latest available data to regularly update your strategies and keep your target audiences engaged.
Use versions and design elements proven to work well with your demographics, but don’t neglect the opinions of your users over the data you find!
A Brand That Gets It Right
If you’re looking for a brand that focuses on cultural sensitivity with its web design, Mcdonald’s is a prime example. The global fast-food chain has gone to great lengths to ensure that they’ve created websites that speak directly to the audience it is targeting. Not only have they changed navigation and text layouts depending on the language, but they’ve also adjusted their color schemes to reflect the colors relevant to their brand in each region. Plus, they include localized calls to action, feature local holiday specials, and even promote local produce, such as the use of Canadian beef on their Canadian site.
The Bottom Line
If your website is performing exceptionally among certain target audiences and poorly among others, it’s time to focus on culturally sensitive web design.
This will help you to ensure that you aren’t alienating any of your core groups with your website’s design or functionality.
Regardless of what your business sells, cultural preferences can play a huge role in how internet users respond to both your web designs and your products and services.
Managing international web design assets is no easy feat. Consumers’ expectations are constantly evolving alongside new technologies and trends.
If you use a global template for your web designs, be sure to assess whether or not certain elements of your template may be offensive, frustrating, favorable, or acceptable to your cultural target groups.
Using a partially localized template adjusted to the needs of your regional audiences will help you to foster lasting connections with core groups and keep them engaged for longer.
The key is to create consistency whilst remaining cognisant of different cultural views, standpoints, and beliefs. Doing so will give your brand a boost and make it more appealing—something every business aims for.