Cultural Differences and Their Impact on Web Design

Manoj kumar | 5th December 2017

Welcome to a globalized world, one where business is conducted across borders and without fear or favour of a particular culture or nationality. In this global environment, how much of a consideration should culture play in our designs? Having this question and its attendant issues in mind as you design is vital for tailoring your work to diverse social groups and audiences.

Does Culture Control Design?

Are cultural differences strong enough to influence design decisions? Will someone in America, for example, prefer a completely different style of site to, say, someone in Finland? Frustratingly, the right answer is probably “yes” and “no”.

“Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbour is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.”

—Paulo Coelho, author


Cultural differences are not surface deep; they change the way that we perceive the world.

The Critical Design Factors (for All Cultures)

Aesthetic Appeal – This can and does vary between cultures. To a certain degree, you should tailor the visual harmonies and colours, etc. to the target audience. This is another case for market research. If you’re targeting one particular audience, make sure that the way your site looks works for them. If you know your target audience, you can then begin to design for that audience and seek their opinions as to what works and what doesn’t. If you’re targeting more than one audience, you might want to make sure that it works for the majority and live with the fact that there’s a minority who aren’t as happy with the site.
Dynamic Appeal – If you succeed in getting the aesthetics right, the dynamic appeal of your site will naturally follow. That means if you’ve matched the looks of the site to their cultural expectations, users will have built sufficient trust such that they can agree with the meat of the message you’re offering. For example, if you’re designing for a company that makes drones that can carry heavier loads and which markets them in the USA and in China, after factoring in the aesthetic appeal you would make two distinct websites to reflect the cultures. The dynamic appeal transcends language—a drone buyer in China will be no less enthusiastic than one in America. Your getting the aesthetic appeal right will mean the user can move straight to desiring the product or service without being put off by alien features. This is true across all cultures according to research reported by Nathalie Nahai in her book Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

he Critical Factor for Audience Acceptance in Different Cultures

This should be obvious, but hosts of websites exist which fail in this particular criteria. The language of your site should be the language your customers speak.

That means if your audience is Mainland Chinese, your site should be in Mandarin (or Putonghua as it’s better known on the Mainland). It must also be in traditional Mandarin and not simplified Mandarin (which is used in Taiwan).

Low-quality and poor translations are a deal breaker. There’s nothing worse than accessing sites that show no affiliation with the language they purport to speak. The occasional textual error is not a deal breaker; pages and pages of Google Translated text is.

If you want to sell to a market whose language you don’t speak, you need to hire a native speaker to write your web copy for you. You may also want to check that the copy has the expected impact with another native speaker before you let it go out live on the internet. The whole point here is establishing and building trust with your users. If you look like an imposter who stumbles about with words that show a fatal failure to appreciate idioms, for instance, you won’t access your users at all. We can bring this back to English in idiomatic constructions such as to “throw” a party. If you were to say you were “setting up” a party, you’d arouse suspicions. You can’t afford mistakes like that—get a native speaker who’s at least almost as fluent in English.

A Final Note – Avatars

If your site allows people to choose an avatar, or if it uses an avatar to represent a customer service person or salesperson to the user, it’s a good idea to have avatars that represent your users. If your audience is Chinese and all your avatars are white Barbie and Ken clones, you’re more likely to alienate your customers than increase their desire to do business with you. In such a context, always assume the face of the race; otherwise, your output will likely have little more than value as a curiosity, and curiosities don’t sell consistently well.

The Take Away

Cultural differences will impact on how an audience will respond to your design. If you cater to the aesthetic preferences of a culture, then it seems likely that you will also, by default, cater to their dynamic preferences. If you’ve set the stage in your site to match the audience, chances are they’ll trust what you’re saying and latch with your message, and—hopefully—the call to action, too. It’s very important to ensure that you tailor the language of a product or service to the audience; therefore, high-quality translations are a must. Finally, it’s a good idea to ensure that avatars represent the audience – failure to do so could lead to a failure to identify with your product. Overall, you must create a magic mirror so that users see themselves in it; then, trusting you as one of them, they’ll be ready to listen and do things.

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Manoj kumar

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