Creating a Web Design That Fits any Culture

Posted on May 15, 2012 by
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People on the world are vastly varied and it is naïve to believe that a web design that resonates properly with a group of people can be equally effective with others. Web designers should tailor their designs to fit different cultures through correct understanding of unique and global values. Many designers have the benefit of designing a website targeted specifically at a culture. If you are designing at those with similar cultures to yours, you have the benefit of experiencing the culture for a lifetime, which can leverage both your written and visual communication. You know what makes people of your own culture ticks; what grabs their attention, what shocks them and even, what offends them.

However, many designers don’t have such luck. The World Wide Web has made the Earth a very small place and designing a website for global audience is a trend that continues to increase as the Internet becomes more ubiquitous. But how do we design a website for foreign cultures that we don’t understand?

The task of global designers goes way beyond choosing typefaces and color palettes. Many designers may not have majored in human psychology, international business or anthropology, but these facets often make their way into their daily routines. You should also be aware that you can’t please everyone. Trying to please multiple groups of people with completely separate goals and ideals can be the hardest task of all. It is very difficult to figure out where to start as designers need to take into account million different factors. Fortunately, we can make use of powerful theories and conclusions to simplify this issue greatly by applying certain constructs and archetypes to a global project.

There are a number of models that try to explain how cultures influence values. Many of these models received some criticism over the years and they are most definitely not perfect. However, as a designer, you should open your eyes to experts’ opinions to avoid reinventing the wheel.

Most cultures fall somewhere between these extremes:

• Equality and inequality: Some cultures lean towards opinions of equality regardless of social hierarchy. People share ideas that even economically challenged individuals can make a difference by having the right to be heard. However, other cultures accept the difference of positions and embrace hierarchy to a greater degree.
• Individualism and collectivism: An individualist culture places much emphasis on individual responsibility and achievement. Individual responsibility and achievement are praised. Failure and success is largely in an individual’s hands. People are more compelled to their own personal interest. On the other hand, cultures with an emphasis on collectivism are likely to live and work in groups, where credit for both failure and success is shared. Everyone is equally important because each is a part of something greater. When making a decision, an individual is expected to consider the group before selfish priorities.
• Masculinity and femininity: Masculine cultures value power, competition, and ambition, while attributing achievement to material gain. On the other hand, feminine cultures value quality of life and lasting relationship. Also masculine cultures tend to divide tasks based on gender roles.

Is this important?
The categorization mentioned above is woefully close to something we read in college textbooks. It may be a dry stuff, but a real interesting bit comes in when we deal with a culture that we don’t expect to design for. By learning where a country falls on each item above, we can make informed decision about how to create a design that will resonate and actively engage with the audience. For example, the United States and many Western countries score really high in individualism category; in fact, it is a prominent facet in their culture. This could tell us that many westerners respond better to images of successful individuals with leadership, innovation and other qualities.
On the other hand, in many parts of Asia, individualism is a lower dimension and it may even be frowned upon. You may need to choose images that depict a group with shared goals or at least two individuals who are working together.

Masculinity and femininity are other easy targets in design consideration. For example, car ads in Germany have high masculinity value, which emphasizes on competitive and speed elements. On the other hand, Finnish are much more feminine, car ads tend to show a family or couple enjoying life in a comfortable and spacious vehicle.

Conclusion
Web designers should be aware that many stuffy and boring marketing principles can make them better professionals. Whether they work with a client from other cultures or not, gaining and wielding this knowledge might enhance the value of their globally distributed web designs and it can even help further their career. Web designers with solid understanding on global marketing knowledge are primed for better management positions.

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