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3 Things to Consider for Culturally Relevant Web Design

While most people understand that the Internet is universally accessible around the globe, there’s often a belief that there are also universally accepted best practices for web design. In fact, there are many different design components that should be considered for different cultures. Below are three questions to think about as you’re evaluating your global design choices.

How much information does this audience want?

Take a look at the following two homepages: first the CNN UK edition, and then Sohu, a Chinese news and gaming portal.

The CNN website will provide a familiar look and feel for most viewers from Western Europe and North America. Oversized photography, simple navigation, and a limited number of visible stories on any given page are all hallmarks of Western design. Consumers in this market are well accustomed to seeking out information on their own, placing less onus on designers to cram information into every visible pixel.

Conversely, users in Asian markets expect websites to use all real estate to showcase extra bits of text or images. On the Sohu homepage shown here, images are condensed to thumbnail sizes to accommodate additional text throughout the page. Where the CNN website had three main entry points (main navigation, primary headline, top stories area), Sohu offers upward of a dozen.

The root of Eastern vs. Western web design differences is frequently attributed to the differences in Asian vs. Western characters, and the fact that web development languages are almost exclusively written in English. The complexity of Asian characters has lead to Chinese and Japanese audiences expressing a preference for “busy” or condensed web design. Comparing Eastern and Western designs presents obvious differences, but even looking closely at regions within one country can highlight the need for unique content and design choices.

How will colors be interpreted?

Color choice may have the single biggest impact on a user’s first impression of your website. Thinking on a global scale, however, colors can also have dramatically different meanings. While red is a color of energy, love, and success in some nations, others see it as a color of mourning or sin.

When designing for a new audience, take some time to evaluate the top sites in that region, and pay close attention to where and how specific colors are being used. What colors are used for buttons, headline text, and graphics? On a micro scale, understanding the colors being used by competitors can also help to shape a culturally relevant design.

For example, any jewelry company that launches a website with teal as a primary color will automatically draw comparisons to Tiffany. Gaining a full understanding of top sites (and their color schemes) within a region will enable you to avoid or exploit similarities. The same approach can be taken to ensure that icons, graphics, and images have the desired resonance with your audience.

What actions is this audience comfortable taking?

Different cultures have varying levels of comfort when it comes to taking actions online and submitting personal information to websites. It’s common practice for Western B2B websites to have lengthy forms requiring all kinds of personal and business information. While this type of form is expected in some areas, other countries or regions may not be comfortable taking such a dramatic step online.

Similarly, some users are more apt to pick up the phone and call a number they see online, as opposed to sending an email. Spending the time to gain an understanding of your audience’s comfort levels and willingness to engage can maximize the value you gain from your web property.

Case Study: McGlobal Design

McDonald’s is a leader in global design efforts, creating unique websites for nearly every market it operates in. Below are a few examples of how the burger behemoth has created international sites that speak directly to the audiences accessing them.





Thinking through choices about content, color, and calls-to-action can be a time-intensive effort in the web-design process. The best way to ease this initiative and ensure a culturally relevant result is to conduct user testing in the regions where your audience resides.

What are some of your favorite examples of culturally tailored design? Let us know in the comments!

Top image: Global communication vector illustration by Antoniu

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