Culture is a very diverse, complex, and multi-layer concept. It stretches far beyond the geographical boundaries of countries. Due to globalization, many states have turned from mono-national to international communities.
Thus, a UX designer needs to consider cultural diversity when designing for specific audiences. It’s vital to consider cultural nuances when rendering product redesign services so that you don’t marginalize or offend any cultural group.
How can you make your UX design truly cross-cultural? Is there any sense in creating a universal design, or should it be localized for every market? Here is a guide to the principles guiding cross-cultural web designs and methodologies.
Impact of Culture on Design
Culture may seem an intangible, elusive concept many find hard to define and measure. Still, it is pervasive in all layers of human interaction. Belonging to a specific cultural identity determines how people perceive information, see the world, and make decisions. Culture explains the set of guiding values and principles of people to which a skilled UX designer should appeal to maximize the value and relevance of their digital products.
Here are some cultural dimensions affecting design solutions:
- Power distance. Cultures with high power distance favor rigid hierarchical order, while those with a low power distance usually have flat hierarchies.
- Masculinity and femininity features. Some societies are predominantly masculine, with competitiveness and achievement cherished above all. Feminine-dominant cultures are more cooperative and focused on well-being.
- Individualism/collectivism. Individualist cultures propagate one’s care for themselves only. Collectivist cultures derive power from collaboration and group activity.
- Uncertainty avoidance. The degree of comfort in the conditions of uncertainty determines this dimension.
- Indulgence. Some cultures oppress self-indulgence and life joys, while others propagate an indulgent lifestyle.
- Long-term orientation. A short-term focus favors quick goals and results, while long-term cultural orientation favors patient, steady achievement of a better future.
When designing for a specific culture, a UX designer should conduct thorough research and evaluate its features discussed above. You will choose proper UX design solutions depending on the cultural traits and values you want to appeal to.
Localization vs. Translation
Once you understand the cross-cultural needs of your project, it’s time to choose the path towards achieving its genuine cross-cultural feel. Businesses have a rich set of solutions in this regard, positioned on a continuum between two extremes – localization and translation.
- Translation is the simplest and the least effective approach to cross-cultural design. It presupposes no changes in the visual layout and design of the website. Only the text of the resource is translated into the target language.
- Localization is a labor-intensive yet very effective cross-cultural design methodology. It involves layout and design adaptation to the local culture, focusing on the target audience’s cultural artifacts, values, and buying habits. This way, you have a separate web interface for every location, created with full respect to the cultural context.
As noted above, most businesses don’t choose any of these extremes, going for the middle ground. Some brands introduce tiny changes in the layout and use separate design elements together with translation to achieve a cross-cultural effect. For example, many online stores use Asian models and refer to the Asian holidays on their Asian website versions.
Cross-Cultural UX Design Principles
So, how can you develop a culturally sensitive UX design based on the data you collect from users and competitors in the target market? How to see whether your design solution is successful or not? Here is a set of guiding principles to follow in the UX design practice.
Local UI pattern research
It’s important to look at the dominant UI design approaches in the intended location to come to the market with familiar designs. For example, most Western countries use Google-style hamburger or kebab-style menus. However, a quick analysis of the Chinese market shows that these UI patterns are not popular here. The Chinese websites use a “discover” button denoted by a compass icon to hide all secondary items. This UI approach reflects the Chinese mindset of app use as an ecosystem and their natural curiosity to “discover” its specific features.
User interaction with information
Users exhibit different behaviors on websites depending on their cultural identity. Thus, they have different expectations regarding the design and density of presented content. For instance, Western users favor minimalism in visual design, while Asian visitors feel more attracted to content-rich pages with numerous banners, text blocks, and CTAs. This distinction is explained by a varying degree of collectivism and individualism in the West versus East.
Mind the local jargon and language use patterns, even if your website is in English. A couple of illustrative examples: a sweet in the UK is called candy in the USA, while Australians call it lollies. Thus, if you’re an owner of an international candy shop, you’ll have trouble promoting your products in different English-speaking locations without proper terminology adjustments.
Local marketing approaches
The way you choose terms and write slogans also affects the success of your marketing efforts. People want ads to speak their language. Otherwise, they simply won’t understand your message. So, take your time to find out how locals speak, what names they have for your products, and in what context they use those names.
No machine translation
Machine translation is a usability killer. The solution used to be popular for mega-stores like Amazon or Ali Express, but the texts produced by machines make no sense. So, never resort to this method of localizing content, as it won’t be understandable even to a language pro.
Local digital use patterns
The last but not the least point for consideration in cross-cultural UX design is the target market’s set of primary devices and access to digital products. Some countries have higher desktop Internet use rates, while smartphones are the preferred choice in other markets. iPhones dominate one country’s market, while other states witness Samsung’s domination. All these differences should be reflected in the design for correct menu positioning, proper layout, and feature support by various devices.
Culture Is Pervasive in Design
You can do without culture in design. It guides how people think, view the world, and make choices. Thus, to make your design appealing and relevant, you must be culturally sensitive and aware in UX design solutions. Use the tips discussed above to make your digital products genuinely cross-cultural and attractive for diverse cultural groups.