Cross-cultural web design

Cross-Cultural Web Design: Thinking Global From the Start

This is the Guest Post by Christian Arno. If you are interested in writing for us then check out the details here.

Building an attractive, user-friendly website is one thing. Adapting it t

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o fit with the language and culture of other countries is quite a different thing.

Indeed, the very moment you launch your website into cyberspace you’re global. And it’s for this reason that you should make a few key considerations early on in the design phase, so that if you decide you need to adapt it at a later point, the process can be implemented a lot more smoothly.

Content is King

image source stock.xchng

It’s true to say that whilst the look and feel of your website is crucial; it’s the content that rules the roost. That is, the true value of your website is in what the site offers your visitors rather than how pretty it looks.

For this reason, it goes without saying that your English language website should be written professionally, read coherently and be of genuine use to your target audience. For online businesses that plan to target non-English language markets, you will at some point have to translate your website into other languages: 75% of the world’s population speaks no English whatsoever. Even fluent English speakers would prefer to communicate in their native tongue (if that isn’t English), so the need to adapt your site for other languages may prove unavoidable.

With this in mind, consider the following benefits of designing your website using UTF-8 character encoding for Unicode:

  • Compatible with over 90 scripts (written languages)
  • Repertoire of over 100,000 different characters
  • Adopted by IT industry leaders (Apple, Microsoft, IBM etc)
  • Supported by most common browsers and operating systems

Essentially, developing your website in Unicode will mean it’s far more flexible for future adaption. And, importantly, most of the common design tools such as Dreamweaver and Front Page facilitate development in Unicode.

Cross-Cultural Color Schemes

image by rintakumpu

Generally speaking, color is a very subjective thing in web design. What looks good to one person will look awful to someone else and there’s only so much you can do to please everybody.

However, whilst your color selection can be representative of your service-offering (e.g. ‘blue’ if you’re a water-sports company), it most certainly should reflect your target countries: colors mean different things to different cultures. Consider the following examples:

Red: Signifies danger or passion in western cultures, or ‘purity’ in India or ‘good luck/celebration’ in China.

Orange: Religious connotations (protestant) in Northern Ireland; ‘autumn’ (fall) or creativity in many western cultures

Purple: Depicts ‘royalty’ in the west, or ‘mourning’ in some eastern cultures (e.g. Thailand)

Interestingly, black is often used to represent ‘death’ or ‘funerals’ in western cultures, but white is used to denote this in many eastern cultures.

In short, colors can mean different things in different cultures. It pays to be wary of your color scheme if you plan to ‘go global’.

Website Way-Finding (Navigation!)

image by Sebastian Niedlich

Naturally, you want your website visitors to find their way around your site with ease. Navigation bars, scroll bars…there are best-practice guides that dictate the best place for navigational aids. But these are generally based on left-to-right (LTR) languages, e.g. English, French and German. However, many language scripts read from right-to-let (RTL), such as Arabic, which is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world.

It may be enough to simply switch the navigation bar to the other side of the site, but to minimize the amount of changes you need to make and for consistency, then a horizontal navigation bar might be the best option from the start. Regardless of what you actually decide, as long as you are switched on to these issues in the first place, your job will be made a whole lot easier later on.

And that’s the very basics of designing a multilingual-friendly website. Now it’s time to go global!Rich Text AreaToolbarBold (Ctrl + B)Italic (Ctrl + I)Strikethrough (Alt + Shift + D)Unordered list (Alt + Shift + U)Ordered list (Alt + Shift + O)Blockquote (Alt + Shift + Q)Align Left (Alt + Shift + L)Align Center (Alt + Shift + C)Align Right (Alt + Shift + R)Insert/edit link (Alt + Shift + A)Unlink (Alt + Shift + S)Insert More Tag (Alt + Shift + T)Proofread WritingToggle fullscreen mode (Alt + Shift + G)Show/Hide Kitchen Sink (Alt + Shift + Z)Insert Poll
FormatFormat▼
UnderlineAlign Full (Alt + Shift + J)Select text color▼
Paste as Plain TextPaste from WordRemove formattingInsert custom characterOutdentIndentUndo (Ctrl + Z)Redo (Ctrl + Y)Help (Alt + Shift + H)

This is the Guest Post by Christian Arno. If you are interested in writing for us then check out the details here.
Building an attractive, user-friendly website is one thing. Adapting it to fit with the language and culture of other countries is quite a different thing.
Indeed, the very moment you launch your website into cyberspace you’re global. And it’s for this reason that you should make a few key considerations early on in the design phase, so that if you decide you need to adapt it at a later point, the process can be implemented a lot more smoothly.

Content is King

image source stock.xchng
It’s true to say that whilst the look and feel of your website is crucial; it’s the content that rules the roost. That is, the true value of your website is in what the site offers your visitors rather than how pretty it looks.
For this reason, it goes without saying that your English language website should be written professionally, read coherently and be of genuine use to your target audience. For online businesses that plan to target non-English language markets, you will at some point have to translate your website into other languages: 75% of the world’s population speaks no English whatsoever. Even fluent English speakers would prefer to communicate in their native tongue (if that isn’t English), so the need to adapt your site for other languages may prove unavoidable.
With this in mind, consider the following benefits of designing your website using UTF-8 character encoding for Unicode:
Compatible with over 90 scripts (written languages)
Repertoire of over 100,000 different characters
Adopted by IT industry leaders (Apple, Microsoft, IBM etc)
Supported by most common browsers and operating systems
Essentially, developing your website in Unicode will mean it’s far more flexible for future adaption. And, importantly, most of the common design tools such as Dreamweaver and Front Page facilitate development in Unicode.
Cross-Cultural Color Schemes

image by rintakumpu
Generally speaking, color is a very subjective thing in web design. What looks good to one person will look awful to someone else and there’s only so much you can do to please everybody.
However, whilst your color selection can be representative of your service-offering (e.g. ‘blue’ if you’re a water-sports company), it most certainly should reflect your target countries: colors mean different things to different cultures. Consider the following examples:
Red: Signifies danger or passion in western cultures, or ‘purity’ in India or ‘good luck/celebration’ in China.
Orange: Religious connotations (protestant) in Northern Ireland; ‘autumn’ (fall) or creativity in many western cultures
Purple: Depicts ‘royalty’ in the west, or ‘mourning’ in some eastern cultures (e.g. Thailand)
Interestingly, black is often used to represent ‘death’ or ‘funerals’ in western cultures, but white is used to denote this in many eastern cultures.
In short, colors can mean different things in different cultures. It pays to be wary of your color scheme if you plan to ‘go global’.
Website Way-Finding (Navigation!)

image by Sebastian Niedlich

Naturally, you want your website visitors to find their way around your site with ease. Navigation bars, scroll bars…there are best-practice guides that dictate the best place for navigational aids. But these are generally based on left-to-right (LTR) languages, e.g. English, French and German. However, many language scripts read from right-to-let (RTL), such as Arabic, which is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world.
It may be enough to simply switch the navigation bar to the other side of the site, but to minimize the amount of changes you need to make and for consistency, then a horizontal navigation bar might be the best option from the start. Regardless of what you actually decide, as long as you are switched on to these issues in the first place, your job will be made a whole lot easier later on.
And that’s the very basics of designing a multilingual-friendly website. Now it’s time to go global!
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Written by Christian Arno

Christian Arno launched Lingo24 - translation company and website localization specialists - in 2001. With operations across four continents and clients in over sixty countries, Lingo24 had a turnover of $6.1m USD in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @lingo24.

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