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The Cultural Variable in Web Design

With all the attention being given to creating a responsive website that can be easily viewed across multiple platforms, there has been one key aspect that seems to have been overlooked; the cultural aspect of the web.

For the most part, people with business mainly in the west tend to be focused only how things are perceived in this neck of the woods. Unlike people in Europe or Asia, where there is a lot more cultural diversity over small areas, people in the United States typically just focus on the “American” view of things. While that may be perfectly fine if you never want or expect your business to grow beyond the borders of the U.S., for those people who want to expand further in the world, the idea of how your site is viewed culturally should be of some consideration.

Becoming Culturally Responsive

Culture can play a large part in how groups of people view and perceive the same thing. Images, words, and icons can all generate different responses emotionally based on where you are from. Even the natural response to color can be looked at differently based on the history of a culture. Just like there is a lot of American pride when you utilize red, white, and blue properly, other places can respond positively or negatively to color schemes and a whole host of other ideas.

Variables to Consider:

  • Context – Some cultures are considered high context while others are lower. In high context you can use more subtle meanings, sarcasm, play on words, and other ambiguous meanings to get a point across. On the other hand low context typically needs a more direct message because otherwise they might miss the message.
  • Cultural Speed – How fast does the general population expect things to be done? Here is a good example; in France meals such as lunch and dinner typically take hours to complete. It is a different speed and expectation compared to the west. Some people need it right now and others are used to things taking a while.
  • Individual vs. Group – Some cultures have more of a group mentality while others tend to exhibit individuality more easily. For the group culture, they can more easily identify and have a natural urge to be included with the group and not excluded.

There are other cultural variables out there. The subject has been studied in-depth since the 1970’s because as the world has become more connected smart marketing people have realized that you need to connect differently across a broad spectrum.

Considerations for Responsiveness

So how can you deal with a variety of cultures if you want your web presence to expand? One of the easiest ways is to have users select a language or country when they arrive at the site. This simple re-direct option allows you to funnel users to slightly different versions of the site that have been properly optimized.

That means a language switch, using proper verbiage for calls to action, color schemes, images, and the whole enchilada. Is this a lot of work? It can be on the initial set-up, but you have to look at this as another investment in your product and reach. Properly marketing to a target audience is always critical and by not have a site that responds to different cultures risks alienation of potential customers out of simple ignorance.

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