Over half of the world’s population has internet access. In 2017, more than 200 million people got their first mobile phones, and with the rapid growth and accessibility to digital communication, user design and experience must take cultural differences into consideration in order to serve global communities.
As a creative studio operating in both Tel Aviv, Israel and New York City, New York, we frequently see the differences across cultures and communication, and in turn, adjust our design practices based on our clients and their respective markets.
There’s a lot of research and psychology around how design varies by geography, and we’re going to explore a few of the stand out differentiators.
The All Seeing Eye: Visual Design
Cultures use sign systems and language to communicate on the surface level, but in design, color and typography take words to the next level and impact perception. There is a lot of research behind the psychology of color, but it is dependent on the culture. For example, in Western culture, red signifies a warning, but in Chinese culture, it is representative of celebration.
Additionally, cultural trends and nuances affect design. An interesting example of how color varies across countries can be seen on McDonald’s website in Israel and America. In Israel, they have increased the usage of green to symbolize health and natural foods, and even changed the emblem on the homepage from a red background to a green one. But, in America, the website still remains the prototypical red and yellow emblem that is favored by fast food companies as red signals hunger and grabs attention.
It’s the same company, attempting to have the same effect (generate sales), but the website’s design is so different across the ocean.
Additionally, when it comes to visual design, the copy cannot be translated one for one between languages because some languages don’t directly translate. Since some words are shorter in English than they are in other languages, the actual layout may be affected when switching between translations. A good rule of thumb, is that, on average, when translating from English to any other language, allow for a 35% expansion as a guideline.
And, of course, as seen in the example above, the orientation of languages affects a site’s layout (i.e. Hebrew is written and read right to left, whereas English is left to right). This means the positioning of text to images and their respective ratios will be different.
Take a Look Around: Site Navigation
From visual design to site navigation, cultures prescribe biases that automatically affect a user’s expectations and experiences.
For example, female-oriented cultures favor multiple links on landing pages because they like options. Cultures that value pragmatism and long-term thinking tend to prefer image heavy websites over the cultures that are more traditional, which prefer a more focused and clutter-free site.
The 411: Information Processing
Cultures also process information in varied ways. Researchers have categorized thinking in two ways: analytical and holistically. Similar to their medical practices, Western cultures tend to be more analytical whereas Eastern cultures opt for a holistic approach. What does that mean for design?
Analytical thinkers seek structure, which translates to separate content blocks and element pairings. Similarly themed content should be paired together so it will be processed at the same time. For Eastern cultures, or holistic thinkers, the page should be relatively distraction free with neutrality that allows for easy scanning to see the big picture all at once.
Audience Matters: The Wrap Up
In content and design, your intended audience dictates everything. As globalization and interconnectivity around the globe expands, design practices need to focus on research, understanding and optimization before the implementation begins.
While humans have the same needs around the globe, interpretation and communication greatly vary and cultural biases, together with language, play a big role in digesting information.
At Craft & Root, we genuinely admire the beauty of diversity and aim to understand cultural differences before jetting off to the design board!