Do you remember Riley from the animation movie ‘Inside Out’? Riley is an 11-year-old girl who moved from Minnesota to San Francisco with her family. The story centres on Riley’s basic emotions (joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness) which are affected by this change. The emotions are personified and manifested by different characters. In one of the scenes, as her father tries to have Riley eat broccolis, she feels disgust and anger. But is it really broccoli that Riley doesn’t like? Well, it depends on which version of the animation you watch. In its British and American versions, it is broccolis, whereas in its Japanese version, what we see is peppers, not broccolis. If you’re aware of the fact that in Japanese culture most of the children enjoy eating broccolis, but not peppers, then you can make sense of why film makers did such a change along with many other changes.
Sensitivity to cultural differences is not only observed in movies; it applies to many communication tools designed for use in different cultures. The most common of those tools are websites. Over the last two decades, the number of Internet users has grown exponentially and the web has become an important and indispensable communication channel throughout the world. Accordingly, the success of websites has also become an essential aspect of various businesses.
The web is certainly a global phenomenon. However, its global presence and easy accessibility does not mean that there are no issues related to the understanding and interpretation of its content. In fact, culture is one of the most important phenomena we cannot afford to ignore in design and development of digital products and services. Let us give you some examples of how the design as well as the use of websites are influenced by culture.
For example, in general, people from Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Japan prefer using the Internet for social communication and leisure, whereas people in the United States tend to use the Internet mostly for information, shopping, and entertainment purposes. Furthermore, as compared to Western countries, many African and Asian countries tend to use symbols more such as religious ones, and expect people to interpret meaning from fewer words. On the other hand, North American and European cultures tend to use more text, and spell out their messages more explicitly. These are often reflected in users’ website preferences as well. Chinese, Japanese and Korean users often expect to see a greater use of images, videos and sidebars, On the other hand, Scandinavian or German designs tend to be more text-heavy. Actually, McDonald’s website is a perfect example for cross-cultural website design given that each of McDonald’s websites in different countries differs radically not just in terms of text and translation, but also in terms of the kind of images used, selected typography, designed colour palettes, and chosen layouts. Such patterns of culture in the design can be identified as reflections of emotions, behaviours, and the beliefs of users in different cultures. In McDonald’s Turkish website, promotion menus for individual groups dominate the pages. In contrast, the German website pay more attention to individuality. For instance, individual figures are used in German website rather than groups. This is probably because Turkish society is a relatively collectivistic culture as compared to German society which is mainly an individualistic one.
To become successful in an international market, sensitivity to cultural differences and preferences in web design is crucial. A web page designed in one country may not be equally appealing to potential customers in other countries. International customers may be less likely to buy your products or services if the design of your shop does not resemble the style of websites in their home country or when it does not reflect their cultural patterns. Sun (2001), in examining the effects of cultures on web pages argued that users take cultural priorities into account in evaluating a web page, and that web pages with icons, figures, colours, texts, and sounds that can be described as cultural symbols have a higher level of user friendliness. This is because cultural symbols increase user satisfaction and ease of use. Besides, plenty of research studies revealed that the use of design components that are culturally appropriate improve effectiveness of the design and views on design media. The cultural elements in design components like colours, visuals, language, and typographic arrangements in interactive media designs meet the cultural expectations of users.
Interaction Design represents the turning point and the ideal bridge in considering the importance of the user’s culture. Designers need to consider the effects of culture on various processes such as judgment and decision making, perceptions, emotions, and beliefs. As Rimondi (2015) says “The user interface becomes a place in which to live, a world in which trade and communication take place, not only between man and machine, but also among people within the mediated environment.” (p.105).
Rimondi, R. (2015). Intercultural aspects of web design: Approaches to culture-centered design. PsychNology Journal, 13(1), 101-120.
Sun, H. (2001). Building a culturally competent corporate web site: An exploratory study of cultural markers in multilingual web design. In Proceedings of the 19th Annual International Conference on Computer Documentation (pp. 95-102). New York: ACM. Smith, Dunckley, French, Minoch, and Chang.