In the 21st century, communicating effectively with global customers can imply significantly more than simply translating the content of the web page. It also involves thinking carefully about other web design aspects, ranging from the choice of colors to navigation.

Adapting the visual designs of websites to a local target audience can be beneficial, because such web design localization increases users’ appeal, trust, and work efficiency. Yet designers often find it difficult to decide when to adapt and how to adapt the designs, mainly because there are currently no guidelines that describe common website designs in various countries (Nordhoff, August, Oliveira & Reinecke, 2018).

Design localization involves adapting visual aspects of a user interface to other countries, such as the layout and overall aesthetics, beyond simply changing the language (Hua, Taslim & Keating, 2014).

For instance, WordPress.com provides a summary of perception of colors for Western, Eastern, Indian & Middle Eastern cultures:



Yoast.com has conducted a cross-cultural study of Dutch and US citizens, and found out that for example, blue and blueish green, combined with a white background, are commonly used for both American and Dutch websites. The main difference lies in the mood set on the website. Dutch websites have a more business-like approach, while American websites focus more on location or pictures of happy, smiling people.


Many components affected by cultural customization. Typically the following website elements require particular consideration in a cultural context and are usually impacted by localization efforts:

Language is one of the most distinctive aspects of culture and is crucial to a user understanding the information on a website. Layout is placement of elements on a web-page. It is key to giving the user a contextual structure for the information displayed. Navigation provides a clear, facilitated path to information and the website structure. Symbols are metaphors denoting actions to the user and their understanding is directly influenced by culture and context. Branding elements such as logo and color are important elements of a company’s identity that can influence a user’s trust in website. Content refers to information, features, and services offered on a website. It represents a form of communication and interaction between the user and company.



There are pros and cons, however, to each cultural customization approach. Standardization can be the most cost-effective way to produce an experience, but to make it successful, thorough user analysis needs to be performed. Depending on the product, it could be virtually impossible to create one that can satisfy the needs of all user types.

Internationalization enables localization, but requires careful planning and architecture of the product to ensure core information is separated from international variables. While localization can increase sales and overcome inherent product resistance, it also has problems that can’t be avoided.

Localization inevitably adds cost due to additional web design considerations of graphics and color in addition to translation costs. Translation of source text alone can cost anywhere from $50 to over $200 per page. With translation, though, there are also hidden costs around training the translation staff and the time spent managing them. In addition, the re-engineering, contextual web design, and translation efforts needed for complete localization can add months to the development cycle (Hoft, 1995, as cited in Woods, 2012).


The transition from national to global business operations involves tasks, where successful completion essentially depends on the company’s ability to cope with culturally-overlapping situations (Holzmüller & Stöttinger, 2001), known as “cultural sensitivity”. This refers to the set of skills enabling organizations to recognize differences in principles of various cultures and take them into account when defining a firm’s strategic direction (Shapiro, Ozanne, & Saatcioglu, 2008).

The most-used and best-known framework for cultural differences is Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions. Over the years, his study led to six cultural dimensions on which countries can be ranked: Power Distance, Individualism/Collectivism, Masculinity/Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-term/Short-term Orientation. Here we will have a look at 2 dimensions which are Power Distance & Individualism.


Power Distance: this dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally: beliefs about the appropriate distribution of power in society. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification.  




Individualism: the Individualism/Collectivism dimension is about the relative importance of individual versus group interests. The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families.




(by blog.usabilla.com)


Low vs High Power Distance


The Dutch site of McDonald’s is very minimalistic and professional in its web design and offers rich information on all different kind of topics, such as products, quality of ingredients, restaurant locations, and sustainability. The visitor is confronted with a clean design and a clear and trustworthy content structure. Any action taken gives the impression it is taken on our own initiative.



Why? People from societies with a small power distance don’t like to be controlled. They only accept leadership if it’s based on true expertise. Offer enough objective and detailed information on your website to allow people to make up their own mind. Meet your website visitors on eye-level, treat them with respect, and show interest in their needs. Communicate with this group in an informal, direct, and participative way to gain their trust and get them engaged.

The Chinese website  on the other hand is be very packed and commercial. The web design is very colorful and makes use of high contrast. The homepage features lots of visuals with focus on the different products. The main navigation features only commercial topics, such as “Products”, “Available 24/7”, “Birthday party”, and “Coupon deals”. The website is clearly not information-focused.



Why? Website visitors from societies with a big power distance are used to authorities and solid structures. Be prepared that they take you as an expert and trust you as authority figure. Make sure you offer them facts and clear statements and don’t give them too much responsibility. Website visitors from this group are less critical and less driven to search for detailed information in order to make up their own mind.

Individualism vs Collectivism

The US site of McDonald’s is very focused on the benefits of the individual website visitor. The design is clear and the site offers a lot of information on all different kind of topics. The site offers a lot of personal calls to action, such as “Meet McDonald’s fish supplier Kenny Logan”, “Find your favorite deal”, or “Try our newest catch”, which require the visitors to interact with the site. Also, on one of the pages it says “exactly what you want”, which appeals to the individual visitor and the idea of self-fulfillment.



Why? People from societies with a high score on individualism take initiative, act upon their own needs and desires, and make their own decisions. They are concerned with their own well-being and take responsibility for themselves and their decisions. On your website, this is an important aspect to consider. People from this group visit your site in their own interest, with their own goal, making their own decisions. You need to focus on these very individual requirements in order to convert them into loyal customers.

On the Turkish website of McDonald’s, the social aspect is very important. For example, social media buttons can be found on three different spots on the homepage, highlighting the McDonald’s “community” and it’s popularity. The visual of the cook, who presents different menus, demonstrates expertise and works as a reference point for customers. Also, visitors can download a mobile app with different features, such as customer reviews and restaurant ratings.



Why? On the other hand, web visitors from a collectivist culture act in the interest of the group, rather than their own interest. They make decisions based on the opinion of others and on what’s common or popular, not so much on their individual desire. Consider this on your website and offer enough reference points, such as “most popular” categories, testimonials, or social media sharing options to gather instant and personal feedback from friends.


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