Today, a majority of the world's Web traffic is generated outside of the United States. However, many websites in western countries--particularly in the U.S.--do not take the idea of a global audience into consideration, even though a substantial portion of their revenue may be foreign. What is needed is an understanding of how different cultures respond to various website designs.
Attention should to paid to regional languages and customs. For instance, in Chinese, Coca-Cola means "bite the wax tadpole." Wisely, the Coca-Cola company changed their name in China to the phonetic equivalent of "happiness in the mouth" (Hendrix, 2001). Unfortunately, even common web elements have various names, depending not only upon the language of the country, but also its current conventions. For example, in the United States the "shopping cart" button is indicative of a means to purchase an item. In England, however, this element is referred to as a "basket."
Color has psychological effects on users that are different across cultures. According to Russo and Boor (1993), color can present opposite meanings, such as yellow for cowardice in the United States, and Grace and Nobility in Japan. See Table 1 for some cultural associations of color.
Table 1. Examples of cultural associations of color (From Russo & Boor, 1993).
The first dimension, power-distance, refers to the degree in which individuals with less power expect and accept unequal distributions of power within a culture. Cultures with a high amount of power-distance (PD) tend to have centralized political power and deep hierarchies. According to Hofstede, these types of societies emphasize hierarchical relationships, authority, experts, certifications and official logos, leaders, security, and an acceptance for restrictions to information access. Cultures with low PD emphasize flatter hierarchies and greater equality in relationships. Thus cultures with a high PD may typically feel comfortable with a greater emphasis on highlighting the accomplishments of high-ranking individuals within a company, as well as providing a greater hierarchical relationship between different divisions and positions within the site. Low PD cultures, such as Denmark, would tend to be more comfortable with sites that showcase 'common' individuals or both genders. They would also tend to de-emphasize hierarchical differences between individuals within the same company (see Table 2 for scores of countries that were studied).
The second dimension, individualism, refers to the degree to which a culture emphasis the self and immediate family over the society at large. Cultures with large amounts of individualism (IND), such as the United States, value personal freedom and rewards, privacy, and diversity of opinion. Here freedom of the press and self-actualization are prized. According to Marcus and Gould, cultures that are high in IND will emphasize images of personal success, youth, change. The converse of this, collectivism, emphasizes group harmony, experience of older and wise leaders, and tradition and history. Thus, individuals in countries such as in the United States should feel more comfortable visiting sites that promote a very modern-looking, youthful, and individually successful looking design. Collective cultures, such as in Guatemala, should feel more comfortable with sites that promote the history of the company and how it helps the Guatemalan society at- large. Images could reflect this view by prominently showing company leaders working together with the Guatemalan people.
The third dimension, masculinity, refers to the degree to which traditional masculine roles of assertiveness and competition are emphasized. Cultures with high masculinity (MAS) stress and value these values, whereas cultures that de-emphasize them tend to stress mutual cooperation and family support. Thus Japan, which has the highest MAS index, may as a society be more comfortable with sites that promote traditional male and female roles, as well as have certain sections of a site specifically dedicated to each gender. Countries such as Sweden, on the other hand, should probably not have sites that emphasize gender roles because they have a very low MAS score.
The fourth dimension, uncertainty avoidance,
refers to the degree to which individuals have anxiety about uncertain
events. Hofstede points out that cultures with a high
amount of uncertainty avoidance (UA) tend to be expressive, have more
formal and simple rules, and desire structure in organizations.
Low UA cultures tend to desire more informal business arrangements and
are more relaxed. Thus, individuals within countries with a high UA,
such as Greece, would tend to prefer sites with limited, simple, and
redundant navigational devices, whereas individuals in Hong Kong would
tend to prefer greater complexity and less control over
Table 2. The scores for the four dimensions of world culture. (From Hofstede, 1991).
Note: If you see an 'international' focused website that violates the conventions of your culture, please email me the type of violations so I can report them. firstname.lastname@example.org
Usability Research Lab