How to ensure your website makes as much sense in Karachi as it does in West Kensington.
When it comes to website design, there are few faux pas which are global – for instance, while an internet user from Bristol might back away slowly while carefully shielding their eyes when confronted with a page full of animated ‘gifs’, a web surfer from Beijing would likely be delighted. Research into the aesthetic predilections of internet users from different countries has revealed that ‘cultural backgrounds play a substantial role in determining Web design preferences and attitudes’,* so it’s worth taking into account the different needs of international web users when going global with your site.
To get you started, here are four key points to consider when designing a well-traveled website:
1 – Site usability
As hard as it may be to fathom in the Western world, not everyone has access to high speed broadband internet. So if you’re hoping to get readers visiting your site from places like the Middle East, Africa and South America, you’ll want to avoid a site that’s too heavy on flash and graphics – if it takes ten minutes to load a page, your readers aren’t likely to stick around. One way around this is to make two versions of your page, one in flash for those with a super-speed internet connection, and one in html for those without.
2 – Identifying your target audience
Website design and brand credibility go hand in hand, but preferences in website aesthetics can differ greatly between cultures. For instance, in the West internet users tend to prefer muted colour palettes and a sharp, clean design (for example, bank.barclays.co.uk), whereas internet users in India and China like bright colours and interesting effects (bankofindia.com, boc.cn). It’s worth taking this into consideration before designing your site: who are your target audiences, what do they like in a website, and how can you adapt your design and colour scheme to appeal to their different expectations?
3 – Cultural sensitivity
More important than colours and rollover buttons, however, is making sure that the content of your site is appropriate to your different target audiences. While an image of a bikini-clad model on the front page of your site might bring you more hits in the UK, it won’t do you too many favours with users from conservative religious cultures. Consider using imagery which is still eye-catching and vibrant but not ethnically exclusive or gender specific.
4 – Technical tricks
At some stage, you may need to adapt your website to be available in different languages. Rather than starting afresh with the design, it’s useful to consider this at the first stage and build your site using 8-bit Unicode Transformation Format (UTF-8) – it’s compatible with over 90 different written languages and is supported by most browsers and operating systems. It’s also worth subscribing to a geo location service, so that when a user visits your website it will log what country their IP address is registered to and allow your site to automatically direct them to the right section or version of your site.
* Gevorgyan, G & Manucharova, N 2009, Does Culturally Adapted Online Communication Work? A Study of American and Chinese internet Users’ Attitudes and Preferences Toward Culturally Customized Web Design Elements, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Vol 14 Issue 2, pp 393-413.