Challenges In Designing Websites For Different Cultures –

One of the wonders of technology is that it has opened communication channels across the world. We are able to compete on a global scale against competitors in every domestic market. While this globalization opens up a sea of opportunity, there are challenges that need to be overcome to reap the benefits; one of the most important being that you’ll need to design a website that is tailored to suit the foreign market you are entering.

In designing websites for different cultures, the following five points need to be carefully considered.


1. Useful Tools

Style sheet languages are useful tools to use when designing your website. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allow you to alter the content for your chosen foreign language and not need to start each page from scratch. CSS also allow for an element of consistency and reformatting is easier; by simply changing one line, another stylesheet can be used for the same page. The direction of your text can be changed as well, which is something that will save a lot of time if you’re changing into right-to-left languages such as Arabic, Urdu and Hebrew.

However, there are problems with CSS that you’ll need to be aware of. CSS contains no variables, so you would need to replace everything when you want to change a fundamental constant such as your color scheme. There is also no multiple background option per element as CSS can only support one. Furthermore, because CSS is a styling language, not a layout language, you might not have the control and flexibility you need to design your website for a foreign market.

You should consider using Unicode UTF-8, as it is a handy tool that can work with around eighty written languages; included in this are non-Latin scripts like Arabic and the non-Latin characters found in Nordic languages like Swedish.

2. How the Foreign Language will affect the Layout

The layout of your text will change when it is translated into a foreign language. Languages like Dutch and Finnish will take up more space per word; while Chinese will take up less. Not only will you not need to put any spaces between words in Chinese, a Chinese character, in font Song Ti, size 12, will roughly take the same space as a two letter word in English, written in the font Times New Roman of the same size. If you apply this comparison even just to a single sentence, it is apparent that translation into Chinese will take up less space.You’ll need to research how your chosen foreign language will alter the layout, as everything from the main text to text within images will be affected.

3. Appropriate Font Treatments

Font treatments such as italics and bold are also important factors to consider. For example, unlike in English, if you apply the bold option to a Japanese character, it will transform into an illegible mess. In Asia, a different style font or a larger size is usually used instead of bold characters. Similarly, italics are avoided in Asian scripts as it makes them hard to read. Instead, a different font size, going up two or three sizes, is the norm.

4. The Colors that you Use

The colors displayed on your website will mean different things to different cultures. So, you will need to make sure that you use an appropriate color scheme. This includes the color of your logo, text and background. Xerox is a good website for researching this area as they have an International Color Guide that shows what different colors mean in different countries. For example, in Japan, red represents life and vitality. However, in the USA, red can represent danger and death.

5. Images

Hebrew speakers are likely to interpret images the same way they interpret their language –from right-to-left. So, if you are selling eye drops and you have an image containing three divided pictures: the first, on the left,of a person frowning with bloodshot eyes, the second, in the middle,of that person using the eye drops and the third, on the right, being that person smiling with healthy looking eyes, this will be interpreted the wrong way around. The same goes for all other right-to-left language users, so you’ll need to be careful.

Specific images are also portrayed differently in different cultures, stemming from their grammar design, such as grammatical gender. For example ‘death’ is usually depicted as a man in German because the word is masculine, but in Russia ‘death’ is more likely to be depicted as a woman as it is feminine.

For the best results, any images that you want to put on your foreign market website will have to be researched to make sure that they are culturally appropriate.