These days, web design’s core focus seems to be all about how a site displays on different size screens. Responsiveness is seemingly the be-all and end-all and web designers and developers tend to get bogged down in the coding and technical details. However, if you want to truly provide an excellent user experience, you have to start thinking about the cultural and emotional side of the user. You need to be culturally sensitive and incorporate this in your designs.
This design theory requires that you understand that users come from different backgrounds and that their backgrounds will lead to them responding in positive and negative ways to different design elements. Culture can form part of a person’s core identity. Alternatively, it could be small actions or ideas that are natural to some and not to others.
Whichever way you look at it, cultural sensitivity is important. Web designers that can incorporate this theory into their work can reach a greater audience.
Understanding Cultural Variables
In order to design with cultural sensitivity, it’s important to understand some concepts first. There are a number of variables that philosophers and experts have defined over the years. They were first written about in the 1970s and become largely accepted as the terms you need to know when analyzing and discussing cultural variables:
- High And Low Context Cultures
This variable is all about ambiguity and how high a tolerance a specific cultural group has for it within their communication methods. A high context culture has a greater tolerance for understatement, meaning communication is simpler and doesn’t need to be explicitly described. People in this type of cultural group assume that their meaning is understood and don’t feel the need to overly explain details.
A low context culture is the opposite, where greater detail is expected in any statement or communication. The person speaking or communicating takes responsibility for getting their meaning across to those who are reading or listening.
- High And Low Power Distance
This refers to the power of the boss or leader within the cultural group and the distance that those leaders have from the rest of the group. In some cultures, the leaders will have a high level of authority and can easily go unquestioned. This kind of group is considered to have a high power distance, where symbols of authority are important.
In a group that has a low power distance, the boss or leader is on the same level or slightly elevated from the rest of the group. These leaders work hand-in-hand with the rest of the group, allowing and encouraging debate around instructions and the ways of working.
- Slow And Fast Messaging
As you can guess, this variable is all about how quickly the cultural group expects things to happen. A slow messaging group is generally more relaxed and is comfortable with information traveling slowly. In a fast messaging group, it’s expected that information will travel at speed and get delivered in the most efficient manner.
How To Be Culturally Responsive
Now that we’ve explored some cultural variables, it becomes easy to see how this can and should get applied to the design of a website or even a web app. The amount of information provided, the way you lay things out for efficiency, as well as the way that information is provided can seriously impact your design and the success of the website for the intended target market.
It’s so important to think about how the cultural group that your website is designed for will receive and view it. This is especially important as the world becomes more connected and relies more upon the internet for communication, entertainment, economics, and really, all aspects of life.
Let’s take a look at how you can apply an understanding of cultural variables to your website design:
Do Your Research
Your design work should always start with research into the target market of the website. Now, this research should also get done in the context of these cultural variables. Find out how your target audience reacts to authority figures and what style of communication they prefer. This will give you far greater insights into how you should approach your design and the overall layout of the website.
For example, a group that puts stock in what a leader has to say will respond well to a message on the website from the leader that endorses the brand. This isn’t very relevant to a group that falls onto the low power distance side of the spectrum.
This doesn’t mean to be specific to a location—some websites like online portfolios or those that offer international shipping are for global audiences and would be impossible to localize to a country or region. What this point is really about is localizing it to the cultural group you are targeting.
Use the kind of wording they use, the style of talking and the level of detail they prefer. However, if you are targeting different cultural groups across a country or around the world, you can make different versions of your website that will show up depending on the country or location of the user. This gives you a far greater scope for addressing the needs and wants of different cultural groups.
Use Culturally Significant Media
The imagery, choice of colors, and even how much empty space you have on your website are all culturally relevant. A cultural group that appreciates efficient delivery of information will prefer a website that is cleaner with precise lines and functional imagery. A group that prefers things to move fast and design to shout loudly at them, will not respond well to such a clean and functional design.
Where in the above spectrums, the cultural group sits will also impact what you need to highlight in your design. For example, in France, it’s common for the price of a product to be the main piece of information highlighted on a product page of a business website. However, in England, this is certainly not the case.
In today’s digitally connected world, cultural sensitivity is key. For designers, creating websites that take the cultural preferences of their target market into account is crucial for building trust and promoting a positive online presence.