Despite the fact that the worldwide web is “worldwide,” seldom think about universalizing their websites in an effort to address multiple Internet users from around the world. However, because English-speaking Internet users only account for approximately a third of all Internet users, it’s smart to design a website aimed at attracting worldwide Internet users. Although not everyone speaks the same language, with the use of other characteristics and website design, a website can attract Internet users from different cultures.
Where language stops, thoughts, messages and feelings can be transmitted through other forms of communication. What this translates to is using graphics and other means of attracting the most Internet users from different cultures as possible by what attracts these Internet users. This can be done through the use of color, interactive properties or simple layout of the screen. What attracts one culture may not attract another; however, a common tie between the two or more can attract a wide array of people. A person’s culture can greatly affect how this person perceives and processes information. Consideration needs to be given towards who is likely to access a website and design it in a way that they would explore that website or become invested in a particular product or service depending upon a website’s intended message.
Colors can greatly affect cultural perception on a website. Where one culture views red as anger or passion, in some cultures black is perceived as anger. In western cultures, black is perceived as darkness or death. It is best to use universal colors amongst different colors. For instance, gold is generally equated to money. White signifies truce in several cultures. Depending on which cultures are more likely to visit a single website, colors that speak universally to those should be used to convey messages in connection with the message of the website.
In addition, even though one color might not signify the same message amongst all cultures, a similar message or one that is “safe” can be used. For instance, insight, intelligence and loyalty can be perceived by different cultures through the use of the color blue. Simply because one culture uses blue to signify insight, it is okay that another takes the meaning of loyalty if that is also what a website is trying to convey. Find which colors carry the meaning of the website and discover whether any of these colors can be perceived as bad for the intended message.
High Context vs. Low Context
Cultures are either High Context, Low Context or some varying degree in between. How interactive a website appears depends on a culture’s particular context. Western cultures tend to rely on “less is more” in aesthetically-pleasing layouts. However, Asian cultures tend to appreciate more interactive features that offer a wider selection of options. Depending upon the culture likely to visit a particular website, more or less can be chosen.
Despite the language displayed on a website, using CSS — Cascading Style Sheets — can be useful in attracting several Internet users from different cultures. Using CSS for formatting helps to change language and images that are kept separate from a website’s design so that when a change occurs, the entire site does not have to be updated as well.
It is also important to consider how one culture reads information. While Western cultures tend to read information from the left to the right, certain languages such as Hebrew or Arabic are read from the right to left. Some languages, such as Japanese, are read from the top of the page and downward. These considerations need to be made when designing the navigation of a website. Using horizontal navigation can be useful in keeping a site more symmetrical in appearance, depending upon the culture accessing the site.
Understanding cultural perceptions is useful in which images to use. This means that one must also understand what’s offensive and what’s not in a particular culture. While in the US, it may be acceptable to use a horizontally-placed hand to show the height of a child, this would be offensive in Germany where the height of animals are shown in this manner. Where child labor may be an issue, it is wise to not use children in images working or perceived as working.
No two languages are identical, obviously, but this means that how something is said in one may not be said in another. It is important to use translations that may not carry the exact meaning, but according to cultural context. Some expressions and other phrases cannot be translated word for word. Either the translation will sound like jibberish or could end up offending several cultures. For instance, the infamous Nova car was not very popular amongst several Spanish-speakers as it translated to literally “No go” or “It doesn’t go.” The necessity of using the appropriate words and phrases is important according to the intended audiences.
It is essential that website designers and website owners understand who their intended audience is — whether for a single culture or several. It is equally important to understand their culture and what particular colors, symbols and other cultural connotations exist so as to not only attract that culture to a website, but to also not offend anyone. Using universal and multi-cultural themes can help in the assistance of reaching a wide audience.
While it is important to address a culture’s language correctly, it is equally important to use colors, images, symbols and other design specifications that attract intended audiences to properly convey the message of the website.
About the author:
Gary Feelan is a freelance writer who has been contributing to the itlangco team for a number of years. His wealth of experience within the language translation sector allows him to give an excellent insight into why you should target your website to different cultures.