Hints and Tips for Designing a Multicultural Website
We know that the Internet is global, but how many people can truly say the same about their website? While all websites can theoretically be accessed by anyone with an internet connection, from Camden to Canada to Calcutta, it takes a little thought and effort to ensure that your site will appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
Even if you intend to start out by targeting the home market, it’s worthwhile considering the bigger picture when you design your site so that it will be easier to convert for an international audience in the future.
Colour Me Happy
Research has shown that certain colours have distinct connotations in different cultures. For example, white is the colour of weddings in Western cultures but death in many Eastern cultures. Red has a range of significance throughout the world, from danger to happiness to luxury to strength. The implications should therefore be considered when you choose the palette for your website.
It seems that brown discourages sales in Colombia and studies have shown that green is not a good colour for packaging in France or China which implies that it is not a good choice for online marketing in these countries. Blue is often considered to be the ‘safest’ global colour.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Similarly to the impact of colour, you will need to consider the appropriateness of your images across various cultures. In the West we tend to use scantily clad ladies to market anything from cars to women’s magazines to breakfast cereals but this may be frowned upon in more conservative Muslim countries, for example.
Other symbols and images just may not be culturally relevant in other areas of the world. Studies carried out into the impact of new technologies show that users show resistance to products with Western metaphors in favour of products localised according to their cultural customs and idioms. Choose appropriate images for your site accordingly, or be prepared to use different images in separate versions of your website.
Choose Your Tools
It’s a good idea to build your website using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). A table-less design means that content can be separated from design and you therefore won’t have to start from scratch when you adapt your pages for a different market.
Using UTF-8 character encoding for Unicode will increase flexibility and allow for future adaptation. Its catalogue of 100,000 characters are compatible with over 90 scripts, which means that not only are non-Latin languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Japanese covered, but you will also be able to include vital symbols used in European languages such as umlauts in German or cedillas in French or Portuguese. Crucially, UTF-8 can be used with the popular design tools such as Dreamweaver and is supported by most common browsers and operating systems.
Simple or Flashy
Before you put together your whizz-bang Flash designs and complicated graphics, bear in mind that many regions of the world do not have the luxury of the high speed connections we’ve become accustomed to. It is unlikely that your customers on dial-up will wait around 10 minutes or more for your page download, however beautiful or exciting the end result may be.
Perhaps, then, you could consider creating two versions of your site so that you can knock the socks off those with the requisite bandwidth but still cater for those with slower connections with an HTML only version.
Even then, it is worth noting that text embedded in Flash is not easily read by engine bots, which could impact on your search engine optimisation.
Design is Important, but Content is King
In addition to the design considerations, it is fundamentally important that your message is carried over into different languages. While this can be carried out quickly and cheaply by a machine translation tool, to really capture the nuances of a language and therefore the trust of its speaker, there can be no substitute for a professional translator working in their native tongue.