Is Culture-themed Web Design for You? A Contextual Analysis
As more and more businesses begin to warm up to the idea of designing country-specific websites, cultural context becomes important too. Though most medium and large companies have begun to open offices across the world, they still tend to have a single website or if they build a location-specific website, it tends to be sans cultural content.
Placing a website in the context of a country’s culture can make it look more appealing, charming and even welcoming. In this article, let us take a look at different geographical regions that need culture-specific websites. We shall also run through the major language that can work well even if that is not the official language of a particular country.
When it comes to building websites for a North American audience, you could probably take as much freedom as you want. It is a matured audience that is well versed with the latest in web technologies. You do not probably have to worry much about placing your website in a cultural context unless you are specifically selling something that is cultural. For instance, if you are a restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine, you could probably design a website that reflects Middle Eastern aesthetics.
Apart from examples like that, in Canada and the U.S., you do not really have to worry much about ‘culture’ when it comes to designing. A French or Spanish version of your website might do well, if your audience is mostly located in Quebec, in Canada or in Hispanic-dominated areas of the U.S. like Florida. While Mexico is part of North America, we shall consider it to be part of ‘Latin America’, a term that includes Mexico, Central America and South America.
When it comes to Latin America, you could be sure of one thing. Most countries are Catholic, speak Spanish and have a very colorful culture. Building a website that reflects the geographical diversities of this region will work well; so shall a website that features Latin American culture, even if it means going country-specific.
Exceptions are Brazil and the Caribbean islands. In Brazil, the official language is Portuguese and a Brazilian-focused website should feature Portuguese content & not Spanish. We cannot stress this enough to our clients who have often communicated to Brazilians in Spanish with often disastrous consequence. Likewise, many Caribbean islands like Jamaica, Trinidad and others speak English, albeit a different version.
Your regular North American website could do well in these countries. Latin Americans value family values and Catholic ethos. To be aware of these sentiments can help you avoid making cultural blunders.
Europe has to be the most diverse and complex of all the geographical regions. Each country in Europe tends to speak a different language; and each country has rather startling cultural differences, which make it mandatory for you to engage in heavy groundwork before building a culture-specific website. It is not enough to build a website in French, English and Spanish. You probably will have to consider Russian, Serbian, Italian, Romanian and a host of other European languages as well. This makes building websites for European audience a very complex yet exciting task.
Africa is as diverse as a continent can get. However, it is not as difficult to build a website for African countries as it is for Europe. The major languages that are spoken in Africa include English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili. English and French can take you a long way & if you build a website in Arabic as well, it will help you further as most North African countries have Arabic as one of their official languages.
We recommend building websites in French and English, where the possibility exists. Countries like Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome and others can be addressed with Portuguese. A majority of African countries either have Islam or Christianity as their official language. These socially conservative countries might not be open to content that are radical. When it comes to shocking your audience here, take it easy.
Obviously, the most conservative of all audience, Middle Eastern countries tend to speak Arabic. Building a website in Arabic and English should take care of all your Middle Eastern audience except Israel & Iran, where Hebrew and Persian are spoken.
Corporate websites tend to be conservative and thus, one might not have to worry too much about getting into trouble in these socially conservative countries. However, if you offer content that is considered ‘offensive’ in these countries, you might have to change your approach a little bit.
Much of South Asia was colonized by the British. This means, most people who have access to the Internet can understand English. Building websites in English and featuring local models or content will help you attract your target audience. This is true of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and even Maldives.
These countries are socially conservative just like many North African and Middle Eastern countries. You will not hurt your business as long as you understand that people in socially conservative countries tend to get offended easily sometimes for the wrong reasons. As long as you publish content that does not stray too far from your business and remains family-friendly, you are sure to find success.
South East Asia
Countries like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are affluent & have a well developed business culture. You can take a few risks with content as long as you do not offend people in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, which have Islamic laws. However, Thailand is one of the most liberal countries in the region and often attracts a lot of tourists.
Thus, you can get away being yourself in a place like Thailand than in Indonesia. Other countries in the region which share similar cultures are Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which are all similar to Thailand & are quite liberal. The Philippines is a catholic country that has a culture similar to those in Latin America. Spanish is easily understood as well.
The countries in the Far East, namely, China, South Korea and Japan are all similar to each other, with an established business culture. High on capitalism and business traditions, these countries are well aware of the importance of marketing & building websites in a cultural context.
You might need to build your websites in Mandarin, Korean and Japanese in order to target your audience. In Japan, English is hardly spoken or understood and the necessity for a Japanese language website is very important. China, on the other hand, is giving importance to educating its children in English, which might result in more people speaking and understanding English.
What web designers must do before creating websites
Understanding how conservative or liberal a country is and which languages are spoken in a particular region are very crucial to your website’s success. A country that is conservative will just not be ready for progressive ideas and it might even backfire on your own business. On the other hand, in a liberal country, a conservative campaign will be met with a lukewarm response, if any at all. Understanding various differences in culture is very important before building a website. It might not seem important but is actually more important than deciding the texture or color of a particular template.
Web designers should consult with culture specialists who will be able to guide them with regard to color schemes, designs and even aesthetics that are particularly popular in a country. After all, it is not just the language or social values that a country’s culture consists of. A country’s cultural values also defines which colors are in vogue, which designs will be better received and how a certain community will view your website when they take a look at it for the first time.
In conclusion, one might say that language and social values are very important when it comes to designing websites. Even dialects of a language can elicit strong responses. For instance, a website written in American English will not be well received in a country like Britain or even in Australia. Understanding these major and minor differences before designing a website is very important to ensure a business’ success. Other than these, a web designer should also focus on the importance of aesthetic differences and trends within a country. Being culturally sensitive is one of the hallmarks of a successful business or profession.
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