Visual Design for an international audience

Stefanie Kreuzer

When working with transnational corporate websites in different cultural contexts, it is very important to know the different aspects and demands of your international audience.

To make a website optimally available and enjoyable for a wide range of users, you need to look beyond the technical requirements of a CMS only supporting text display and language direction. For your visual design to have a global reach, you need to consider things like aesthetics, symbolism, typography and form construction.

Aesthetic Connotations

The most rudimentary component of an atomic design is the choice of colors. Even if a company has clearly defined corporate design and brand colors, you have to put the semantic meaning of these into cultural context with your audience. The selection of colors and the specific use of them can recall different associations by diverse audiences. 

In Europe, the color white is often associated with innocence, purity and virtue, whereas in China this color stands for death and mourning.

Knowing and distinguishing the culture-specific color meaning and choosing a culturally-conscious color scheme helps to create a perception and message specifically designed for the end user. It is always helpful to work directly with the customer. If there are direct representatives employed in the company, who are responsible for the extended market, the first step is always the open discussion with the deputy creative department. Additional research prepares the basis for discussion for an optimal result.

Imagery and Symbolism

Icons and symbols are in every web designer's toolkit, but we need to be mindful of their semantic meaning and cultural representation across the globe.

A symbol is a helpful method of international and intercultural communication. It is a simplified visual that can transcend language barriers, but is also at risk of conveying different messages to different recipients. When selecting symbols, shapes and icons, make sure you consider cultural meaning and metaphorical association in the context of different transnational users. 

Photos, diversity and inclusion localized to your target audience can differ from culture to culture. Depictions of people, their clothing, hairstyles, skin color, the portrayal of religious symbols, landmarks or famous public figures are not equally recognizable, or may have different cultural values depending on where they are broadcast.

Layout and Typography

With different languages come different typefaces. Both the presentation of the text sections and their reading direction can have a great impact on the reading experience and the layout of a transnational corporate website.  

First of all, it is important to be mindful of the directionality of your selected language. The presentation of image and text passages, and their relationship to each other can be influenced by converting the translation. The placement of certain content, which is intended to direct the user's gaze to different focal points while scanning the website, also follows different schemes depending on the language and the user's habits. 

Besides the differences, like Left-to-Right (LTR) or Right-to-Left (RTL), the text expansion and contraction for any language has to be considered. More expressive languages can require up to 40% more words for the same sentence in translation. Correspondingly, the layout should be flexible and allow the design space for movement.

The display of the typeface can also vary in size and thus in readability. Some typefaces require separately defined character formats so that good readability and usability can be maintained, even when the language is changed.

Forms and Settings

Even though this separate point is influenced by those already mentioned , some important aspects are often overlooked, especially in the case of forms. Not only is the reading direction, placement of labels, and selection of the right form language important, but also the display or requirements for number, date and time formats. 

To avoid creating a barrier, one should not assume a standard representation of form elements based on your own cultural experience, because we all carry implicit bias. 

The display of the date or the required fields in an address query can differ geographically. Therefore, it is important to consider the respective regional conditions and habits, and adapt your forms and their display mode to them. 

Overall, it's never a bad idea to limit the number of input fields to what's necessary, and then display them in a well thought-out manner. Find out more about great form design in our blog post Best Practices and Usability for Online Forms.

Conclusion

Taking contextual clues and cultural sensitivity into account, and through careful research, a website can be prepared for new transnational markets. Because only Bill Murray has the approval to be lost in translation. This does not mean that you have to completely abandon the individuality or corporate identity of your company. And when culture-specific design conflicts with usability, users much prefer usability over cultural-sensitivity. Be aware of the cultural influence on your demographic users and adapt your online presence within the framework of your corporate websites and nothing will stand in your way of reaching a large, worldwide audience.

Ready to go global?

We can help you with your website design to reach all of your audience. Connect with us!

Let's connect