The Complete Guide to Cross-Cultural Design

Armine|7 min. to read

Cross-Cultural Design

Today a growing number of companies expand beyond their local markets. Cross-cultural design is an integral part of this process, as to ensure positive customer experiences, it is vital to have a design that is proper and to the point.

The Complete Guide to Cross-Cultural Design

What is Cross-Cultural Design?

Cross-cultural design is the process of taking cultural features and differences into account when producing any type of design work for different cultural groups. It goes beyond just designing products for different cultures by translating the content or updating the map according to the country or region in question. The main mission of it is to ensure that the produced design is easy to understand and, most importantly, localizable. And this applies to any kind of design, including cultural graphic design, which will be discussed later in more detail.

Why is Cross-Cultural Design Important?

Whenever entering a new market, there is one thing a brand should concentrate on—the users of the market. And this should expand to the design part, of course. It is no secret that behavioral features differ all over the world, and people from different backgrounds react to and interact differently with a certain product.

The Complete Guide to Cross-Cultural Design

Thus, understanding users’ cultural background is an essential part of the design process. Paying attention to culture-specific patterns is an essential step taken for successful and effective multicultural design.

The Seven Dimensions of Cross-Cultural Design

In his work, Fons Trompenaars, a Dutch author in cross-cultural communication, has presented seven aspects when distinguishing cultures, which should be considered in cross-cultural design as well:

  1. Universalism vs. Particularism: In universalist cultures, there is a clear definition of what is right and what is wrong. Laws and rules drive people, therefore, they behave and accept the world according to these rules. In particularistic cultures, people believe that everything is circumstantial and act according to circumstances in a particular situation.

  2. Individualism vs. Communitarianism: Individualistic cultures see a human as an individual. They believe the interests of an individual of greater value than those of the group. Communitarian cultures are more focused on the group. Thus, the group is greater than an individual, and the success and failures are credited to the group rather than specific individuals.

  3. Specific vs. Diffuse: In specific cultures, people separate between personal and professional life. Diffuse cultures do not have similar differentiation. Therefore, personal and work life overlap usually.

  4. Neutral vs. Emotional: In neutral cultures, emotions are not displayed so much and are typically controlled. We have vice versa in emotional cultures, where emotions are openly expressed, and people are comfortable showing them in public.

  5. Achievement vs. Ascription: In cultures where society is oriented on achievement, people are valued for their performance. In other words, people are judged according to what they do. In ascribed cultures, people’s status is determined by who they are rather than what or how they do something.

  6. Sequential Time vs. Synchronous Time: In cultures where people concentrate on sequential time, the focus is on planning, and people like things to happen in sequential order. In cultures with synchronous time orientation, people prefer to multitask and work on several things simultaneously.

  7. Internal Direction vs. Outer Direction: Cultures with internal direction try to control their environment, and they believe that they can do so. In outer-directed cultures, people think outside factors and the environment control them. Thus, they hold the belief that there are forces that they cannot influence and adapt to their external environments.

The Importance of Cultural Dimensions in Design

How do the aforementioned dimensions influence design, more specifically cross-cultural design? The answer is quite apparent. We know culture and design are interwoven, partly because the design is part of the culture. In fact, when producing any kind of work, designers pay attention to the value system, behavior, and other cultural aspects of the target public. Therefore, the aforementioned cultural dimensions are of great importance to any kind of design. To ensure success, designers should research, analyze and thoroughly understand cultural user experience patterns and then translate them into the design process.

The Importance of User Research in Cross-Cultural Design

To start with the cultural design process, one should first understand who the users are and what kind of cultural preferences they have. And this expands to visual design elements, of course. Take “color” as an example. Different colors can have various meanings in different cultures. So, designers need to identify what kind of colors they use and what those colors symbolize in a certain culture. The same applies to “imagery.” When coming up with a visual, designers should consider the beliefs and preferences of that certain culture, as there might be things that should be avoided. Websites with minimal information in certain cultures are considered modern and more functional, while it can be the other way around in a different culture. And the list can go on. So, the bottom line is that in multicultural design, careful research should be done as even the slightest flaw in design may lead to a bad user experience and negative feedback. 

Cross-Cultural Design Tools, Workflows, and Fonts

After designers have understood the cultural dimensions, needs, preferences, etc., of a particular target market, they then should understand what tools need to be used to carry out any cultural design project effectively. In fact, choosing the right design tools, workflows, and fonts is the first practical step in starting any design process.

The web is full of design tools however, there are tools that, for instance, do not support certain font styles. Moreover, it is only favorable for a web designer, for example, to establish clear workflows for the whole design project. This includes consulting with developers early on about character encoding, web fonts, periodical testing, and other technical aspects of the project. Aside from this, in cultural design, it is essential to keep clear workflows with clients in order to avoid cultural misunderstandings. Getting all these set early on during the project will only ensure rewarding results.

Final Thoughts

More and more companies expand to enter global markets instead of focusing on local markets. They are challenged to adapt to these new market demands and preferences in this process. And there is no doubt that design is a key aspect of this. Thus, to launch and operate their products and services effectively in new cultures, companies should pay special attention to multicultural design by understanding cultural characteristics through research and establishing effective workflows.

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