World-Wide Web Design: Hints and Tips for Designing a Cross Cultural Website

July 30, 2010 · 12 comments

by Christian Arno

World-Wide Web Design: Hints and Tips for Designing a Cross Cultural Website

One of the key features of the World Wide Web lies in those first two words: ‘World Wide’. Your website can be viewed by anyone anywhere across the globe, from Manchester to Montreal, Mecca to Moscow. But that does not mean that each of your readers will interpret it in the same way.

Different cultures see and approach things in different ways, and you will need to take this into account if you want your site to truly reach out to a global audience. Here are a few aspects to consider when creating cross-cultural web design.



Colors in Cross Cultural Websites

Colors in Cross Cultural Websites

There is plenty of research to tell us that color has an incredible impact on our emotional responses. It is no coincidence, for instance, that our hospitals are accessorized in ‘calming’ greens rather than ‘angry’ reds. But the associations we have with color are instructed by our culture, and therefore change from country to country.

For example, red in India is symbolic of purity, and is often used in wedding outfits; the role that we in the West assign to white. There are also certain colors which have religious significance, such as orange in Protestant Ireland and green/gold in Islam. Bear this in mind when choosing the color scheme for your website. If in doubt, blue is often considered to be ‘safest’ color globally.


  • For examples of how different colors have different connotations around the world, have a look at this color chart or this interactive presentation on the meanings of colors in different cultures.
  • Usability and internationalization: In spite of the wealth of information available on designing international user interfaces, it is not easy for web designers to acquire a deep understanding of culturally appropriate user interface design…

Images in Cross Cultural Websites

Images in Cross Cultural Websites

A similar level of sensitivity should be shown when choosing the images for your site, so as not to alienate your audience. A bevy of beautiful beach babes in bikinis may be just the thing to grab attention in your home country but will be regarded somewhat less highly in conservative Muslim areas. Furthermore, you want to keep your image sizes down to keep your page load times as fast as possible, especially for sites targeting countries without high speed internet.


  • 20+ Stunning Web Sites with Full Size Photo Backgrounds: One option is using a photo as a key element in your design. It is certainly not every photo that will work, but generally if you find one that supports the concept well the result can be really great.
  • Some handy general tips on when to use graphics in web design (hint – only when they communicate more effectively than text) can be found here.
  • A comprehensive FAQ on how to best use images in your website design, from linking images to creating GIFs and tiling images.

CSS & Encoding

CSS & Encoding
The table-less design of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) will allow you to separate the content of your website from its design and layout, creating a site that can be easily translated and adapted for different languages and cultures.

Using UTF-8 character encoding for Unicode will give you access to over 100,000 characters, compatible with over 90 scripts, which will give you the flexibility you need to switch between languages. UTF-8 can be used with popular design tools such as Dreamweaver and is supported by most common browsers and operating systems.


  • Google Web Toolkit: GWT includes a flexible set of tools to help you internationalize your applications and libraries. GWT internationalization support provides a variety of techniques to internationalise strings, typed values, and classes.
  • World Grows Small: Open Standards for the Global Web: While interest in web accessibility has increased over the past several years, another, quieter interest area has been just as important to making sites available to more people. Internationalization is a word most of us have heard, but that few understand.
  • CSS Styles and Languages: When working with Web pages, you need to be aware of both the language your website is written in and the language encoding used by your customers. CSS can help affect the style of your text and determine the direction and how it works within Unicode.
  • A List Apart discusses best practice in international open standards and the effective use of markup, CSS, and JavaScript for creating internationalised, localised, and multilingual websites in this article.
  • The W3C is currently running the EU-sponsored Multilingual Web project, establishing open multilingual standards for web design – their website has a wealth of interesting white papers and reports on effective multilingual web design.

Layout & Font

Layout & Font
Remember that not all languages read from left to right; some, such as Hebrew and Arabic, read from right to left, and some, such as Chinese, can even be read vertically. You may therefore wish to use a horizontal navigation bar at the top of the page, rather than sidebars.

When creating your design, bear in mind that you will likely need more space for languages such as German, which tend towards longer words, than you do for your English copy.

Choosing a universal font such as Tahoma, Arial or Times New Roman will help to ensure that the text displays correctly on the majority of screens – aim for pre-installed fonts that is able to display multilingual characters.



Of course, there’s little point in putting all this effort into a cross-cultural design if your global audience is unable to find your site. To make the most of search engines you will need to put the same careful research into choosing keywords for other nations as you do for your home country.

A direct ‘dictionary translation’ of the keywords used for the home version of your site will not suffice. The terms people use in their searches often include synonyms, acronyms, colloquialisms and abbreviations. For example, a direct French translation of ‘car insurance’ would be ‘assurance voiture’. However, a far more popular search term in France is ‘assurance auto’ (with ‘auto’ in this context being an abbreviation of ‘automobile’).

You will need to find out what is popular in your target area and choose your keywords accordingly. Google’s keyword tool can help with this.

Domains and Servers

If you really want to be noticed in a specific region, consider investing in an in-country top-level domain name for the alternate language version/s of your site. This will help Google to rank your site on its relevant country-specific search engine (e.g. in Germany or in France).

Another aid to Search Engine Optimization is to choose a web service provider that physically holds their server in your chosen country. Search engines such as Google and Baidu (China’s search engine of choice) favour sites which are hosted in their ‘home’ country.

By considering these issues you will soon be welcoming visitors from all four corners of the globe to your site.

Copy writing

Obviously, your content and writing style will be different for different cultural audiences, not only in terms of the language, but also date formats (for instance, DD/MM/YYYY in Europe, but MM/DD/YYYY in the US) and in terms of the appropriate tone for the audience. Ideally, you should have your web copy written especially for each audience by an experienced copywriter who lives in the target country. If your budget does not stretch to this expense, though, you can get around it by writing your copy in as general and clear a style as possible, so it translates easily between languages – below are some resources with more handy tips.


  • Writing Web Sites for a Global Audience: Every webpage that is on the World Wide Web is, by definition, international. So make sure that your pages reflect that.
  • More Tips for Writing International Web Pages: There are a few tricks to writing webpages for international audiences that many people forget – like date and time formats as well as forms for addresses and so on. Learn to avoid these problems.
  • Simple tips for writing English language copy that will translate easily between languages, in this article.
  • Attack of the Zombie Copy – a general guide on how to avoid meaningless ‘zombie’ copy.

By considering these issues you will soon be welcoming visitors from all four corners of the globe to your site.

Author : Christian Arno

Christian Arno is the founder and Managing Director of global translations company Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 employs some 4,000 professional freelance translators covering a hundred different language combinations. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Accounting Homework Help May 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm

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Jacksonville Web Design July 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

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Website Builder India June 2, 2011 at 2:49 pm

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website design July 22, 2010 at 9:24 am

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