How To Design For A Cross-Cultural User Experience (part 2/2)

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Sabina Idler

April 23, 2013

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Welcome to part 2 of this article on how Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory can help us understand what makes cultures so different from each other — and how we can become more sensitive when designing for a cross-cultural user experience.Editor’s note: Make sure to read part 1 for some background info on the cultural dimensions theory and for the first two dimensions Power Distance and Individualism versus collectivism.

3. Masculinity versus femininity (MAS)

This dimension is pretty much concerned with the motivations and core values of a society. Masculine societies are competitive and driven by achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and materialism. Feminine societies are consensus-oriented and prefer values, such as cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life.

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Masculinity versus femininity in web design

People raised in a masculine society are constantly striving for success. They want to prove themselves by being the best in what they do. Once success has been attained, there is no hesitation to show it. These expectations not only apply to themselves, but also to the people around them and for example to the products and services they use. When they visit your website, make sure you are prepared for their critical evaluation and offer them high quality. Competition, or incentives can be used as attention grabbers.

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Website visitors from a more feminine society don’t desire to stand out from the crowd, rather they want to avoid conflicts and enjoy life. The positive experience with your website or product is more important than technical details, the prize, or whether you are the best in the field or not. This group likes to get engaged and entertained. As long as they are enjoying your website, they are willing to forgive minor flaws. Make sure you offer contact information and be open for feedback and questions. This group is very cooperative and if they want to give feedback, they don’t hesitate to get in contact with you.

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4. Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)

This dimension describes how people from a society deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. The main issue of this dimension is how people handle the fact that they can not control the future. Cultures with a high uncertainty avoidance stick to what they know and avoid unorthodox behaviors or ideas. On the other hand, cultures with a low uncertainty avoidance prefer practice over principles and welcome change.

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Uncertainty avoidance in web design

In societies with a high uncertainty avoidance, people prefer deductive rather than inductive approaches. They like to think things through and base their decisions and actions on a systematic evaluation of all available and relevant aspects. Also, they like and prefer the familiar over the unfamiliar. For your website this means that you should present as much relevant information as possible in a structured and clear way. People from this group need to be able to balance different options against each other in order to make a reliable decision.

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Visitors with a low uncertainty avoidance are more open for new ideas, willing to try something different, and take risks. They are more tolerant of new ideas and opinions that differ from their own. These group of visitors is spontaneous and thinks practical, which means they can easily adapt to new situations. On the Web, trends and technology offer new possibilities every day. Make sure your main target group appreciates this. If so, great. If not, don’t ask too much of them and retain a certain degree of familiarity.

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5. Long-term versus short-term orientation (LTO)

The last dimension describes how much a society is concerned with its virtue. Societies with a short-term orientation are normative in their thinking. They value traditions and are interested in establishing the absolute truth of the moment. They live in the here and now and don’t worry too much about the future. A long-term orientation on the other hand results in a society that believes truth depends on situation, context, and time. People believe that traditions can be adapted to changed conditions, they plan their lives ahead, and set long-term goals.

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Long-term versus short-term orientation in web design

People with a short-term orientation can be seen to live more in the past and in the present than in the future. What counts are quick results that are in line with known values and traditions. On your website, make sure you offer short cuts and options to take immediate action. Also grab people’s attention with something they are familiar with, not with an outlook to the future.

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Those with a long-term orientation make thorough decisions for the future. Offer detailed information and advantages that truly convince them of the value of your product. You can for example work with installment-sales, or a long-term discount. Also you can offer ways for your visitors to save their browsing history, such as wish lists, or social media sharing options. This way you don’t force your visitors into an immediate decision.

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Conclusion

Different cultures are fascinating and we should do everything possible to maintain their diversity. At the same time, we need to find ways to address all these different ways of thinking and acting on our websites.

Sure, there are plenty of websites that focus only on a small, local target group. Others, especially big brands like McDonald’s, have separate sites for every country. Still, plenty of websites try to address different cultures at once. For those it is especially important to know why cultures differ in the first place and where to look to identify these differences.

Hofstede offers a very valuable resource on his website that allows you to identify all national country scores on the 5 dimensions of national culture. Again, we must be cautious when generalizing Hofstede’s dimensions and consider them as guidelines, not as rules. However, I’m lucky enough to have lived in different countries and worked with people from all over the world. From experience, I can tell you that Hofstede’s cultural dimensions do help to understand and cherish other cultures. Give it a try and consider these cultural dimensions when you design or redesign your next website.

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