12 / 09 / 19

The Effect of Culture on Design

Culture has a huge effect on the way that we behave as individuals; it subconsciously guides nearly every decision we make. This principle can be applied to web design too and used to enhance marketing materials.

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The way in which different cultures interpret design choices can either be a help or a hindrance, depending upon how you approach it. There are a few key areas which need to be considered when looking to tailor your design to varying cultures.


In his study, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, Geert Hofstede theorised that as much as 80% of cultural understanding is subconscious.

This can be interpreted to inform us just how much the perception of colour in design is influenced by deep-rooted and subconscious processes.

Let’s take the colour red as an example. Red is used in Western cultures to symbolise danger and action. However, within Chinese culture, it’s considered a symbol of good luck and celebration, whereas in South Africa and Ivory Coast it’s a colour of mourning.

This is a prime example of why thorough research is necessary when you’re looking to take your marketing overseas. It’s not necessarily something that would be considered due to the ingrained nature of the thought process.

High & low context societies

Due to the different ways in which cultures use language, translating a web page isn’t always enough. Edward T. Hall broke this down in his theorising about high and low context societies.

This is the idea that certain countries, such as China and Japan, rely heavily upon context in their communication. In this case, communication is multi-layered and makes use of body language and physical expression.

For these societies, it can be advantageous to tailor web content to fit this mode of communication. This can be through the use of heavily populated web pages with plenty of animations and images.

On the other side of this are nations such as Germany and Scandinavia, who are low context societies and use direct and single-layered communication. In this case, web content is better structured around high-res focal images with clear and grouped wording.

 East vs. West

The information that you provide to people and the way in which it is presented requires thought as well. Different cultures interpret information in different ways, which can be overcome with the use of tailored formats.

In general, Eastern cultures tend to have a more holistic approach to information processing and are more likely to consider a webpage in its entirety. In terms of application, this means that content tailored to Eastern cultures should be laid out simply and without distractions that are likely to be found unpleasant.

Western cultures, by contrast, prefer to focus on certain pieces of information and are more analytical in their approach. With regards to design, this can be interpreted as the need to group content by subject to allow for this more focused approach, where users are much less likely to scan a whole page for what they need.

These often-ignored cultural undercurrents are vital considerations for successful international marketing campaigns. The difference between getting it right and getting it wrong can mean success or failure.

For more information about running your international marketing the right way, contact Formation today.

Written by Kathryn Formation