Cross Culture Accessibility: Web Design That Crosses Cultures

If you want your website to achieve global stardom, you need to make sure it’s cross-culturally accessible. What works in one country may go down like a lead balloon in another part of the world.

Get your words right

Content is the most important part of any website. Visitors may be impressed by a stylish design, but what they are really concerned about is the quality of content and how useful it is for them. Providing content that is well-written and relevant to your target audience will be a great help in ensuring your website is accessible across cultures.

Remember that 75% of global web users do not speak English as their mother tongue, so to be really successful in non-English speaking regions, you will need to get your content translated at some point. The development of straight-forward, quality content from the beginning will result in better translation. For example, avoid slang, colloquialisms and abbreviations. Metaphors may also have different meanings in different countries.

Don’t Cause Offense

Content that may be appropriate in one part of the world can offend elsewhere. For example, in Western countries, it may be acceptable to show images of women in bathing suits or people drinking alcohol, but in other parts of the world, images like these may be inappropriate.

The same is true of many hand gestures. An image of a “thumbs up” would have positive connotations in the United States and Europe, but in many parts of Asia, it’s considered rude. Raising an open hand with the palm facing out means ‘stop’ in the US and Europe, but in Asia it is often used when asking permission to speak. Beckoning someone by curling your finger is often used in the West, but in Japan it is considered rude and in Singapore it signifies death. You always have to think carefully about the images you use for your websites.


Using CSS to keep your content separate from your page design is another important technique that will help you to make your websites more cross-culturally accessible. With the content able to be easily replaced, it is much easier to publish the same site in multiple languages – you just slot the translated text into the same design template.

When designing your page templates, remember that characters in different languages may need different row heights and widths. Also note that when text is translated, it may take up more space in some languages. For example, a paragraph in German may require more lines than the same paragraph in English. You should be sure to use UTF-8 character encoding, since it is compatible with the widest range of languages and alphabets.

Layout – Style and Substance

The layout of your pages can have a big influence on how attractive your site will be for different cultures. Not all languages are read from left to right, so the position of side navigation bars can affect usability in different parts of the world. Users who read from right-to-left may not find navigation down the left hand side of the page particularly useful. This can be avoided by the use of a horizontal top navigation menu.


The use of colour can have strong cultural significance, as colours have different meanings and associations in different parts of the world. Red often symbolizes power or passion in Western cultures, but in India it is usually linked to purity, and in China it often relates to celebration or good luck. In many Eastern cultures, white is the colour of death and mourning, but in the West it is usually black.

Watch out for numbers

You should be aware of the different formats used to represent numerical data around the world. Weights and measures, dates, currency and time are often represented differently. For example, the British way of writing 25th December 2010 is 25/12/2010, but in the United States, it would be normal to write 12/25/2010. In most parts of the world the metric system is preferred for weights and measures, but in the USA and Britain, the imperial system is still widely used.

Use your Web Analytics

You can use web analytics to define precisely the geographical location of your visitors. This allows you to optimize your design so that it is appropriate to the cultural needs of your visitors. For example, if you find you have lots of visitors from the Middle East, you can develop a colour scheme that is appealing to Middle Eastern tastes and cultural sensitivities. You can also ensure that the text areas in your website are adequate for Middle Eastern language scripts.

By remaining aware of the many different cultural influences that affect how your web design will be perceived, you will be well on your way to making your websites more accessible around the world.

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