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6 Tips to Bring Internationalism to Your Web Design

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The advent of the internet has introduced the world to a whole new experience of globalization and internationalism. Unlike the traditional marketing media (television, radio, outdoor, direct mail, print, etc), websites reach a much broader audience and provide a global platform to the advertisers and marketers. With all of this globalization happening, it's becoming more and more important to create sites that account for an international audience....

Global is the New Local

With the communication mediums going global, businesses all around the world feel the need to discover and tap new markets... So it's only natural that so many companies are choosing the internet as their marketing vessel of choice. Put simply, it's the best medium to advertise and promote their products or services.

This is all pretty obvious to most of the readers here (you guys are all web designers, right?), but for quite a few companies out there who have been hesitant to truly embrace the net are finally starting to come around. This means opportunity is in the air for web designers who can help these businesses extend their reach beyond a localized clientele.

In order to tap as many people across the globe as possible, it's important for your website to be internationally understood. Along with an in-depth research of target markets (something that's far too complicated to tackle in this humble article), there are a few things which are crucial to helping a website reach its full potential. Included in these things are a proper navigation strategy, website design, the right tools, suitable images and localized form of web content. This article will dig into each of these topics, so read on for the tips!

1. A Globalized Visual Style

Globalised web designGlobalised web designGlobalised web design

The visual design of your website plays an important role in determining its success. That much is obvious... but how hard have you really though about the visual style of your designs and the impact that they make on international audiences? In order to make your website internationally acceptable, the first tip I can share it to take a good, hard look to the overall design of your website.

People belonging to different nationalities and cultural backgrounds will have different ways of perceiving visual information, and same goes for a website’s design.

There are basically two ways of dealing with this: The first way is to develop one single corporate theme and adapt it for different countries/regions - keeping a uniform brand in the design, but changing the layout, language, and content from one site to another. This method will save you a lot of time and effort because you just have to design one overarching "brand" for the site. However, keep in mind that although you are going with one corporate theme for all regions, you should try to keep the colors and design of the website subtle and basic. A basic and less complicated design is easier to be consumed by almost everyone around the world. We'll explain this in a bit more depth in Tip #5, but just think of it as designing with handcuffs on... when you design a single visual style for everyone, you've got to water things down so everyone can understand it without cultural interference.

Globalised web designGlobalised web designGlobalised web design
Ikea keeps a consistent visual approach, but changes content based on localization.

The second way is to design completely different websites for different regions or cultures. While this is quite a time consuming process, it will enable you to put your message across to different people of the world in a much more targeted way. If this sounds like the right path for you (or your client), the point to ponder upon is how you will divide the world into different segments. i.e. cultural division, country-wise division, regional division or continental division. No matter what kind of division you adopt, the important thing is the research behind your design and the way it is made to influence a specific region.

2. Globalized Design, Localized Content

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Regardless of whether you opt for a common design for all the regions of the world or to make a different design for specific area’s target audience, the written text or the content of the website should always be localized for the website to be successful and understandable. Basically, the tone and style for effective marketing material changes considerably between cultures. For instance, hyperbole and effusiveness is encouraged and liked by American readers... where it's generally a total turn off for European readers. This obviously isn't a fixed rule (surely some Americans find hyperbole offensive and some Europeans find it hilarious), but you get the idea: even if a design stays the same from one country to the next, the content will ideally shift in terms of language and tone.

Writing effective website content for a particular demographic requires an in-depth knowledge about the different cultures of the target audience. Therefore, if you want to create a localized version of your website for a certain region, then you should either have your web content written from scratch or get a local professional copywriter and translator for this matter. Realistically, any company that you're going to deal with that wants a website in multiple countries is going to be able to foot the bill for the services of a writer -- but it's important to be aware of this kind of stuff, even at the design phase of a project.

At the very least, consider adding translation widgets to your website if you're trying to reach a global audience. And remember that if you do add a translator widget to the website, it's best to write very simple and basic content and avoids any specific cultural references... as the mechanical translation engines may not understand the other terms in context. There's a reason sites making fun of horrible translations exist... it's because lots of people rely on shoddy translation systems to essentially do the speaking for their company.

3. Strategic Navigation

Nike actually opens up their site by requesting users to specify their language first, via a simple navigation system

Navigation is another very important element influencing the effectiveness and overall user experience on your website. In the particular case of bringing internationalism to your website, navigation has a special importance to your website’s proper understanding across geographies. Apart from the issues related to positioning of content, archiving and RSS feed, when making your website for multi-cultural audience, give special attention to reading preferences of different cultures. Ensure that your site is navigable for languages that read both left-to-right i.e. like English and right-to-left i.e. Arabic and Hebrew.

To address the reading preference issue, there are two things you can do; either install a horizontal navigation bar, rather than vertical one, hence you won’t have to move your navigation bar from one side to the other. The second is to make your web design as symmetrical as possible, so that if the script on your page is flipped, it won’t knock everything else out of order. Remember that better navigation of your website means better understanding of your message and ultimately better results of your marketing.

4. Relevant Imagery

Relevant ImageryRelevant ImageryRelevant Imagery

Images and other visual elements play a vital role in attracting the viewer to the crux of your marketing through your website. It is important to make sure that the imagery in your website is relevant to your target audience. While bringing internationalism in your business website, keep a few things under consideration when choosing images for it. Avoid images that are considered offensive by conservative cultures. Also, when using images with human element in it, make sure that the people displayed should belong to the same race, country or region you are targeting at.

For instance, when developing a site for a Chinese audience, you might only want to add images of Chinese people using a certain product (this is just an hypothetical example, not a rule of course!). Such would be called a "localization of images" – a practice being done by several multi-national companies of the world. In the case that you prefer to go for a universally accessible website, a good tip is to stick to general images, without being specific to any culture. This can obviously be over-done (everyone knows it when an image is a blatantly overused stock photo), but in most cases it's better to be safe than sorry. Images communicate as much as words do, so don't discount their importance.

5. Colors Communicate Too

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Colors seem like an ordinary thing and are often considered as related to the website’s superficial appearance only. However, according to research, colors influence different cultures differently and help a lot in communicating the message to a particular group of people. Each color has its own psychology and this psychology varies from culture to culture. So it is important to use the specific colors for a specific target audience and research well before finally using it in your website.

The best way to research different colors is to give a test run to your website in the target demographic and see how they respond to a range of prospective color schemes. Read more about finding good tools for running tests like this at Brandon's post about Getting Feedback.

6. No Localization for Keywords

No Localization for KeywordsNo Localization for KeywordsNo Localization for Keywords

Keywords are the most important words on the Internet. They often act as a two way street: enabling users to find exactly what they want, and allowing the website manager to provide the users exactly what they have to offer. When adapting your website for a foreign country or region, give special attention to the keywords as these are the hooks that are going to bring visitors to your website.

In order to manage keywords for different demographics of the world, take a three-step approach to your foreign language keywords.

  1. First, make a list of the keywords you use on your English language website.
  2. Then have them translated by a professional linguist belonging to the target country, who can suggest alternative keywords that may also be used by the people of that country. You'll also want to account for different variations of those words.
  3. Lastly, keep the full list of translated and brainstormed keywords in front of you and compare it with what Internet traffic stats say by using a tool like Google Analytics.

Research keywords (or any other tag, category, or other buzzword of this sort) to see which of these words have been used most frequently and how often each term is searched for in your target market.

The Wrap Up

Internationalism is a big topic to tackle for any web designer... perhaps more-so because of the fact that in most cases, to do it properly really requires an in depth understanding of all the cultures and geographies that you're trying to reach. Linguists, marketing research, and trying to understand a thousand different possible target markets might not be possible for just one web designer, but keeping these tips in mind will assist you when working on projects that strive to reach an international audience.

By playing along the aforementioned tips, you can take initial measures to bring internationalism in your website and create a greater multinational scope for you or your clients' sites. As they say, "the world is your oyster!"

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