In a book titled International User Interfaces, experts in the UX industry mentions that: “It is no longer enough to simply offer a product translated in ten to twenty different languages. Users also want a product that acknowledges their unique cultural characteristics and business practices.”

It’s true that the internet makes the world seem smaller. There’s even the term "global village," which refers to the fact that people all around the world are not being brought together by the internet. Sometimes this globalized world can make us think that everyone is the same as you and has similar values.

However, the truth is people are coming from various countries and cultures. That’s why we can’t deny that cultural awareness is an important aspect of design, especially if your product is intended for global audiences. Designers who use a cross-cultural user experience strategy are more likely to create designs that are useful and more accepted by the target users.

Understanding cultural differences through Hofstede’s 6 Cultural Dimensions

Nations and cultures, like individuals, have distinct identities. There can be significant differences between two cultures. Professor Geert Hofstede, a cultural anthropologist, developed a list of six cultural dimensions in the early 1980s. Based on his founding, different cultures can be represented on bipolar scales using a comparable arrangement. These cultural dimensions are:

Power distance
Individualism vs Collectivism
Femininity vs Collectivism
Uncertainty avoidance
Long vs Short term orientation
Indulgence vs Restraint

Here’s an example:

Cross-Cultural UX Design

This graph shows that Indonesian users differ from users in the United States, particularly on the individualism vs collectivism scale. Indonesia, with a score of (14) is classified as a Collectivist society. This indicates that individuals are expected to conform to the ideals of society and the in-groups to which they belong. Meanwhile, Americans place such a high value on individualism that they prioritize individual rights and self-reliance above all else.

How to apply this understanding into the UX strategy?

Let’s dig into each dimension one by one!

Power Distance

The central question in this dimension is how a society deals with individual inequalities.

A society with a high power distance is used to establish authority and solid structures. When translating this into a UX strategy, one of the best approaches is to provide users with facts and clear statements, and don't give them too much responsibility.

People from low power distance cultures, on the other hand, dislike being controlled and will only accept leadership based on true expertise. As a result, on your website/app, you may want to provide users with enough objective and detailed information to allow them to make their own decisions.

Individualism vs Collectivism

This dimension's central concern is the degree of interdependence that a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people define their self-image in terms of "I" or "We."

Individualist users will most likely visit your website or app for their own reasons based on their own decisions. As a result, in order to convert them into loyal users, you must focus on these very specific needs.

Meanwhile, collectivist cultures tend to act in the best interests of the group rather than their own. It's a good idea to include features like "most popular" categories, testimonials, or social media sharing options so they can get immediate feedback from their friends.

Femininity vs Masculinity

The central issue in this dimension is what motivates people: wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine). 

Feminine societies place an emphasis on qualities such as cooperation, modesty, and overall quality of life. As a result, providing a positive user experience is more important than technical details or rewards.

Masculine societies, on the other hand, value self-assurance, accomplishment, heroism, and toughness. They have high expectations in many areas. Competitions or rewards can be used as attention grabbers for your product.

Uncertainty avoidance

The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance refers to how a society deals with the unknowable future: should we try to control it or just let it happen? It deals with the degree to which members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have developed beliefs and institutions to avoid them.

High uncertainty avoidance societies prefer the familiar over the unfamiliar. Knowing this, it is better for you to present as much relevant information as possible in a structured and clear way.

In contrast, people from low uncertainty avoidance cultures tend to More open to new ideas, willing to try something different, and take risks. This type of user will give you more chances to experiment with your designs, even if they are unconventional.

Long vs Short term orientation

This dimension describes how concerned a society is with its virtue.

Those with a long-term orientation make deliberate decisions about the future. As a result, detailed information and benefits that truly convince them of the long-term value of your product are required.

In lieu, those who score low in this dimension live in the here and now present moment and don’t worry too much about the future. You can pique people's interest with something they are familiar with, rather than with projections of the future. Also, make it as simple as possible for your users to take immediate action.

Indulgence vs Restraint

This dimension is defined as the extent to which people attempt to control their desires and impulses as a result of their upbringing.

People in the indulgent society are more open to recreation and leisure, as well as pursuing individual fulfillment. On the contrary, restrained cultures control how their members satisfy their needs and wants. There’s a mindset that money should be saved rather than spent. Cultures with low indulgence are unlikely to respond well to a plethora of options — this can often be perceived as frightening.

The influence of cultures on how people perceive design elements

Gaining an understanding of your target culture's values allows you to better understand how they perceive certain design elements or define an aesthetically pleasing design.

Space What information density feels most suitable for your audience? In Japan, web pages with high information density are often considered functional and aesthetic, whereas in other countries, having adequate negative space might be preferred.

Cross-Cultural UX Design
Yahoo Japan


Cross-Cultural UX Design
Yahoo Sweden

Imagery — One simple image might be interpreted differently in different cultures. So, find out if there is any content/image/icon that should be avoided. For instance, a “thumbs up” icon can mean a lot of things.

Cross-Cultural UX Design

Color — The choice of colour is usually to represent something, and often tied to cultural and social symbolic meanings. 

Cross Cultural UX Design

McDonalds’s sign in Europe vs the rest of the world. The main colors of McDonald's are red and yellow. However, the green color was chosen to promote a more eco-friendly image in Europe.

Type — The use of different scripts generally requires the adjustment of type scales, letter spacing, and line heights.

Cross-Cultural UX Design


Cross-Cultural UX Design

You can see the difference between Japan Post’s Japanese language page & English language page.

In addition to these elements, the interfaces should provide people with familiar navigation. The more we can align our interface structures with our users' expectations, the more effective our designs will be.

Remember: Avoid stereotyping

It can be challenging to design for a global audience or multiple audiences from various cultural backgrounds, especially if you're a foreigner who is unfamiliar with that particular cultural background. These perceptions are influenced by a variety of cultural factors, which in turn affect how your users make decisions.

While this dimension scale provides a good foundation for understanding the impact of national culture on user habits, it is overwhelmingly focused on nations rather than individuals.

Remember to avoid stereotyping and to always conduct user research and testing for each of your projects.

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