5 Design Preferences for High Versus Low Web Context Cultures
As companies grow, they inevitably start to look at markets outside their own. And with the internet providing a seamless link around the world, businesses are beginning to call upon their web designers to create the profitable bridge to these newly targeted consumers.
However, although it may seem simple, there’s actually a whole lot more to making sure a website works for a brand new market.
Design Preferences for High Versus Low Web Context
If you’re tasked with the job of transforming a company’s current website (or even starting one completely afresh), then Edward Hall’s High Context (HC) versus Low Context (LC) model is worth bearing in mind when tailoring your web design skills.
Hall identifies markets along a spectrum of LC through to HC: for LC cultures information is communicated explicitly, through statements, text or speech (Germany, Britain, Switzerland, for example); while for HC cultures messages are implied, with a more interactive and socially orientated slant (like France, Italy and Japan).
There are some key areas where a website can be specifically designed in line with this model, so here are 5 web design tips on how to localize websites whether they’re HC or LC:
Animated effects tend to be more prominently used on websites in HC cultures rather than in LC websites. HC cultures are receptive to lots of information and visual elements competing for the attention of the user, making animation a creative option to present content.
LC cultures, however, prefer information to be clear and text based, which doesn’t lend itself to naturally to animation – that’s not to say it can’t be used sparingly. Animation can be used to communicate in alternative ways from text, but should, for LC cultures, still retain an element of simplicity and text to ensure its effectiveness.
Although websites are principally about the product or company in question, they also echo the values of the target market. The values prevailing in HC cultures, for example, are generally tied to collectivism, while those in LC cultures are focused more on individualism.
Coca-Cola is a great brand to look at across various HC and LC markets to see how they are pushing different values and content for each. In the UK, they are currently pushing their ‘Grandpa’ advert: live like your Grandfather did. Content that ties into the collective but on a very individual level.
Hall’s model even goes so far as to define the ‘transparency’ of a website, principally how easy it should be to find information required. LC markets expect the content to be quite obvious, with users looking for comprehensive links, menus and text that they can easily follow.
The information or links should also be found where they’re expected, making LC markets not so open to radical or unusual website layouts. Leave more experimental ideas to HC cultures and instead look to make the content as simple to follow as possible.
With HC cultures, however, you can push the user a little more. HC optimized websites often put more searched-for information at the forefront of the website and ‘hide’ the remaining non-essential parts behind a few click-throughs.
Look to use more images and mouse-overs, encouraging the user to hover over parts and then click through to reveal more details.
That said, don’t make the website a maze – HC cultures still expect the usual information, for example, About Us, Contact Us, Home, etc, to be present and relatively easily to find.
Which brings us neatly on to site navigation and whether a designer should be using a linear or parallel navigation to move the user around the website.
As you would imagine the same principles that apply to the question of transparency are also reflected in site navigation.
HC cultures are much more receptive to illustrations and links that are constantly changing into new parts of the site or even open up new browser windows via click-throughs.
Think about using numerous sidebars and menus as well, or even pulling information over another part of the website as an internal pop-up, allowing new text to appear while leaving the previous screen in shadow.
LC cultures on the other hand prefer their information to be tabular and functional. Site navigation should be as simple for the user as possible – the focus is on the end goal, not necessarily how the user got there.
Try to minimize the number of sidebars and menus, and any new pages should open up in the same browser window rather than diverting to another. Unlike with HC cultures, pop-ups are seldom used, as they can be seen as distracting, over complicating and at times, quite untrustworthy.
Last but not least is the color of the website. Particular colors have certain connotations in different markets and careful consideration should always be given to what color should dominate.
LC cultures respond well to neutral colors, such as pale blue and grey, which allow users to read the content of the website easily and minimize distraction. Blue also instills a feeling of trust, which is why it’s often used by international banks and airlines.
Although Hall’s theory is useful, it should be remembered that every project is individual and there are lots factors to take into account when designing a new target market website.
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