Differences in international webdesign and usability

International Website Design is more then just translating. (but if you translate do it correct otherwise you keep on closing a shower door)
I am wondering about international usability and design, so I decided to do some research.Differences in design and usability in various countries can make or break a site.

Of course people are the same world over and the main usability guidelines remain the same. However there are country specific things to take into account that can make your site work better in specific countries. With the emerging markets rapidly growing and the global aspects of internet, it is critical to understand the differences of your international customers.

In a few European website projects, the biggest problems in the fields of usability and design were the following points.
  • Character problems in on site search engine and the connected emails used for email marketing. Special characters necessary for some languages gave problems in displaying.
  • Display of local currency's. Local currency's were changed at most places, but the system did not change the local currency's at some far ends of the webshop.
  • Confirmation pages and VAT differences.
  • Length of text fields (some words are just much longer in other languages, so make buttons and text fields scalable).
  • Differences in countries in shopping cart process (for example delivery points or SMS services that are not yet common in all countries).
  • Payment methods and configurations.
  • Legal differences between countries can have impact at the usability. It might be necessary in to change your product detail page for your webshop because of legal aspects. But there are more differences that have an impact at the usability.
  • Differences in product details (your product information system) for example voltage differences between countries. Powerplugs are different in the UK then the rest of Europe.
  • Speed. Make sure (and this is especially the case with global websites) your site speed is fast in every country you target for.
So keep these things in mind when setting up an international website. Also read this article, I wrote earlier, about Geert Hofstede's 5 dimensions model to better understand your international audience.

Local websites or one central website?

If you are active international at the web, you often have to make a choice between a central website, that is copied to local versions (often only translated) or a local website. Many company's choose a central website, to be able to have the most control and stability. But often this is not the most effective way in terms of the goals you want to reach with this website.
I think a mixed form is the best and is also possible. A hybrid model with the advantages from a central website (stability, control) and the flexibility from local websites (design, seo, landingpages etc).
It is very important to think about this when you write the requirements for your new international website.

Don't forget, local sites give more trust. In fragmented Europe this is very important, but even in English speaking Australia, users prefer local sites to foreign sites.
Research showed for example that Australians, when scanning SERP listings, prefer URL's with the .au suffix. Logical of course, but these are things to remind yourself when participating in an international internet project.

Design Differences

It is always nice to see the differences in design if you look at global brands.

Design Homepage Philips Japan
Design Homepage Philips Germany
The design of the Japanese Philips website is much more orientated at the Japanese visitor. I think a good job from Philips. Japanese websites are often much more text orientated.

Homepage Design Ford Brasil

Homepage Design Ford China

The companies in the examples above, have specific sites for some countries, but often you see that multinationals have one template to fit for all countries.
They can only make small changes in this case.This is not always the best solution in my opinion. Best is to have a more flexible framework. Randstad for example has most likely one template to fit both the French and Japanese market. If you use this solution, I think you are not flexible enough to really make the most of your online activities.

Homepage Design Randstad France

Homepage Design Randstad Japan

Compete local websites or apps

If you are only active in Europe, things are already fragmented, but if you are active globally you have even more challenges. Some company's make also completely local versions of their sites and apps. Flipboard for example launche recently fully localised app for the Japanese market. Also Evernote launched a special Chinese version, however there are more reasons then only design for this move. If you want to learn more about Chinese webdesign, I have an interesting PDF file about the design of websites in China and the differences between the west and the east.

Understand your audience and test!

Of course there is much more to tell about this subject. Bottom line is to understand your audience and to test always! Do research and understand your local visitors. Also read this article I wrote, and especially read the part about Geert Hofstede's 5 dimensions model. This really helps you to understand the differences between countries and to use this information for optimizing your website.


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