International Websites

Localizing Websites for High-Context Cultures

Category: Culture, Website Translation

While broken buttons, mistranslations, and culturally insensitive photos are obvious deal-breakers for visitors in any culture, other less obvious choices can have a dramatic impact on how engaging and trustworthy your site appears to international visitors. A lot of this depends on cultural context, high and low.

Broadly speaking, low-context cultures communicate predominantly through explicit statements in text and speech while high-context communication involves implying a message through that which is not uttered.

Japan, China, and many Arab countries are good examples of predominantly high-context cultures. German-speaking, Scandinavian, and North American countries tend toward low-context culture. (If you’re reading this, it means you probably have a low-context bias!)

In terms of web usability, the following design tendencies are often common in high-context cultures:

  • High use of animation, especially in connection with images of moving people
  • Images promote values of a collectivist society
  • Featured images depict products and merchandise in use by individuals
  • Links promote an exploratory approach to website navigation; process oriented
  • Many sidebars and menus, with links opening in new browser windows

(From: Würtz, E. (2005). A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Websites from High-Context Cultures and Low-Context Cultures. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(1), article 13.)

Let’s take a look at two high-context designs that have been very successful for franchise brands expanding overseas. First up, McDonald’s Thailand website. Thailand’s portal for McDonald’s might seem like a hot mess compared to the relatively toned-down U.S. version, but it’s a paragon of high-context design elements. Embedded video players, four different product boxes, community news, and main navigation hidden in a pull-down tab, this is a process-oriented, media-rich example of high-context localization.

Next, Indonesia’s launch of 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven in Indonesia features other high-context design elements at play, notably the images of products in use by people, rather than emphasis on a “brand lifestyle.” The center “slider” rotates through a gallery of products and promotions. Additionally, 7-Eleven chose to integrate their streaming Twitter feed directly on the home page. (For a closer look at 7-Eleven’s successful franchise expansion in Indonesia, be sure to check out our recent article here.)

The upshot? A low-context bias for less-cluttered, static, goal-oriented design with simplified navigational choices might be a major factor holding back the impact your brand has online in high-context markets. Translate websites with cultural context in mind.

Photo Credit: Luke Chesser