Designing For A Global Company: Part 1

Website Design as a Global Company – Part 1

“Newsflash: since the creation of the Internet, all businesses are global companies.”

-Danielle, Designs By Dani


For U.S. businesses, designing an effective website is often challenging enough. But the Internet is, by its very nature, a global entity. And when you publish a website to the Internet – regardless of where your business is located or how geographically limited your customer base may be – you are essentially a global business.

Now, the reality is that many smaller, local businesses really are local. So if their website is not culturally accessible by visitors from other nations, then the impact can be insignificant for the business owner.

But if you are open to “international trade” and being able to reach a global market of prospects, there are certain functions and elements of your design that must be considered.

(A great resource if you want to dive deeper into the cultural aspects of website and brand design, see Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team by Alina Wheeler)

  1. Optimize Content for Multiple Languages

Optimizing your website’s text for global access requires that you make sure your layout will format well after machine translations. In other words, you want to make sure that when your text is written in English and converted to another language, the flow of graphics and copy will be supported by your layout.

Today, most websites use dynamically generated content that will flow correctly when converted to another language, but certain other elements can display badly. If possible, you should test your site using a machine translation service so you can see how your various webpage elements are displayed.

  1. Cultural Concerns

In the U.S. we have a shared way that we see the physical world and the meanings we attribute to things such as images and icons. This is why website design uses images and icons as metaphors to help us understand something that might not be comprehensible otherwise. Menus, buttons, folders, shopping baskets and other digital representations of real objects help us navigate the webpage. But our Westernized iconography does not always transfer or translate well cross-culturally.

When designing a website for a potentially multi-cultural diverse audience, you must consider the visual representations and icons that might be used. Because imagery, graphics and icons will be understood and perceived differently in different cultures, it’s difficult to know what graphical representations are for your site.

But if you have specific countries or national markets that you are intentionally reaching, it may only be a matter of doing the research needed for that particular culture. It’s worthwhile to determine what you should avoid or include in terms of imagery or references on your site.

  1. Color and Culture

Color can be quite challenging, as well, because color meanings are very distinctive among different cultures. And, while color is something you must consider with your website, a certain amount of research can pay off in terms of learning what to avoid – and what to include. Focus on your preferred markets and learn what colors, or color combinations, are preferable for those cultures.

Understandably, as the designer, you can’t create a website that works perfectly with every single culture in the world! But by being aware of these elements early in your design process, you can create a website that is as culturally sensitive as possible.

(Part 2 to follow)