The cost of culture?

The cost of culture?

I’ve worked with a number of international sites (or multiple country sites) over the years. Something that they all had in common was their homogeneity. One set of templates, created centrally, then rolled-out country by country.

It’s cheaper that way, right?

Local translations

Naturally, each country translated the content to their local language. Perhaps even created new, country specific, content. In few lucky cases they even obtained their own imagery (but that wasn’t normally the case; being restricted instead to the corporate image directory)

At times I’d say there was a pretty good process behind the design. Goal-setting, user research, even a degree of content production (and IA work) before the design stage.

Blond haired and blue eyed

The acknowledgement of cultural differences was often limited to discussions such as “those photos of very Swedish looking people won’t work in ” or “That page has to be in

The only times I remember culture coming close to being discussed from a web design perspective was in relation to countries where text wasn’t read from left to right.

Culture is perceived as a cost. Yes, It is a cost – but only if you ignore it.

The Web Psychologist

At Conversion Jam 3 here in Stockholm, Nathalie Nahai held the closing keynote presentation. Culture and its influence on Websites.

Conversion Jam is a conversion and optimisation conference, so we’d spent all day discussing various A/B test results, behavioural psychology and the importance of content. Content was crucial.


Then at the end of the day, Nathalie came on stage and reminded us how important culture was when creating websites. A cultural and psychological foundation was needed in order to obtain the best results. Different cultures (and genders) engage in contrasting behaviour online.

“Different cultural groups employ different usage strategies when using the same interface.”

Nathalie Nahai

In my 5 signs your redesign will fail blog post, I spent most of the article pushing the point that content can’t be left until last. It has to produced early on in the process – after goal setting, but before design.

I didn’t mention culture.

I didn’t mention psychology.

The bare essentials of web design

If we’re going to boil the website design/redesign process down to its bare essentials it ends up looking something like this:

  1. Goals
  2. Culture and psychology
  3. Content
  4. Design
  5. Build

Let’s start from a foundation of psychology.” Nathalie said when Per Axbom and I interviewed her for UX Podcast straight after her keynote.

Once you’ve got your goals clearly defined, yes, you need to create a behavioural and psychological base to build your content and communication around.

With that kind of base (and insight), the last thing you’ll want to do is deploy a single set of centrally produced templates across the world.

You should create a central framework of goals, branding and meaning which can be handed to local teams and get them to produce designs and templates that work in their country and culture.

There’s no way you can centrally have all the cultural knowledge needed to design effective websites for dozens of countries. You have to delegate the job to local countries. This is what Coca-cola and McDonalds do.

“if you can translate your meaning and your goals to that agency that’s on the ground in that company. You’ll get the best results with the least amount of fuss.”

Nathalie Nahai

Coding the sites and templates I think you can do centrally. At least initially. This will help you optimise web performance and maximise the reuse of code whilst building a pattern library.

Global results require local experts

Create content and design locally.

Code and build centrally.

It’s natural for us to paint the world from our own culture and perspective, we do that from birth. Next time you are thinking of rolling out a “one size fits all” global website. Stop. Take a step back.

Global results require local experts. Find your experts, give them the tools they need and take a leap of faith. They know better.

James Royal-Lawson - Senior digital advisor · Designer · Digital analyst · Economist · Podcaster