WebRef Update: Featured Article: Tread Carefully For International Design
Tread Carefully For International Design
I remember the first time my roommate's girlfriend winked at me while her boyfriend was not looking. Being in the United States, which is a different culture from my native India, I was not sure what to make out of the wink. Was she saying, "You could take liberties with me; I am cool?" Or was she making a simple gesture of friendliness?
On another occasion, a colleague in the United States gave me a "thumbs-up" sign, which is a gesture for "good" or "done" (in the case of a deal). In Bengal, a state in India, a thumbs-up can mean, "I will give you nothing."
Such differences are examples of how the meaning of gestures can vary from country to country, even region to region. While these may seem to relate only to verbal communication and body language, they are relevant to Web design. Design is communication, and so is the content on a Website.
Language is communication, but the idiom can vary from region to region. Don't confuse apple pie with rice pudding. What seems a clever phrase in one country can mean something dramatically different in another. Take, for instance, the ad slogan, "Got milk?" in the US media. It was a national ad campaign that used celebrity endorsement. In India and other countries, the catch phrase can mean, "Are you lactating?"
Imagine the possible faux pas. If you think that ad banner that you have created with a clever phrase will attract a million eyeballs, make sure you have chosen your words carefully, keeping a global audience in mind. Goof-ups can also occur during translation from one language to another.
Fortunately, there are people and resources you can turn to for advice. Consider Olin Lagon. In "Avoiding Cross-Cultural Web-building Snares" he warns against translation pitfalls, and offers his suggestions on how to "globalize" your Website. Globalizing is especially important in this era of e-commerce. It's crucial for businesses to be sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences among peoples of the world. They could be the customers that are visiting your Web site to buy products or services.
To adapt your design and content to regions of the world, consider having different sections or sites. In another article, "Matching Web Sites to Cultures" Lagon gives examples of corporations that have customized their sites for various regions of the world. Among the examples are eBay, IBM, and IKEA.
These sites are worth a look.
Revised: Oct 19, 2000