Expanding Horizons: Six Tips for Cross-Cultural Web Design

Icon bubbles over world map with symbols for language, time, currency, location, travel, and a language toggle switch.

Designing websites for international audiences

As the internet continues to erase geographical boundaries, it's important that designers understand how to tailor designs for audiences from different cultural backgrounds. Designing for users around the world means taking into consideration differences in values, aesthetics and communication styles. In this article, we delve into six tips to ensure that your designs work well for international audiences.

1: Understanding your audience

Before diving into any web design project, it is important to have an understanding of your website’s audience. Does the site need to appeal broadly, to users anywhere in the world? Or, do you have a more simple goal, for example offering a Dutch counterpart to your existing English website?

Choosing between Globalisation (making sure the content and layout appeal to as wide a group as possible) and Localisation (designing more tailored content for a specific audience) is an important first step. Both methods have merits, but the correct approach will vary depending on your audience and their needs.

2: Visual identity and imagery

Different colours, shapes and symbols can have very different meanings in different cultures. For example, in Africa yellow symbolises wealth and status, whilst in the Middle East and parts of Latin America, yellow is a colour linked to death. Have an understanding of the visual language of the culture you are designing for, so that you know which taboos to avoid.

Use imagery that has broad appeal, or use different images for different localised versions of your website (for example, a clothing store might display models of different ethnicities in different locales, to appeal to the customer base by showing people that look like them).

When we designed a microsite for UK-based law firm Brodies to connect with their clients in the Middle East, we used a pared-back palette to appeal to more conservative audiences. Derived from the more colourful main brand, the mostly blue hues relate to the main brand identity, whilst still being respectful of cultural sensitivities and avoiding overly bright or garish colours.

3: Iconography

Many website designs use icon elements as part of the user interface. These symbols act as shorthand to help convey meaning, but it is important to consider whether the icons will still make sense to users from different backgrounds and cultures.

As an example, in English-speaking cultures, a check-mark or tick [✓] indicates something positive, or a correct answer. The same symbol indicates an incorrect answer in countries such as Sweden, Japan and South Korea.

Where possible, pick icons which have more general appeal and don’t rely on culture-specific nuances - for example, a telephone icon has a fairly universal meaning. Research each icon in your design thoroughly, and try to avoid using icons to replace text entirely, instead pairing icons with text to make the meaning clear.

4: Typography

When designing a website in another language, the typography is highly important. Does the language use a non-Latin alphabet, such as Chinese or Hindi? If this is the case, it is important to pick a font which supports the correct alphabets. If it’s not possible to use the same font across all languages, try to find a close match font with a similar feeling, weight and character height, to maintain visual consistency.

Another important consideration is the direction that the text flows. On the Brodies.ae site, the language can be toggled between English (left-to-right) or Arabic (right-to-left). We had to design the layout with this in mind. When toggled, the entire web page flips, so that the layout still feels balanced and intuitive for either audience.

5: Translation

Good translations are key - you don’t want to put audiences off with mistranslations or confusing text. Getting a native speaker to sense-check all translations is a great idea. Look at local specifics such as currency used, time and date format, and preferred units for measurements. Paying attention to small details like these will greatly improve the user experience.

Accommodate for how different lengths of text will impact the design - translating from English can increase or reduce the length of a paragraph by up to 40%, so make sure your designs look good regardless of the length of text.

Also consider CTA buttons - will the message still be clear in the translation, and will it fit within the confined space? Sometimes buttons might not use a direct translation, but something which captures the same intention.

6: Customisation

It can be helpful when the site detects which country you are visiting from, but it is important to give the user full control over what they’re seeing. Don’t automatically make assumptions and redirect - instead, make a suggestion - “Would you like to view the UK site?” and allow the user the choice.

A person could have a different first language compared to the area they live in, could be on holiday, or could want to check something on a foreign site. Allowing customisable toggles, default settings and redirects puts control in the hands of the user. For the global Sustainable Golf highlights section, we allow users to view the article in their local language or English via a toggle, and allow them to submit new articles in a variety of languages.


By following these tips you can design interactive experiences that appeal to diverse audiences. Each web project will have specific and unique challenges, so research, empathy and understanding are always key. If you need help designing a website for an international audience, reach out to us today. We’d be happy to help bring your vision to life!