ARCHIVED - Building culturally appropriate websites
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December 22, 2009— Ottawa, Ontario
While the Internet has become a borderless source of information and means of communication for people around the world, geography still plays a role in attracting traffic to websites. But new NRC software could help web designers tailor sites to the tastes of audiences, based on where they live.
The cultural interface design advisor tool (CIDAT) provides guidance on how to choose website design elements — such as colours, page layout, white space, typography, and the number and type of images used — that reflect the look and feel familiar to web surfers in specific countries.
"The cultural appropriateness of a website is important because it can affect whether the intended user will find it credible or even visit it again," says Dr. Irina Kondratova, who leads the People-Centred Technologies group at the NRC Institute for Information Technology and is lead researcher on the CIDAT team.
CIDAT's design is based on data her team collected from more than 38,000 websites in 38 countries, representing 72 percent of the world's population. Several of NRC's unique automated data-mining tools — such as a cultural web spider and a web colour analyser — extracted information on visual design elements from top-ranked websites in Google's index. Only sites written in the official languages of a particular country were examined to ensure the results were relevant to the experience of the users from that country.
Country-specific design colours
As a result of this study, the NRC team identified country-specific design colour palettes. For example, Canadian web designers prefer to use red, green and blue on their sites, while Indonesian web designers often choose green, yellow and violet. Meanwhile, government websites often use colours from their country's national flags. "We found that in all countries, there was a clear preference for specific colours," says Dr. Kondratova.
Did you know?
According to a 2008 report by Forrester Consulting, global businesses are losing market share worth up to US$1.6 billion per year “by failing to localize product information.”
The NRC study also identified other "cultural markers," such as types of imagery used on websites. In some countries, pictures of people are preferred, whereas in other countries, images of buildings or landscapes are more common.
In addition, there are other characteristics that appear to be unique to certain countries. For instance, websites from Peru tend to use a lot of animation. Websites designed in China, Mexico and India make significant use of logos and official seals, which may reflect more emphasis on authority — unlike the less structured website designs in Denmark, Finland and Norway that place much lower emphasis on official seals.
The NRC study discovered some commonality, too. For example the research determined the existence of an international palette used by most countries, which consists of about 10 colours — such as shades of grey, shades of blue and light yellow — and also includes white and black.
Dr. Kondratova says web designers could use this global palette to develop international user interfaces by choosing colours appropriate for many cultures. Such interfaces could be particularly appealing to educational and health-care institutions, or companies that develop web-based e-learning or e-health applications for a broad international audience. But if they want to target residents of a particular country, they could use the built-in templates as guides to develop country-specific colour combinations, styles and specific visual design elements to design websites that are culturally appropriate for that audience.
While CIDAT could be used by anyone who designs websites, Dr. Kondratova believes it could be especially helpful for small and medium-sized businesses that want to develop software applications for international markets, but lack the in-house expertise or budget to hire a professional to properly design a culturally acceptable website.
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National Research Council of Canada
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