How Website Design Differs In Four Corners of the World
Trends in popular web design vary from country to country around the world. It’s fascinating to chart the nuances of different markets and how web designers, both professional and DIY, cater to the local tastes and preferences of their specific geographic audiences.
When it comes to design, a universal truth is that first impressions count. Research has shown that users form opinions about a design of a website in as quickly as 17 milliseconds. Across the board, websites with simpler design were identified as more appealing to users. However, you’ll see that as you move around the world users define “simple design” and “category design” differently, meaning the preferred look in one region may differ from another region.
While there are several more formal scientific studies like Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions (where different regions are classified according to several societal classifications), I’ve looked at this through a different lens. Our Website Builder tool has a large international user base with support for 53 markets and 26 languages. Across these markets, we’re able to monitor data on website design behavior in aggregate and then see how it plays out when visitors engage with the published content.
Contact with thousands of our customers has also given me the opportunity to see how small businesses and their customers in different countries react to different designs. As an example, when I showed a US website design with all India-localized images and Hindi text to an Indian small business owner, he was immediately able to tell me it didn’t “feel” like an Indian site. But why did it “feel” foreign? What exactly informs that? Let’s explore this phenomenon and how it differs in four major regions around the globe.
My analysis has found that web design in the United States has a high focus on individualism, consisting of frequent pictures of individuals, direct address (“you” vs “we”), personalization features and individual success stories. US websites also tend to have higher color saturation with the same color palette applied throughout the entire website. Typically, in the US, design has become more focused on large sweeping images (check out this coffee cup!) with a clear call-to-action.
As such, design strategy is driven by the desire to get a visitor to perform the right action as quickly as possible, rather than providing traditional long-term engagement with company brand and marketing messaging. In line with this, driving attention towards an action is favored over any potentially distracting content. This can include using geometric shapes, larger borders or even images of people facing in a certain direction to draw the user’s eye towards the call to action.
It’s worth noting that US websites also tend to have a 5-10 year head start on many other countries. This is largely due to the additional time the market has had for the entire UX discipline to grow and flourish. In addition, the best designers from places like India, Brazil, and China yearn to land the higher-paying US clientele, which gives US sites a lead.
Meanwhile, web design in India is more focused on collectivism. This includes images of groups, formal speech, mission statements and opinions on group behavior.
Indian websites also tend to be more washed out, have duotone effects, and tend to have lower color saturation. Taking a much more ornamental approach, websites (such as this one) also tend to use the color gold much more frequently, as well as additional flourish and adornments that would not be seen in US sites.
Chinese sites tend to be divided into many independent spaces, while on western style sites the layout is arranged around a focal point on a page. This is dictated by cultural norms around displaying and consuming information, with China more used to browsing rather than focusing - as is the case here. If you happen to catch a Chinese news channel, you’ll see many more concurrent scrolling news tickers than in American news. Chinese sites also tend to have many links on them.
In addition, in many parts of Asia, design is more dense. Content is heavier on the first page with smaller images. People are used to consuming more information within a single screen. Even when English text is exactly translated into Mandarin, a site looks significantly busier due to the complexity of the Chinese characters.
One common mistake is to group design for Europe into a single bucket and, out of convenience, treat it in the same bucket as the United States. In reality, each country is quite different.
French websites tend to have prominent pricing, large photos, clear calls to action, and photos of groups of people together. Meanwhile, UK sites tend to have a more minimal design, with pricing typically held back from the user unless they hover over an image or click into a product. In this way, websites tend to be more “polite” rather than pushing the conversion.
Scandinavian countries have been commended by The Web Index for putting the web to good use, with Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden all making the ‘Top 5’ for qualities such as ‘relevant content and use’, ‘universal access’ and ‘empowerment’. The public here are, generally speaking, highly savvy, resulting in high e-commerce penetration and mobile usage. As a result, images are high quality, websites are highly functional, and they are built with high contrast to emphasize messaging.
The Rising Mobile Web
In the US, UK and Canada, 60% of traffic to GoDaddy customers’ websites now occurs on mobile devices. In India, that statistic halves - to just 30%. This helps to explain why western websites have less content and density and more calls to action in order to optimize design for a mobile experience. On the flip side, websites created in countries where desktop usage remains prevalent tend to still have large Flash intros, high text density, and tend to look more like print media.
As mobile web traffic increases, hand in hand with global smartphone adoption in every corner of the world, website design will undoubtedly evolve alongside that trend. While websites the world over will become better optimized for mobile and certain features and functionality will be homogenized by that process, it’s my hope that the variety that differentiates each geography will remain as a reflection of the cultural nuances of each respective market. It’s a diversity in web design and development that deserves to be celebrated.
Justin Tsai is Sr. Director of Product Management and Head of SMB Presence Products at GoDaddy.