Customizing Web-sites to fit Global Cultures

Nicolas Mangos and Maz Demosthenous


This paper analyses recent work that has considered customizing web sites to fit various specific country cultures. The importance of cultural differences in web site designing is not new and has been investigated using the Hostede approach where some researchers concentrated on masculinity versus femininity where countries are differentiated by their gender roles (Dormann and Chisalita, 2002). Others have used the complete five dimensions of Hofstede in there analysis of cultural issues in web site redesign which include: long-term versus short term orientation; femininity versus masculinity power-distance; collectivism versus individualism and uncertainty avoidance (Marcus and Gould, 2000; Sheridan, 2002).

Whilst the Hofstede model has proven useful in various social science disciplinary research, it does have its limitations if solely relied upon to reflect cultural barriers. The current paper suggests that going beyond the convenience of Hofstede model may provide additional and useful insights into cultural barriers in web site designing. An eCuturation model is proposed which includes the Hofstede model but only as one part of the cultural interface elements.

The major contribution of the paper is the development of an eCulturation model. Where eCulturation refers to the process that facilitates culturally sensitive Web site design. The idea is to minimize cultural barriers to effective online global communication. The model developed in this paper identifies, classifies and conceptualises the factors that may contribute to cultural barriers by drawing on research that has described and empirically tested these factors. In developing the eCulturation model, cultural components are conveniently divided into four major cultural components, which include customs, traditions, mores, and values (refer to eCulturation figure attached). The next level of the model identifies the cultural interface elements that emanate from the cultural components. The ten cultural interface elements include: language, colour, symbols, form, look and feel, gestures, credit card acceptance, image/advertising, zip codes, and Hofstede’s five dimensions. It is these ten elements that can have an important impact on web site design but are not contained in any known holistic web-site design model.

Interestingly zip codes are country specific, for instance in Australia and Hong Kong there are postcodes which do not fit the space and nature of an international zip code response to an internet prompt on the screen, so in this instance there is a lost response. Therefore the postcode is not the traditional code used by other countries, which makes the zip code traditional, leading to a cultural problem of country identity when responding via the web cite. In this way the determination of geography implies cultural elements. It can also be categorised as “culture intertwined with the use of technology” (Ulfelder , page 3, 2000).

The proposed model positions web design at the centre and that this design needs to adapt to a select number of cultural interface elements which are reflective of cultural components of the particular country in question (refer to figure of model attached). The proposed model whilst appearing to be all encompassing can still be used to help focus on those cultural elements that are characteristic of the particular country in question. It is all too simplistic to apply a relatively standard approach to web site design from an economic rationale point of view. To help avoid cultural communication problems, web sites should be designed to reflect customs, traditions, mores and values of local culture. For each country these issues will have differences and similarities. The identification of these similarities and differences may be enhanced by using the eCulturation model developed in this paper

The results of this explanatory study, provides evidence of the need to localise web sites according to the country you target. There is an argument that suggests that there is a need to adapt web sites to each country to make customers feel at home with the site. On the other hand there is a contrary argument that you can standardise the majority of the elements. For instance Levitt (1983) seminal paper on globalisation refers to consumer convergence and that there is one world one product suggestive of a standard approach to global business. Through the process of eCulturation one can safely standardise where cultural factors/ elements are common to countries and adopt to those that are different.

Furthermore, this web site redesign can be achieved and refined through validation by local partners on a global level. In the globalisation debate where it is suggested that the optimal position is to standardise where you can and localise where necessary. The proposed model can be effectively used to differentiate what may be standardised and alternatively what has to be localised in particularly using the cultural interface elements. The myth of globalisation suggests that you really need to be culturally sensitive even though there do appear pockets of standardisation in global business.


Figure above is a diagrammatic representation of the proposed eCulturation model.

Where Cultural Components include: customs, traditions, mores and values

Where Cultural Interface Elements include: language, colour, symbols, form, look andfeel, gestures, credit card acceptance, image/advertising, zip codes and includes Hofstede’s five dimensions.

The outer circle is not an exhaustive list of interface elements but can accommodate other specific cultural issues pertaining to specific country characteristics. The eCulturation model is assumed to be flexible enough as to capture most relevant interface elements that are identified as relevant cultural barriers to effective web site communication and implementation.