How to Design for a Global Audience

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There is no question that living in the digital information age feels like the height of globalization. Advances in communication technology positioned the internet as the freeway to information. Every single piece of information accessible through the internet is essentially available to anyone in the world.

Are you still wondering why designing for a global audience has become a common goal of creatives and entrepreneurs? This article explores the motivations behind this aspiration through the point of view of business and social inclusion.

Global design or global UX design comes off as either nebulous or intimidating. Whichever way you feel, this article provides practical and actionable tips to help you design for a global audience. At the end of this article, you will have a matter-of-fact understanding of the global design concept. And you will walk away armed with a practical to-do list on how to execute the approach.

The Inevitability of a Global Audience

This has presented an interesting paradox for content creators. Everything is accessible to everyone, and therefore, the information design has to speak across borders. It has to have a broad reach but at the same time, be relevant to a potential client’s context.

Does It Really Matter, or Is This Just Political Correctness?

Some believe it is unnecessary to regard the growing list of considerations involved in designing for a global audience. Others take this further by suggesting that global design is just another form of political correctness.

Reviewing global design literature points to three main lines of thinking that offer a sound rationale for the design approach:

  • The Pragmatist: Design for a global audience because it is good for business.

Unless your business goal is so narrowly focused on a specific local area, you have a stake at designing for a global audience.

Advances in communication technology, logistics, and supply chain have made it common sense to scale business globally. Even regular businesses can now reach untapped and underserved markets.

Essentially, scaling your business becomes common sense. With that comes a wider market, a much larger geographic scope that brings diverse clientele.

  • The Ethical: Be inclusive in your design because it is the right thing to do.

Today, being tone-deaf has some real economic consequences. Publishing a website with culturally insensitive content can drive the high traffic of the wrong kind. It may bring faster-than-lightning negative social media attention, which can easily lead to a situation that is impossible to salvage. Being sensitive to a multicultural world is the right thing to do, and it is good for business.

  • The Survivalist: Global design will keep you relevant.

Global design takes into consideration a format that speaks to a wide array of audiences. This entails some discipline and filters references that only make sense to a specific place, culture, or time period.

By appealing through a universalized style, the user experience design also remains timeless.

Executing a Design for a Global Audience

  • Translation Is Non-negotiable

We are no longer at the mercy of professional (human) translators. Though they still provide the most precise translation and interpretation, it is simply not practical to engage their services.

Providing a translation of your website into your user’s local language is as easy as installing a Google Translate for Business plug-in.

You may simply go on the Google Translate webpage and add your website to the Website Translator registry. Plug-in installation instructions should easily be found on that webpage.

Of course, you can explore other website translation plug-ins for WordPress, such as Polylang, WPML, and qTranslate, to name a few.

  • With Content, Less Is More

Content creation goes hand-in-hand with a good translation plug-in. Write copy that is straight to the point.

Make sure your website does not have unnecessarily long sentences. Do not include phrases or idioms that do not have a direct translation in most languages.

For example: Why say “as the crow flies” when you can just say “direct path”?

  • Cultural Sensitivity: Aesthetics

Stick with neutral colour palettes. Bold, striking colours may have negative cultural references around the world. For example, in some cultures, the color red is considered lucky while in others, it is considered improper or downright taboo.

  • Cultural Sensitivity: Symbols and Meanings

If you are featuring macro shots of objects, such as flowers or chopsticks, research on meaning and placement. For example, featuring the wrong flower may convey death rather than joy in some cultures. Or a simple misalignment of chopsticks may bring up the image of death rather than a happy family dinner.

  • Cultural Sensitivity: Text Directions

Some languages are read from right to left or top to bottom. When designing wireframes with text and photo side-by-side, allow enough space so that the automatic translation does not overlap with the photo.

  • Use the Right Typography for Readability

Choose a sans-serif typography that has complete alphabets. This is more than a mundane task. This helps ensure that your website looks readable across all electronic devices. It also helps address accessibility issues for visually impaired users.

  • Keep It Light

If you can help it, do not overload your website with heavy images and videos. Keep in mind that more than 2 billion mobile or tablet users transact globally. However, the global average internet speed is only 9.1 Mbps. Apart from loading time, consider the mobile-friendliness of your website when you design it.

  • Clarify Number, Date, Time Formats

Use plug-ins for dates and times whenever possible so that different number formats do not cause misunderstandings. In the case of dates, clarify in which order you need them to appear, such as MM/DD/YY. Also, including time zone options and be specific about the 12-hour and military time formats.

  • Prices and Currencies

Be mindful of price formats to avoid confusion. For example, a European price format of 2,99 may mislead someone to think it is 2,990. Apart from the price formats, be specific about the currency used. It is always best to use the letter format rather than the symbol. For example, use “USD 1.00” rather than “$1.00.” Install a plug-in for exchange rates to foster inclusive e-commerce.

  • Imagery: Diversity and Inclusion

It may still be a hot-button issue in some places, but the lack of diversity in visual imagery can hurt business.

If you are trying to scale your business internationally, include photos of models or imagery that reflect the diversity of the market you want to attract. Do not solely rely on stock photos as the lack of diversity remains an issue for providers. Business needs diversity — even the emojis on our smartphones reflect this.

This list is long but in no way is it exhaustive. In the e-commerce world, designing for a global audience has become the standard. This is mostly justified through business pragmatism and social inclusion. The tips above show the depth of consideration required to provide a website that speaks to a full range of audiences. However, it may be fair to wager that sceptics will still ask, “Is it worth it?”

Author Bio: Danielle Canstello is part of the content marketing team at Pyramid Analytics. They provide enterprise-level analytics and business intelligence software. In her spare time, she writes around the web to spread her knowledge of marketing, business intelligence and analytics industries.

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash


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