user experience & design

User Interface Across Borders

Chris Allen
November 10th, 2016

Cultures are different. One Size does not always fit all.

“Go Cubbies” could be an acceptable, heartfelt greeting between two friends in Chicago, but would likely leave an international client feeling alienated.

In the same vein, you wouldn’t want to plaster US election-related imagery across the header of your app if your target audience includes a foreign market.

Early on in the software development lifecycle, the design team ought to determine if they are going to platform their software for international users based on the concept of either localization or standardization.


The localization approach customizes the elements of the software to better appeal to different regions of the globe.

A designer interested in adopting this approach may deem it necessary that customers with IP addresses from Canada would see a version of the site with an altered color palette that matches imagery close to home for that nationality (such as the colors of their flag).

Other possible variables for software localization include:

– Text Phrasing – Language Translations – Use of Imagery – Layout – Use of blank space for advertisements

Don’t forget to take advantage of as many of these variables as you can if you decide to go down the road to localization.


Rather than making unique versions of your website for each location, the standardization approach creates one version of the website and funnels users to this version regardless of location.

This approach is much more streamlined and geared towards usability testing and other pre-launch checks, but isn’t as globally accessible. Some high-browed designers like Cahill Puil, seem to sneer at standardization.

Unless you’re anticipating a lot of non-english traffic to your website or app, you can usually expedite the development process by starting with one standardized platform and then creating different international (localized) versions later if needed.

Uncertainty Avoidance

One of the more important dimensions of cultural value, when making decisions about usability, is Uncertainty Avoidance Index. Each year, the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) ranks countries ordinally on their “tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity”.

If you are marketing a product to a country with a high rate of uncertainty avoidance, such as Greece, you ought to design a layout with limited choices and content that cuts directly to the point. Save the creative metaphors for your writing teacher.

Adidas, the successful apparel company, pays very close attention to the UAI in their efforts to best localize their work.

Below we can see the American version of compared to the Chinese Addidas site. Consider the fact that the United States ranks 40 on the UA Index, and China ranks 80. This means that the United States is much more accepting of uncertainty.

Images courtesy of Usability Geek.

The American site has five different color options, but Adidas China only offers the iconic shell-toe Adidas in red. The American Adidas site presents the user with a scrolling panel camera angles to admire the shoe, while the Chinese Adidas site gives the user five images of the shoe.

The fact that the American Adidas site has more variability in terms of shoe color reflects the fact that the United States is more tolerant to uncertainty than China.

Language Considerations

Before you waste your time translating your website to Swahili, you should have a thorough understanding of your target market.

It may be tempting to massively translate your site to Mandarin (Chinese) in an attempt to tap into the world’s biggest market. However, unless you have a customer support team that can handle Mandarin questions, you may just be setting yourself up for failure.

Many times, inexperienced business owners will pay money to get their website translated only to find out that they just entered a more competitive market.

On the contrary, if your website analytics are showing that a large percentage of your traffic is coming from a different language demographic, you may benefit from translating the website to the given language.

Just remember that the foreign users came for the product, and be subtle in your localization. Google’s Website Translator Plugin can do most of the work for you at no cost. Be sure to at least enlist a native speaker of the language to proofread the translation.

Conclusion: Less is More

A lot of people get caught up in the website translation hype (if that’s even a thing). Remember, content is king. If you don’t have any noteworthy traffic to your webpage from Mexico, changing your website to sitio web won’t create any new traffic.

There are a few bloggers who swear that their view count vastly improved as a result of a simple translator plugin. However, for every Blogger who benefited from a translator, there are probably 10 more who saw marginal increase in traffic, if any.

Before you punch your ticket on the localization hype-train and start cranking out translations of your site into ancient-extinct Latin, do the analytics research and see if you would actually benefit from translation.

If you still feel a translation is in order, have it done by a professional.


Chris Allen

Chris is the Marketing Manager at Codal. He is an accomplished leader, innovator, and creative, with over a decade of experience in design, product, and brand-focused engagements. Chris is known for designing websites, products, and brands with bold typography, subtle gradients, and a modern focus. He is a stickler for details, dedicated to tech, coffee, and music. You can also follow Chris on Instagram & Twitter: @djchrisallen.


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