Welcome to part 2 of this article on how Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory can help us understand what makes cultures so different from each other — and how we can become more sensitive when designing for a cross-cultural user experience.
Editor’s note: Make sure to read part 1 for some background info on the cultural dimensions theory and for the first two dimensions Power Distance and Individualism versus collectivism.
3. Masculinity versus femininity (MAS)
This dimension is pretty much concerned with the motivations and core values of a society. Masculine societies are competitive and driven by achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and materialism. Feminine societies are consensus-oriented and prefer values, such as cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life.
This graph shows an overview of international scores on the cultural dimension Masculinity vs. femininity. (Image Source)
Masculinity versus femininity in web design
People raised in a masculine society are constantly striving for success. They want to prove themselves by being the best in what they do. Once success has been attained, there is no hesitation to show it. These expectations not only apply to themselves, but also to the people around them and for example to the products and services they use. When they visit your website, make sure you are prepared for their critical evaluation and offer them high quality. Competition, or incentives can be used as attention grabbers.
The site of McDonald’s Saudi Arabia is well prepared for critical visitors with high expectations. They offer a lot of information and point out their expertise. For example, they offer a category called “Truth”, which provides visitors with all different kind of information on who owns McDonald’s in the UAE, where profits go, where the food comes from. It’s a central aspect of the site to make it easy for visitors “to get honest, straightforward answers filled with facts.” Besides, the homepage highlights facts such as “100% locally owned & operated” and “our quality is no mystery”.
Website visitors from a more feminine society don’t desire to stand out from the crowd, rather they want to avoid conflicts and enjoy life. The positive experience with your website or product is more important than technical details, the prize, or whether you are the best in the field or not. This group likes to get engaged and entertained. As long as they are enjoying your website, they are willing to forgive minor flaws. Make sure you offer contact information and be open for feedback and questions. This group is very cooperative and if they want to give feedback, they don’t hesitate to get in contact with you.
The Norwegian site of McDonald’s on the other hand is very feminine. The design is playful and creates a carefree sphere. The happy colors and the deliciously looking images of different products make it a fun experience. At the same time, the site is very clear and and offers a lot of information. The “Contact Us” link in the main menu brings you directly to a contact form together with comprehensive contact details.
4. Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)
This dimension describes how people from a society deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. The main issue of this dimension is how people handle the fact that they can not control the future. Cultures with a high uncertainty avoidance stick to what they know and avoid unorthodox behaviors or ideas. On the other hand, cultures with a low uncertainty avoidance prefer practice over principles and welcome change.
Distribution of uncertainty avoidance around the world. The darker a country, the higher its uncertainty avoidance index. (Image Source)
Uncertainty avoidance in web design
In societies with a high uncertainty avoidance, people prefer deductive rather than inductive approaches. They like to think things through and base their decisions and actions on a systematic evaluation of all available and relevant aspects. Also, they like and prefer the familiar over the unfamiliar. For your website this means that you should present as much relevant information as possible in a structured and clear way. People from this group need to be able to balance different options against each other in order to make a reliable decision.
The Russian site of McDonald’s has a clear and classy design. It features a classical header area with logo and comprehensive top navigation menu, a content area with lots of visuals, and a footer with some secondary links. The overall impression of the site is very positive, which conveys a safe and trustworthy feeling. Images of happy people in real-life situations furthermore help to relate to the site.
Visitors with a low uncertainty avoidance are more open for new ideas, willing to try something different, and take risks. They are more tolerant of new ideas and opinions that differ from their own. These group of visitors is spontaneous and thinks practical, which means they can easily adapt to new situations. On the Web, trends and technology offer new possibilities every day. Make sure your main target group appreciates this. If so, great. If not, don’t ask too much of them and retain a certain degree of familiarity.
The site of McDonald’s India on the other hand requires much more flexibility and tolerance of new ideas. While the overall structure is very clear and user-friendly, the site offers some special features. For example, you can switch between different color schemes, browse through the different products using a slick content-slider, or engage with the McDonald’s community on facebook.
5. Long-term versus short-term orientation (LTO)
The last dimension describes how much a society is concerned with its virtue. Societies with a short-term orientation are normative in their thinking. They value traditions and are interested in establishing the absolute truth of the moment. They live in the here and now and don’t worry too much about the future. A long-term orientation on the other hand results in a society that believes truth depends on situation, context, and time. People believe that traditions can be adapted to changed conditions, they plan their lives ahead, and set long-term goals.
Distribution of long-term vs. short-term orientation around the world. The lower the score, the more people are long-term oriented. (Image Source)
Long-term versus short-term orientation in web design
People with a short-term orientation can be seen to live more in the past and in the present than in the future. What counts are quick results that are in line with known values and traditions. On your website, make sure you offer short cuts and options to take immediate action. Also grab people’s attention with something they are familiar with, not with an outlook to the future.
The German site of McDonald’s has a modern design with a classical top navigation. The site features many aspects that are in line with German values and traditions. For example, the big visual shows a man who is enjoying his “McCurrywurst”. This likable guy and his currywurst create a sense of familiarity, which helps customers to relate to the product. Other concepts that are used on this site to convince visitors are: family values, sustainability, professionalism, and clarity.
Those with a long-term orientation make thorough decisions for the future. Offer detailed information and advantages that truly convince them of the value of your product. You can for example work with installment-sales, or a long-term discount. Also you can offer ways for your visitors to save their browsing history, such as wish lists, or social media sharing options. This way you don’t force your visitors into an immediate decision.
The McDonald’s website of Hong Kong helps customers to make reasonable and informed decisions — not only about their food, but also about their lifestyle. Instead of labeling their different menus with “Products” like most sites do, it says “East Smart”. Also there is an entire section of the site devoted to “Healthy Living”, promoting the belief that a “balanced Diet is the key of maintaining one’s health.” This site carefully informs people about the advantages and long-term benefits of their products.
Different cultures are fascinating and we should do everything possible to maintain their diversity. At the same time, we need to find ways to address all these different ways of thinking and acting on our websites.
Sure, there are plenty of websites that focus only on a small, local target group. Others, especially big brands like McDonald’s, have separate sites for every country. Still, plenty of websites try to address different cultures at once. For those it is especially important to know why cultures differ in the first place and where to look to identify these differences.
Hofstede offers a very valuable resource on his website that allows you to identify all national country scores on the 5 dimensions of national culture. Again, we must be cautious when generalizing Hofstede’s dimensions and consider them as guidelines, not as rules. However, I’m lucky enough to have lived in different countries and worked with people from all over the world. From experience, I can tell you that Hofstede’s cultural dimensions do help to understand and cherish other cultures. Give it a try and consider these cultural dimensions when you design or redesign your next website.