Cultural dimensions of the digital user

international ux

Digital design interaction and cultural dimensions

Cultural dimensions can have a very significant impact on digital users and how they interact with digital design. Understanding these factors can mean the difference between engaging and communicating with a culture in a meaningful and effective way or appearing irrelevant (or even insulting) in what you portray and the way you portray it.

Previous blog pieces in this series have dealt with the categorisation of cultural differences; this article will look at how these cultural dimensions specifically influence responses to digital design and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage.

Power distance factors:

The most obvious effect this has on design is the depiction of people on your website. Where the lower classes are perceived as having little influence or relevance using images that portray this stratum can be counter-productive to both higher and lower echelons. The higher grade people might be offended at the suggestion that they are grouped with lower classes and wouldn’t wish to associate with products they use; the lower stratum might aspire to be like the upper tier and seeing their own group represented does not meet their aspiration or expectation.

Societies that have high power distance ratios where this might be significant include Latin America, African and many Asian countries (though not Japan). North American and western European countries tend to have low power distance scores.

Uncertainty avoidance:

The consequence of this sort of activity might be that digital users are uncomfortable with design graphics that are oblique or unexpected in the context they are receiving them. High uncertainty avoidance societies would prefer simplicity and transparency in a website so they would know the consequences of any action and easily understand the elements of the site and how to navigate them. They would also be more at home in an environment that reflected their own values, expectations, surroundings and didn’t appear alien or challenging. Low uncertainty avoiders would tolerate more complexity and intuition in their design and be more prepared for the unusual or unexpected. Germany and Japan are high uncertainty avoidance societies as are Latin countries but Anglo, Nordic and Chinese cultures tend to be low on the uncertainty avoidance scale.

Individualism v collectivism:

The degree to which a society tends towards individualism can affect digital user reaction to images that convey a sense of reward or motivation depending on whether the recipient is actuated by the group needs or their own. So images reflecting societal or shared benefits would play better in a collectivist society where perhaps, more material objectives and outcomes would appeal to individual-based cultures. Privacy and personal factors can also be more valuable to individual cultures. Collectivism is generally more prevalent in the less developed economies, the Far East and eastern Europe.


This has obvious implications for design especially in societies where women do not influence decision-making or are even dissuaded from appearing in public, such as in some of the Muslim world. How women are portrayed (if at all) needs to be handled extremely carefully in these circumstances.

If you would like to know more about this complex but fascinating subject or are interested in assessing its impact on a specific international market, call us free on 0800 0246 247 or drop us an email at: to discuss your needs.

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