Nailing Cross-Cultural Design – Creating Personalized Experiences For Different Cultures

Creating Personalized Experiences for Different Cultures via App

If your audience spans different regions, countries and cultures, it’s only obvious that you tailor your app experience to make your users from each different culture feel like the app was specially created for them. And doing that takes more than just translating the language of your app. How we act and respond, or how we conduct ourselves, is deeply influenced by our culture, and the web is no different a place. How people perceive your app, how much they trust you and what makes them buy, all depends on the culture they come from. That is why it is only imperative that you personalize your app to every culture, region or country you wish to market your app in.

Have you seen those websites that swiftly translate the text from English to Arabic? Well, it looks far from personalized when Arabic users open the website to see swanky blonde models cover sitting in New York’s Central Park.  Merely changing the language, currencies and other obvious components aren’t enough. To really localize your app in a way that it looks native to the people of every country and culture, there are a number of other checkboxes you need to click.

A good starting point is to observe the work of Gert Hofstede, a Dutch organizational sociologist, whose expansive cultural dimensions theory shines light on the different ways different cultures influence behavior.

1. Take Custom Images for Each Country and Culture

Like I just said, blondes in an Arabic website – not a good idea.

Designing an app is a massive task to begin with. If you’re doing a native app, its even more work already, designing for each individual platform. So I understand you have your plate full. Despite that, I urge you to consider paying individual attention to every country and culture you are designing the app for. It is important to use the right imagery if you wish to truly form an emotional connect. Use pictures specific to each country. Even stock pictures are a good option, you don’t have to go photographing each culture, but it’s crucial that you use Indian pictures for an Indian app, and French for the French. After all, it is hard to sell baguette with a Taj Mahal on its wrapper.

2. Localize Your Copy

I have to say I am amazed by the quality of Google translation. They get most of the words spot on and do a great job of conveying the message in a multitude of languages. However, communicating goes much deeper than that. Different cultures don’t just use different words, but they use some very specific expressions to elicit a certain emotion. Come to think of it, even English has a number of different versions, such as American English, British English, Canadian English and Australian English. While the British would say, Good Morning Gentlemen, Americans would relate more to ‘Hey There’ and ‘Buddy’, and Australians would say ‘Mate’. And each of these isn’t just a word, it’s an expression that instills camaraderie and makes the user feel welcomed and at home. In a similar fashion, the words and expressions you use can transform the way users perceive you and your app. And no translating software can ever replicate that emotion.

Similarly, other expressions, common marketing terms, technical specifications and a ton of other things all vary depending on the region or country. For example, while in America, the common expression is ‘buy one, get one’, people in the Philippines commonly say ‘buy one, take one’. While Americans like to say ‘serviced apartments’ or ‘vacation rentals’, Europeans tend to say ‘aparthotels’ more commonly. Such differences are aplenty and using the right expression is just way better than using a generic term.

That is why it is highly recommended that you localize your copy for every culture or country. Get someone adept in that language to write a custom copy. In fact, it is better to hire local copywriters to do a spot on job for you and really bring the right flavor to your culture-specific copy.

3. Design for Different Devices and Networks

A lot depends on the kind of devices people use to the kind of network and connectivity they have. Many Asian countries still use phones with the smaller 4” screens on their Samsung devices. It would be advisable to design your UI for such smaller screen sizes where they are prevalent. Similarly, a number of developing countries tend to have lower internet speeds. So try to design a lightweight alternative for them that loads up the app even on lower bandwidths. Here’s a great article on designing apps that work great even in poor connectivity.

4. Searching Vs Browsing

Most western countries see an app as a means to an end. They like uni-directional apps with a single, clear CTA, and tend to get distracted by any other visual elements or user paths. In the east however, as is often observed in Chinese apps and websites, users prefer to explore the app and see more options on the screen. To put it simply, westerners tend to search, find and leave, while easterners tend to browse and explore. That is why you need to optimize your app for specific, type-based searching in the west and portal-based, informative, explorative browsing in the east.

5. Pay Attention to Cultural Nuances and Nail Your User Research

McDonald’s is arguably one of the biggest global brands of our times and its website is a wholesome study in cross-cultural design. You can open the McDonald’s websites of different countries to clearly see the differences in each. Sabina Idler of has written a wonderful two-part series on the McDonald’s cross-cultural design which you can enjoy here and here.

Nailing your user research is critical to designing fantastic cross-cultural apps. Unless you’ve traveled far and wide, and spent a significant amount of time in various different countries, you cannot possibly know the norms and behaviors of each culture. So do plenty of research to decode the finer nuances of each culture and create user personas that reflect the larger populace of that region. Then use those observations to guide your design.


Apps thrive on user engagement and loyalty. And all loyalty stems from human emotions. Your app design must appeal strongly to the emotions of all your users and our emotions are strongly linked to our country, region and culture. That is why if you are designing for a global or multi-cultural audience, you need to personalize your app for the users of different cultures. The above pointers will help you take the first crucial steps towards customizing your app design for each culture and country. From here on after, there is no limit to the amount of personalization you can offer, to boost engagement from all parts of the world and turn your app into an international success.

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Hiral Atha is the Founder and CEO of MoveoApps. She started coding even before she entered high school and today, she helps clients develop impactful mobile apps for their business. With over a decade of experience in mobile, she leads a team of young and experienced developers. When not leading an ambitious app development project, you’ll find her playing board games with her 6 years old son and piquing his curiosity in computer programming.

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