Localising Your User Experience

UX Design | 09th May 2017
Today technology connects us more than ever. The Internet allows us to connect with people all around the world by the click of a button. Even though the Internet has created cultures of its own, traditional cultures still prevail. Take your product abroad and these differences will quickly become apparent.

Each culture has its own traditions, customs and a whole other ‘normal’. Which has a huge impact on every aspect of our lives, such as our names, music, behaviours, as well as how we build trust and the way we navigate to name a few.

But what impact does localisation have on our products and services? Without localisation we risk excluding huge parts of our audience. From, form validation preventing people from paying, to brand messages translating as insulting. Here we’ll explore common barriers and how to approach these challenges.

Elizabeth Chesters, UX Designer
Elizabeth Chesters, UX Designer

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How to integrate different cultures


Language is a huge variable in everything we do. It is what we use to communicate and self-express. If you’ve ever made an effort to speak to someone in their native tongue, you know how far even a little effort can take you. Why not take even this small effort, and apply it en masse to our products?

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 

 Nelson Mandela

From programming languages to tech terminology, English worms its way into other languages. Around 73% of Internet users do not speak English, yet over 50% of the Internet’s content is in English. Users struggle with language barriers every day, therefore, providing your service in one language, just English, is a huge missed opportunity.

Form Validation

Validation is one of the biggest barriers on any website. Forms are conversion killers. But for foreign audiences, they can be near on impossible. Take the payment form on the Three network website, a phone carrier in the UK, that has a limit of 25 characters on the name field. This is a ‘Name of account holder’ field to pay, which means that to be able to pay, your full name plus your title, which may be on your credit card, your name must be 25 characters or less.

The Name of account field with a 25 character limit on Three.co.uk, where the Indian name Miss Priyanka Balasubramaian cannot fit in the name field

That may work for Western audiences where the average name length is five names. But it does not work for countries like India, where their average name length is nine names. This is a huge exclusion of the UK market, where the British Asian population makes up 4.9% of the overall population.


Differences in environments have had huge impacts on both humans and cultures. While some differences are caused by physical environments, like weather, others may be enforced by Governments.

Take apps which rely on GPS, like the taxi service Uber or the food delivery app Deliveroo. Most countries use the same set of coordinates, called World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS-84). These coordinates are the datum which GPS uses. Yet, not all countries use this data set, which is no surprise since it was developed by the US military. Countries like China and Russia use their own coordinates to increase national security. GPS positions are often obfuscated, sometimes as far as 100 metres. The Chinese coordinate system uses GCJ-02, with the Russian coordinate datum called SK-63.

Chinese geographic regulations demand GPS positions are offset or the functionality is disabled. This has huge repercussions for your users that rely on your services abroad. Things like geotagging on pictures, and directions to places, may not be exactly where expected.


One of the most obvious changes across cultures is people. Even the differences in people’s appearances affect UX design. The Similarity-Attraction theory suggests that people react more positively to people with similar appearances. The more similar people are, higher the chances that they will like, trust and respect each other more. Similarities can include gender, demographics or situation.

E-Commerce websites are great examples of similarity-attraction theory integrated into the user experience. Take Coca-Cola as an example. Their websites across the globe feature models of the main target audience ethnicity. Yet their websites still use international models throughout, to showcase their international community.

Coca-Cola Website

Chinese models on the Coca-Cola Chinese website

Coca-Cola Website
Iberian models on the Portuguese Coca-Cola website


In Summary

Cultures can be divided based on factors like circumstance, heritage and nationality. Each one of them come with their own expectations and challenges. People don’t identify themselves with just one culture, adding to their already complex dynamic. But know that with each challenge tackled, your service removes barriers to so many.

UX in any country, whether it’s your own or abroad, can be tricky. At the end of the day if it was easy we wouldn’t have jobs. No solution is perfect, but we have been empowering more people with our experiences.

Localisation not only removes barriers for some, but it also strengthens communications with existing users. Communicating with people in their own language and culture, speaks volumes. What drives tech is its inclusivity and global communications. Localisation is the foundation to any service or product that wish to go global.

Elizabeth Chesters was invited by Hi INTERACTIVE to write this article.
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