I am researching different cultures and what changes consistently across them. One of the things is if the culture is a high or a low context culture. The only piece of information I've found is the Wikipedia page, which has a brief outline.

My question is for those who have designed internationally across the two cultures, how did you factor in catering towards the two types of cultures?

Did you find error messages longer for high-context?

Did your icons have to change if they were custom buttons and situations?

Did you have to be more flexible in layouts where you expected more content when it had been translated? For larger areas (not just buttons). For example when translating into French you can easily end up with 3 sentences in French for every 1 English sentence.

  • Can you explain a little bit about what high or low context culture means? I am not familiar with the term but that's probably due to my general ignorance about culture...
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 21, 2016 at 22:39
  • I'm still researching the meaning, but for example English is a low context culture and China is a high context culture. A low context means that you don't have to be so descriptive when describing things. It affects how people make decisions, tackle problems (head on vs around the houses), humour also changes. The Wikipedia page explains it a lot better than I do.
    – liloka
    Apr 21, 2016 at 22:42
  • It seems like from the Wikipedia entry that the meaning of high/low context culture is clear, but whether a country is really high or low context culture is less clearly defined. I think you also have to look at the context of communication, as some languages are richer in written systems and some are richer in spoken dialects, etc.
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 21, 2016 at 22:48
  • I think I understand the differences between the types of contexts in cultures. Although you're right in it not explaining where they might be higher and lower in context. What I'm researching is how this would translate into UX and UI and how we accommodate for these differences.
    – liloka
    Apr 21, 2016 at 22:51

2 Answers 2


According to the Wikipedia entry on high/low context cultureL

In a higher-context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain. Words and word choice become very important in higher-context communication, since a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group (but less effectively outside that group), while in a low-context culture, the communicator needs to be much more explicit and the value of a single word is less important.

What this suggests in terms of UX/UI design is that depending on the type of communication you are providing to the end users (e.g. text, video, image, etc.), it needs to cater for the fact that some cultures require more explicit display or presentation of information in communication, while others allow context to guide the interpretation of the information presented.

I think it is important to break it down to different forms of communication, and perhaps also in different subject matter because of the cultural influence on these variables. For example, in Chinese the written characters provide rich information encoding lots of historical and cultural meaning and therefore require less characters to convey the same amount of information compared to English. However, if there are concepts in English without a parallel or equivalent translation then it becomes more wordy to explain something in Chinese compared to English.

What this means in general is that you need to get people who really understand the culture and context to design the content rather than rely on machine translation alone. It also means that specific iconography, image, colour and any visual or multimedia content needs to be reviewed rather than just applied directly between one culture and another. A classic example is the colours used for the stock exchange to represent gains or losses. In many Asian cultures red is an auspicious colour and used to represent gains, while in Western culture it is seen as a warning or dangerous colour and used to represent losses.

In terms of layout, I find the contrast between many Asian websites (Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China) and Western websites are in the density of information rather than the amount of content because there is probably a universal optimal character per line length that can be scanned by eye easily. You'll find the difference very obvious when you fly internationally and find some of the translation a bit quirky because they have had to squeeze the same amount of characters in a display space for all languages that they cater for, which is problematic if you translate from Chinese to English, or if you translate from English to German.

  • That's taking me a while to wrap my head around. Higher-context needs less words, and lower-context needs to explicit. It feels, mentally, like it should be the other way around. I think that's because I compare it to French which have a lot more words. For example when Harry Potter was translated into French it had an extra 1000 words. Do you think this affects error messages? Thank you for the colour fact! I have colours under a separate section which I've yet to do, but I didn't know red meant more than just good luck in Chinese culture.
    – liloka
    Apr 21, 2016 at 23:07
  • Higher context needs less words because the context provides the information you need to interpret the meaning of the words. Lower context needs to be more explicit because there is reliance on the words to provide the information to understand the full meaning. For example, there are many languages that commonly omit pronouns in conversation because it is assumed the people involved in the conversation have a reference point for who is being referred to.
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 21, 2016 at 23:13
  • Also keep in mind that you have to think about more than just text because a website will contain audio, images and other forms of communication. I am sure if you work with ThoughtWorks they will have a good amount of data from clients in different countries/cultures/regions to draw on. I would be interested in some of your findings so please keep this thread updated :)
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 21, 2016 at 23:14
  • I don't work with ThoughtWorks any more. I am aware of other factors to take into consideration for international websites, but I am at the section just delving into high and low context cultures which is why I'm only asking about this at the moment. There will be more questions later! I'll dig around a bit more and post them here. It's not as clear as I was expecting.
    – liloka
    Apr 22, 2016 at 7:52
  • Time to update your profile?
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 23, 2016 at 0:41

In my experience from English to Spanish your layout and design patterns need to be extremely fluid. Things like product description, prices and other content elements seem to take more real estate. This of course will vary from language to language.

  • Do you have any more examples of the design patterns you had to be flexible with? Are they any particular better for international designs?
    – liloka
    Apr 21, 2016 at 20:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.