The Myth of Unified Global Culture: transcoding national cultures within website interfaces



Software, UX & Game Design


  • cultural influence, globalisation, technology, multimedia


This paper probes two areas relating to transcoding culture in a website interface development context. Firstly, culture is interrogated through the lens of current anthropological models of dimensions (traits/tendencies) of national culture. Secondly, transcoding anthropological models of dimensions of national culture into culturally adaptive website interfaces through the graphic design process.

The world is rapidly moving toward purely digital visual communication rendered via computer code, the realm of computer programmers (coders). All too often ignorance of the graphic design process leads to technology centred website development rather than appropriate visual communication. Website development teams typically consist of coders, marketers and/or business people. A common denominator across website development teams is the notion of target audience or web Users. While the term “User” is commonplace in coding language, the ability to adjust visual communication within website interfaces, to maximise the User experience or to elicit a desired behaviour or action, remains a graphic design skill set.

Knowledge of the intended target audience is vital in graphic design terms because it informs decisions pertaining to visual communication. For websites with global Users, the target audience could be from any country. In the context of such a broad target audience website interfaces become generic as opposed to culturally adaptive. Certain marketing literature from the eighties and nineties theorises that the Internet (communication technologies) would lead to a unified global culture, where Users from different cultural backgrounds and countries are homogenised into a single mass culture. This would simplify website interface design because there would be a single culture target audience. Anthropological and other country specific marketing literature does not support the notion of a unified global culture. Research shows that an individual’s national culture remains a critical factor in international marketing contexts.

Cultures, specifically national cultures, offer graphic designers a means of segmenting global audiences into smaller groups with common cultural dimensions. These dimensions may, in theory, be transcoded by graphic designers from the anthropological to the visual in order to produce culturally adapted visual communication within website interfaces in order to maximise the User experience. There is currently only limited evidence of research in this field. This research does not focus on South African national culture, but on foreign national cultures in an effort to better understand cross-­cultural web user-­interface design.

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