I took some time to dive even deeper into the topic and found some practical and useful comparisons. There are different approaches when it comes to signage and instructions. Should they be international and transcend cultural boundaries or should they be different depending on the cultural groups? IKEA instructions for example, might be easy to get for some people, but very hard for others and people have problems accomplishing the task. Brumberger says that cultural connotations are carried by more complex visual images and the one size fits all model is no more appropriate for visual communication than it is for verbal communication. In order to make effective design decisions, one need to have a framework for understanding cultural aspects of visual communication.
There are two approaches: a global approach and a culture-focused approach, also called modern approach. The modern approach consists of highly simplified, abstract and generic human forms with no suggestion of race or gender. It serves the means of global communication. This approach became popular following World War 2. Using global communication reduces translation costs and document sizes and is therefore more practical. But there are also some downsides, for example, the original meaning may be lost or distorted through attempts to simplify. The design may even fail to serve any of the readers.
The postmodern perspective sees visual language as a social construct that is learned through experience and varies across cultural groups. People have culturally-derived expectations for visual communication. It might be understood better, but it also means that the visual language must be especially designed for each culture. Translating visual language might also be more complex than translating verbal language.
In between these two approaches is the balancing point. It always depends on the situation. The author of the text also mentioned that it seems that visual communication relies more on prescriptions, guidelines, do’s and don’ts than on theory and research. For example, there are suggestions for the use of color in different cultures. Some may find those prescriptions useful. However, they tend to be oversimplified. One shade of red may carry a certain connotation, while another shade may be viewed differently. Connotations shift with the occasion and also over time. They are not static.
As already discussed in my previous blogpost, Hofstede identified cultural dimensions. These dimensions can also be used to analyze designs. For example, Marcus & Gould did research about the design and user interfaces of websites. They suggested:
- user interfaces from cultures that score high on the dimension of power distance (Mexico)
- highly structured
- images that reflect expertise, authority and social hierarchy
- user interfaces from cultures that score low on the dimension of power distance (US)
- stronger sense of equality
- user interfaces from cultures that score high on the dimension of individualism
- foreground individual achievement, youth and activity
- user interfaces from cultures that score low on the dimension of individualism
- emphasize group achievement, wisdom and „states of being“
- user interfaces from cultures that score high on the dimension of masculinity (Japan)
- emphasize traditional gender roles, with graphics that are utilized predominantly for practical goals
- user interfaces from cultures that score low on the dimension of masculinity (Sweden)
- blurred gender roles
- greater attention to aesthetics
- user interfaces from cultures that score high on the dimension of uncertainty avoidance
- clear navigation schemes
- use of multiple organizational cues
- user interfaces from cultures that score low on the dimension of uncertainty avoidance
- looser structures
- more user choices
- user interfaces from cultures that are long-term orientated focus on relationships and patience
- user interfaces from cultures that are short-term orientated focus on rules and results
Additionally, Bosley (1999) suggested that high-context cultures would utilize more abstract visuals that speak for themselves and use less text, whereas low-context cultures would expect more concrete and detailed visuals and the use of textual explanations. These are ways of analyzing designs of different cultures. However, many questioned the use of this approach. Roberts (2003) argued that a real problem is that geographical boundaries are increasingly being treated as cultural boundaries. Cultures is fluid rather than static and categorizations or fixed stereotypes as Hofstede and Hall invented, work against intercultural communication. This really made me again think about how I identify cultures or how I differentiate them from one another.
Source: Brumberger, Eva (2014): Toward a framework for intercultural visual communication. A critical review and call for research. Arizona State University.