Cultural Sensitivity in Design: How to Reach a Diverse Audience Respectfully

Your messaging is poised to reach a wide audience. Your designs should be reflective of your viewers but also sensitive to cultural nuances.

Cultural Sensitivity in Design: How to Reach a Diverse Audience Respectfully
Katie Metz // Adriana Lacy Consulting

The world of marketing has the potential to reach a wide audience. While it is critical that your designs appeal to a diverse audience by translating your message and including various skin tones in your ads, these steps alone are not enough. It takes an understanding of cultural differences which requires time, research, and empathy.

When we speak of culture, we mean the various languages, values, behaviors, and customs of groups of people. But these factors are not static and can vary widely among locales which is why it is so important to understand the role culture plays and how we can best represent multiple cultures in our designs. 

Research, Research, Research 

The best way to understand various cultures is to research. Since design uses color it is important to educate oneself about the role color plays in certain cultures. For example, the color red has different meanings among different cultures. In the US, most people associate the color red with love. However, in the Middle East, it is associated with feelings of danger and caution. 

Besides color, images can also have different meanings in different parts of the country. Some images and icons which appear acceptable in one culture have the potential to be offensive in another. So, it is important to take these considerations into account when designing a website or social media content. It is not enough to think of symbols as universal because often, they are not. 

Consider the example of the magnifying glass used to indicate a search. Did you know that this symbol is not understood in India to mean a search field but rather a ping pong paddle

If your research team is already staffed with knowledgeable team members in this area, great. If not, it might be time to include someone who can dedicate time to researching local cultures who will be viewing your messaging.  

Understanding local culture can mean thorough internet research of peer-reviewed articles and studies. Or, it might be speaking to locals, translators, or working with social media influencers from the area you are targeting. Conducting interviews, surveys, or reading ethnographic studies are also great ways to research. 

Your research should also include examples of companies who have had great success with reaching and respecting diverse cultures. These campaigns can help steer you in the right direction. Think of how YouTube recommends videos that are trending in the user’s location or the way Amazon customizes their site according to local holidays. 

Test and Alter

Before implementing a campaign, test out your designs. This can be useful in avoiding serious cultural faux pas. Not sure where to begin? Check out these options. A/B testing might be a great way to test the waters before implementing a new design approach. This can save both time and money. 

Don’t forget to ask for feedback. Responses are vital to help understand whether you hit the mark or failed miserably. 

Alterations will inevitably need to be made due to cultural shifting. As new trends emerge, changes will need to be made. As you listen to your customers, updates are sure to follow. By remaining on top of these transitions your design choices will accurately reflect the cultural needs of your audience. 


Make sure your staff understands the importance of cultural sensitivity and provide education, if necessary. Collaboration between research, design, and marketing teams can help to bridge any gaps that might remain. Considering input from different perspectives will ensure that your teams are taking care to create designs that are respectful of various cultures. 

Educating also means designers must stay on top of user experience issues that may arise. Oftentimes incompatibility issues with design tools prevent language translation and font support. Collaboration with developers can prevent these issues. 

By making sure all elements of design are culturally appropriate for your target audience, your viewers will feel respected and understood. Trust and admiration are sure to follow when you take the time to research, educate and understand the various cultures you are trying to reach.

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