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Global and Local design. What’s the difference?

It’s not a huge revelation that in today’s society we need to be constantly aware of our users.

There will always be best practices to adhere to when designing for any user, local or global. Like effective usage of white space; mobile-first design; simplistic call to actions; streamlined user flow; design consistency and site-wide informative notifications and messaging.

To effectively design for our users, we need to be aware of their behaviours, their needs, their goals, and their frustrations, but these vary vastly depending on their localization. This is where Global and Local design considerations come into play.

A Global and Local design philosophy

Global and Local design. What’s the difference?

A good example of global design is an airport. Airports serve a colossal number of people from all over the world. 75% of the time they all appear the same. They use the same font and iconography. They do this, so they are accessible and functional to serve people from very different cultures all trying to accomplish similar goals.

Now think of a church. Even though they all have the same meaning and are all over the world. They all look entirely different. Churches are designed completely different so that they can represent the local community in which it is built.

This philosophy not only comes across in architecture but also web and product design. For example, Airbnb is like the airport as it serves people from all over the world, but the only difference for each region is the language. The site design remains constant. Whereas McDonald’s customize their websites for every country they operate in. They tailor their content to include local products and alter the look and feel to cater to the local community.

So how exactly does that relate to web design?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of ‘design’ is: “a particular purpose or intention held in view by an individual or group.”

A globally designed site needs to be usable and convenient for any user around the globe irrespective of cultural design difference. Even the terminology for Global design can have differences, for example…

• Apple calls it ‘Global Design or Human Interface Guidelines’,

• Google calls it ‘Material Design’

• Microsoft calls it formerly ‘Modern UI’ and nowadays ‘Fluent Design’.

So, what exactly do you need to know about designing for local businesses, global enterprises, and those that span both?


Web servers

A big consideration of any project is where your website hosting should be. Some hosting solutions are simply not adequate enough to handle global projects. In addition to server resources and the traffic considerations, there’s the very real matter of distance.

As an example, imagine a UK site that has a highly sought-after product with great demand in Canada. The hosting provider they chose didn’t have a single server anywhere near Canada, as all their servers were based within the UK. The high volume of traffic due to demand would severely compromise the speed and experience for their Canadian market. Really not a good predicament to be in.

How to ensure you are protecting yourself…

• Ensure you are using a hosting provider with servers all over the world.

• Choose a hosting plan capable of handling that level of traffic

• Make full use of a Content Delivery Network


Website mockups

Colour is a very powerful aspect of design and colour contrasts should be a basic consideration of any project. It plays a great deal into both global and local design as different colours mean different things to different users.

As an example, red is the most powerful of all colours in Indian culture and holds many important meanings. Among them are fear and fire, wealth and power, purity, fertility, seduction, love, and beauty. Red is also representative of a certain time and place in one’s personal life, including when a woman gets married. 

A married woman can be identified by the red henna on her hands and the red powder, known as sindoor, worn along her hairline. In contrast, South Africa associates red with mourning, and the section of red in the country’s flag symbolizes violence and sacrifices that were made during the struggle for independence.


As with colour, you have to consider the images you use on your site and the message they portray to your users.

When designing locally, it is advised to use recognisable images from your environment as well as of your team. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on stock photography. Today’s web users are becoming more and more savvy about stock imagery. Using authentic images gives a local audience a greater connection to a brand and the people behind it.

Screenshot of i3 Digital wesbite about page

Caption: The i3 Digital About page features our actual team members and relevant text about our expertise and experience.

Now with a global company, it may be perfectly fine to use premium stock photography, but you might wish to consider strong swatches of colours and design aesthetics not dependent on photography.


When designing for global projects there are a few points that should help influence your design decisions.

• Website copy should be kept short and to the point.

• Avoid using colloquialisms

• Within contact forms, try to provide easy-to-use dropdowns to select country codes, populate addresses, etc.

• Include easy options for choosing other countries, languages, or currencies.

• Use long-tail keywords that focus on your service or product.

• Mention partnerships, awards, and other associations that bring to mind a global presence (e.g. Google certifications, Amazon integration etc.) 

For ease of usability, it’s best to play it safe when designing for a global audience. The interaction between humans and devices of any kind has become more private and personal than ever before; mobile devices have become so integrated into our daily lives that they can be considered an extension of us.

This would not have been achieved had it not been for Global Design and its universal considerations for design. Users are able to adapt to familiar elements, recognize iconography and uniform navigation methods more quickly and with greater ease. By maintaining this approach, you don’t risk isolating any one demographic.

Whereas with a local design you may have more freedom. You are able to showcase and promote local features and give visitors a way to deeply connect with your product or service. This localised and more personal content can be extremely effective and more trustworthy to the user.

The key to designing globally or locally is to accurately target the correct audience in the first place. Though always remember that concentrating your focus on a local audience versus that of a global scale requires specific considerations and greater effort. It’s all about making the correct choice early in the design process.

Interested in learning more? Check out our insights on What to Consider when taking a Digital Mobile-First Approach.


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