Me versus We

In my last post, we looked at the importance of culturability, “the relationship between culture and usability in WWW design” [1], and specifically, Power Distance [2], when designing online.

Professor Geert Hofstede spent over 40 years researching cultural dimensions, and this week we'll look at the second of these: Individualism vs Collectivism.


What are Individualist and Collectivist cultures?

Whether a country is more individualist (IDV) or collectivisit (COL), can be determined by “the extent to which a culture’s members define their self-image in terms of ‘I’ or ‘we’ ” [2]. 

A very individualist country (such as the USA) will tend to form loose-knit social groups, and value autonomy, freedom and personal time. They tend to proactively seek out challenge, and are often motivated by extrinsic factors such as material success.

In comparison, countries that score highly in collectivism (such as China) tend to develop large cohesive social networks, valuing loyalty, good physical conditions and intrinsic rewards as motivating factors.

So, how do Individualism and Collectivism express themselves online? And how can you use this to your advantage?


5 web design tips for Individualist countries:

  1. Five visitors a sense of personal achievement to motivate actions
  2. Use content that uses novelty and difference to attract attention
  3. Create competitions and challenges to engage your customers
  4. Use controversial language (if appropriate)
  5. Attractive images should favour youth, material symbols of success

 A great example of these principles in action is the US clothing website Nasty Gal:

Nasty Gal - website screenshot 1
Nasty Gal - website screenshot 2
Nasty Gal - website screenshot 3
Nasty Gal - website screenshot 4


5 web design tips for Collectivist countries:

  1. Engage the community – ‘we’ not ‘me’
  2. Respect moral tenets, traditions, status
  3. Be careful when using images – especially when depicting women, or people smiling
  4. Focus on wisdom, experience of age
  5. Show that you respect privacy and security of personal info

 A great example of these principles in action is the Chinese bus website, KMB:

KMB - website screenshot 1
KMB - website screenshot 2

Want to find out more?

If you're interested in finding out more, please come back in two weeks' time when we'll be looking at the next dimension, Uncertainty Avoidance.


[1] W. Barber and A. Badre (1998). Culturability: The merging of culture and usability. In Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Human Factors and the Web.

[2] G. Hofstede (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill.

About the Author

Nathalie Nahai

Nathalie Nahai is a Web Psychologist and best-selling author of Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

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