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How to design for U.S. Markets

European companies like Swisscom, L’Atelier, BNP Paribas, and Pearson have been flocking to the US, particularly Silicon Valley, in recent years. The hope is to spot new big trends as they happen, join the innovation rather than feel the effects, and grow their organizations in the heart of the technology boom.

“It’s no longer good enough to wait for change to come to your industry; you need to be out there where it’s happening. And a lot is happening in Silicon Valley” writes Brad Power for Harvard Business Review.

With France’s recent government-backed push toward innovation (including tax cuts in the first eight years for new small businesses, updated laws that now allow startups to accept money from crowdfunding sources such as KickStarter, and a new Public Investment Bank that helps small to medium companies obtain loans), it is unsurprising that in 2015 France had created 1,500 new startups. Emmanuel Macron, the French minister of economy, industry and digital affairs, says that the country even has 5 ‘Unicorns’ among them (startups valued at more than $1 billion USD).

It is even less surprising that many of those startups and companies are eyeing the Bay Area for their next office in order to be ‘where the change is happening.’ When Macron spoke at CES this year, it was to a conference made up of 30% French attendees.

Yet entering a new market poses many challenges for businesses large and small. Over 4,600 French companies currently conduct business in the U.S., and many of them have found a way to adjust their designs and messaging to appeal to the new market, however many others have been tripped up by frustrating cultural differences.

While a website or application may find great success in France, there are a number of stylistic nuances that may unwittingly repel an American customer. 38% of Americans will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive — a troubling number when stylistic preferences can vary so widely between the two countries.

When entering a new market, it is important to meet their expectations for what a website should look and feel like. With only seconds to make a first impression, it is important for your site to communicate to a potential user ‘You belong here’ by incorporating visual trends and cues of the websites they are already using. A user interface and experience that fits their expectations will subconsciously validate it to be trustworthy.

Using “Design Localization” — the adaptation of user interfaces and user experiences to more closely align with the interests of a specific market — many enterprises have bridged the gap between French and American consumers to build a wholly international customer base.

Bitmatica has spent years designing websites and apps on behalf of international companies in US markets; we’ve watched the trends evolve, grow, and spread and are excited to share our findings today. Here is an analysis of some major companies’ Design Localization differences and nuances that can help French companies succeed in the US.

Use More Color

Both the below images are homepages for France’s largest telecommunications company, Orange. The left is the French version of their homepage while the right is their US version of the homepage.

The US version focuses heavily on color, high contrast, and large text whereas the French homepage is predominantly shades of gray, low contrast, and smaller text. These are motifs that repeatedly differentiate the two countries’ styles.

The use of color is inviting and expected in today’s era of Material Design, however it can come with some challenges too. Every color evokes an emotion, so choose wisely as color palettes are widened.

orange

Don’t Box Yourself In and Use Larger Text

Yahoo! has both a French (shown left) and American (shown right) homepage.

The two echo many of the differences in Orange’s design as well. Additionally, however, the French version of Yahoo! has a few characteristics that aren’t considered visually appealing to a US audience and were subsequently changed for the unique versions.

The French version uses well-defined blocks and headers to define their content sections, whereas in the US this type of design has fallen out of favor and is considered “noisy.” By designing on a grid, the US version achieves the same sense of organization without the use of outlined content boxes.

Additionally, while French users may be drawn in by text and summaries, Americans are drawn to pictures and color. The stories listed in the American version all contain a larger image and larger, more concise text. By increasing the font size, the American version not only accounts for older and vision-impaired readers, but also ease of readability; Smashing Magazine suggests using at least 16px.

yahoo

With Monster, an online job board, we see the same content box approach from the French version, with text still acting as the main focus of the site. In the American version, the hero image is more dynamic, with icons to represent what their users may be looking for rather than text and descriptions.

Further down the page there is an even stronger emphasis on color as well as a content section. Many US companies focus on their blogs not only to build SEO, but to engage customers and keep them from leaving the site.

monster

Emphasize Imagery

Elle’s fashion homepage ties in many of the nuances we have already identified. Their French version, on the left, uses very little color, relies on the text rather than images as descriptions and CTAs, and small text.

The US version, on the right, is heavily image focused — drawing in both colors and faces. And they are using it to their success; posts that include images produce 650% higher engagement than text-only posts.

Additionally, also seen in our previous examples, there is much less padding between the content pieces in the American Elle website. This can be a tricky issue to get right as too little padding can quickly become cluttered. Our suggestion would be to incorporate a mixed layout (similar the the US Yahoo! page) with different shapes and arrangements of content.

elle

With more and more major companies investing in Design Localization, the differences between American and French design tastes vary widely enough for all teams to consider whether their designs could be adjusted to connect with new markets.

In addition to these structural and content differences, there are a few more adjustments that French organizations should note when trying to engage American audiences:

  • Responsive design is no longer a “nice to have” in the US market. With 47% of users accessing a business via mobile at least once a day, having a clean and navigable mobile version of your web site is now a must.
  • “Long scroll” pages rather than pagination will garner longer stays on your site
  • Tread carefully when creating menus, buttons, and CTAs. The paradox of choice dictates that the more options available to a user, the less likely they are to use any of them. Choose a few core options and make them easily accessible. In this case less is more.

Human-centered design can be more than just a buzzword for your team; by sincerely evaluating the design landscape your potential new users are used to and creating a localized version for them, your organization will greatly increase its odds of success in new markets.

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