Hofstede’s dimension of uncertainty avoidance refers to a society’s general tolerance of ambiguity or the unknown. This is reflected in the extent to which a given culture will utilize rules, societal norms and standardized procedures to reduce uncertainty with regard to future events, decisions or occurrences.
The Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) assigns numerical scores to quantify the level of uncertainty avoidance held by individuals in various countries. People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance prefer to minimize uncertainty with careful planning and regulation as well as a reliance on tradition. Conversely, cultures with low uncertainty avoidance are more open to change and alternative ways of thinking or approaching a given situation.
Here’s why you should care.
As a marketer or small business owner, understanding the degree of uncertainty avoidance in your target market is crucial if your messaging, product presentation and customer experience are to be conducive to your long-term business goals. This is especially important when entering new markets with high uncertainty avoidance, as your product or service will face additional obstacles in gaining the trust of your new customers.
In these situations, marketers should seek to reduce ambiguity as much as possible with clear website navigation and readily available product information while being especially mindful of traditional beliefs. Low uncertainty avoidance contexts offer more freedom in terms of open dialogue and user choice, with an emphasis on pragmatism over emotional reasoning.
KFC in Russia: All in One Place.
Websites intended for use in cultures with high levels of uncertainty avoidance should provide streamlined user experiences derived from predictable layouts and clear presentation of relevant information. Users in societies with high uncertainty avoidance prefer to make informed decisions based on all available data. Reduce ambiguity for these customers by designing familiar experiences that convey important information, such as prices or quality standards, in a clean and structured way.
Russia ranks high in uncertainty avoidance with a UAI score of 95 out of a possible 120. Catering to the mindset of Russian consumers, KFC’s Russian website relies on proven design strategies. The standardized layout includes a menu bar across the top as well as straightforward visual content showing recommended meals with prominent price information. The overall experience instills a sense of confidence and comfort in the user.
Same KFC, Danish Experience: Fun and Trendy.
Societies with low uncertainty avoidance allow for considerably more flexibility in terms of layout, and web designers are encouraged to indulge their creativity in the building of fun and engaging user experiences. Users in these cultures are more willing than their high UAI counterparts to take chances on new ideas, and they approach novel challenges from a pragmatic point of view. As such, designers should allow users in low UAI cultures to explore fresh, on-trend websites.
Denmark ranks exceedingly low on the UAI with a score of just 23—meaning that its inhabitants are very willing to take a leap of faith into the unknown. This mindset is reflected in KFC’s Danish website. The homepage is colorful and bright, teeming with exciting slogans, energetic fonts and photographs which depict the food physically in motion. Prices are absent at first glance, and users are encouraged to interact with the brand by leaving feedback.
KFC gets it. So can you.
While many websites standardize their layout across all regions in which they operate, you’ll forge the most meaningful connection with your users when you cater to their innate perspectives in approaching the world. In each market you enter, cultivate a thorough understanding of what your customers value, then design to their preferences with an approach based on empathy and appreciation for these cultural differences.