Master's Thesis

Cross-Cultural Communication Across the World Wide Web:
Applying Principles of Information Design to
Analysis of International Business Web Presences


Edward Tufte asserts in Envisioning Information that principles of design are “universal ‘like mathematics’ and not tied to unique features of a particular language or culture”. This thesis is an attempt to create a set of web design heuristics that help to bridge cultural gaps by emphasizing universal design principles that focus on the content. I take Tufte's five principles of information design and proceed to apply these rather broad principles to web sites. These principles of design are Micro/Macro – portrayal of lots of information in a small, condensed manner; Layering and Separation – presentation of information that allows page parts to interact; Small Multiples – repetition or juxtaposition of images to allow for comparison; Color – application of color with restraint to label, measure, represent reality, or enliven; and Integration of Text and Graphics – employment of text and graphics to work together to add meaning and readability.

The main goal of this thesis is to share with fellow academia what I learned while attempting to create this set of heuristics and then use those heuristics to analyze web site designs from a few different cultures. I wanted to enlighten contractive rhetoric analysis and to begin to provide the necessary tools in performing that analysis and understanding those communications, as well as bring it and information design closer together in the designer's view. In the end, I hoped to better understand multi-cultural design issues and to determine how Tufte's principles can be applied to web sites while adding data about this important medium to Tufte's work. While this definitely occurred, I came to develop a different set of purposes than I had originally planned.

I came to see the World Wide Web as its own unique, newly formed culture where the presentation of information is essential regardless of the language used or understood by the user (computer translation services help to overcome this barrier). My purpose was to create a fairly broad set of heuristics based on universal, multi-cultural principles to guide a designer toward more cross-cultural designs that focus on content rather than fluff.

You can find the text of the thesis here: (opens in new window)

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