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Feb 16, 2017

Web design in Vietnam

Article brought to you by Nilead, a website builder platform with fully-managed design, development, and management services.

web design company in ho chi minh city vietnam


Table of contents


For the last 20 years, many Western companies have invested in China, but things have changed and many of them are moving to or at least opening new branches in other countries. Businesses looking for new markets, unexploited opportunities in other growing Asian markets both to hold down costs and to reduce over-dependence on China are entering new emerging markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, ... Due to the language barrier and cultural differences, most companies that do business in Vietnam have found out that they must create their own localized version of their website if they want to target the local Vietnamese. These localized versions are not simply translated versions of the original websites, however. They need to be adapted, adjusted, tweaked to match the cultural backgrounds and browsing behaviors of the target audience in Vietnam.

In this article, I will give you a brief overview of the current stage of Website Design Industry in Vietnam, a few things to note if you want to utilize the services here or need to launch websites that target this market. As a Digital Service Provider ourselves, I will try my best to give you unbiased reviews and instructions on how to pick the best solution for your next website project.

There is no shortage of IT talents in Vietnam, in 2015 Cushman & Wakefield releases a global comprehensive report which ranks Vietnam as the world’s premier destination for business process outsourcing. Two years passed, and Vietnam is still one of the top destinations for IT service outsourcing. In fact, several of the global top tech companies have opened offices in Vietnam to take advantage of the growing IT workforce.

The trend in web design in Vietnam has also changed dramatically in these recent years. While a large number of businesses still have not realized the importance of brand building via website tools, the market now has quite a few web design agencies with world-level creative teams. In fact, many of the best-selling items on Evanto Market are "made in Vietnam".

(I used to have a long list of other agencies at this section, but I found it difficult to keep the list up-to-date with many agencies coming and going. A quick google search should give you some good results).

Mobile-first when it comes to websites for Vietnam

While the majority of the website in Vietnam is still 10 years behind the world with generic layouts, unfriendly design, incompatible web pages, things are changing quickly. Some business owners have realized that a website is a useful tool, and a worthy investment to quickly reach potential clients. In Vietnam, there are 140 million mobile cellular subscriptions. That’s 1.5 cellphones for every one person. Retailers in Vietnam are selling more smartphones than feature phones, with the number of smartphone users quickly approaching 30% of the population. With cheap data plans and the new 4G coming, now it's time to go mobile in Vietnam, and now it has never been easier (and competitive) to reach the audience online.

For business owners, this means that when it comes to website design services in Vietnam, most of the service providers should be already familiar with Responsive and Adaptive website designs and what it takes to design and develop websites that work on multiple devices.

web design in Vietnam

“ Website is quickly becoming an essential marketing channel in Vietnam. ”

Local companies do not invest enough in website design

Many websites in Vietnam look like they were made 10 years ago with busy, cluttered designs and terrible user experience. You may think this is limited to just small companies in Vietnam, and you will find yourself dead wrong. Many of the worst websites in Vietnam belong to huge companies in various industries. It seems like these businesses never use their own websites and online services just to see how difficult it is to navigate and use their sites.

The cost of designing a website in Vietnam is quite reasonable compared to the rest of the world; I have an article that covered the website design pricing in Vietnam which may give you a hint. When it comes to website design services in Vietnam, there can be a huge difference among the price quotes from different service providers. Most businesses would opt for cheaper quotations due to the lack of understanding of how service providers calculate the cost of a website and the differences among the options. To respond to this emphasis on price, many digital agencies here resort to 2 options:

  1. Use pre-designed & pre-developed templates to cut down the time and cost of website projects.

  2. Invest little or no time in research, design, and development.

In my opinion, both options are equally bad, but if you have to choose I would recommend going with option 1. As I have covered in our website templates vs custom designs, with templates at least you will get something decent for a reasonable price. The same does not apply when you skim your time on design and especially development which usually results in many hidden issues down the road that will soon bite you back in the future not so far away.

I have covered in great detail the various options for website design and platforms to choose from with pros and cons for each option. If you are planning for a new website, please make sure to check it out before making any decision.
Beware of the cheaters. Some website design agencies may claim that they create bespoke websites for their customers while what they actually do is modifying pre-made templates with a few minor changes. This action is unfair for both the businesses and other agencies that actually do a proper job. Authentic Web design & Digital Marketing agencies need to be upfront with the clients if they are going to use templates/pre-made elements or not.
There is one obvious issue with using the template approach
Using the template approach will go against everything that website development best practices tell us: Content goes before Design. I have covered this topic in great detail in another article Content first approach website design, please check it out if you are ready to start a new website project and haven't heard about it. If you really have to use templates, I suggest that you should still start with Content first, then based on your Content you can pick the most appropriate template design.

Take a look below as I list a few examples of big websites in Vietnam that skimmed on the research, design, and development phases. Some of them are disasters for the eyes, some are just impossible to use.

Web design in Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh city

“ This is the e-banking portal of BIDV, one of the biggest banks in Vietnam. You may notice the year in the screenshot, yes it still looks exactly the same after 7 years. Please imagine me as a website developer spent 1 full hour trying figure out how to use its e-banking service with all the worst cursing and yelling you can imagine. ”

It is not limited to local companies only, however. The local website version of many internal brands in Vietnam leave a lot to be desired:

website design in Vietnam - Saigon

“ This is the website of Pepsi co in Vietnam. ”

web design in Ho Chi Minh HCMC

“ And here is the website of Unilever Vietnam. ”

Having said that, templates are a great option if you need to save money and time. Because the templates are already redesigned and precoded, they can be quickly deployed to fit your brand's style and content. If you go with the template option, I strongly recommend that you spend time looking for a template that matches your needs as much as possible. 

In fact, in many cases, the small players seem to invest more in the image of the website while the big guys don't seem to find it necessary to put their effort into making a great online experience for their visitors. Website design, when done right, requires true commitment from both the owners (stakeholders) and the web design service providers. The research phase of the website project alone can be longer than 2 weeks and requires multiple workshops and brainstorming sessions.

Take a look at our case study for Furniture Online Shopping Website to see how the research and planning process for a website usually takes place. From my experience, I found most big businesses do not care enough (or have a dedicated team) to work with us during the research and design process while the small businesses do not have the budget for this activity.

Hint: For small businesses to stand out (and it's really easy to beat the big players on the web), you can make time to do your own research and planning. Do not hesitate to get in touch with us for free consulting services, and our articles section is a great starting resource to learn more about websites and how to plan for your next website project.

Website design in Vietnam is largely impacted by its culture

If you have a chance to go to a local market in Vietnam, you can see the many colors it has. Vietnamese culture is strongly influenced by Chinese culture due to the history and close proximity of the two neighboring countries. This cultural background deeply affects how I pick and choose the color patterns when I work with our partners who want to target the Vietnam market. However, Vietnam also inherits and absorbs Western styles during its journey to search for independence and modernization. This specific type of cultural mix presents us with barriers and challenges but also opportunities and chances to experiment and discover new things.

Most web design agencies in Vietnam are taking inspiration from Western-style design, especially the American design style to be specific. This comes as no surprise as most of the world-leading websites come from the US and the Vietnamese people are more associated with the US (Hollywood) culture. The western European design style is a rarity here in Vietnam mostly due to the low-key appearance of famous European brands as well as the most minimalist and mono-color style that does not resonate with Vietnamese people's love for colors and noise.

Recently, there is a new trend of design that mixes the modern style with Vietnam's cultural elements and values to create a unique design of Vietnam and for Vietnam. I'm seeing this trend being applied mostly to traditional products such as herbs, medicines, foods as well as organic produces (which has recently become a trend in Vietnam). I look forward to seeing this rise as a unique design trend of Vietnam, for Vietnam, similar to what I see in the other similar markets such as Japan and China.

website design in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

“ A typical colorful scene at a local market in Vietnam. ”

There are limitations when designing a website for a Vietnamese audience

The Vietnamese language tends to be a bit more verbose than English for example, which usually causes the navigation to look a bit more cluttered. The Vietnamese alphabet (chữ quốc ngữ) is a Latin alphabet with additional diacritics for tones and certain letters. As you may have guessed, there is a very limited number of fonts that support the display of the Vietnamese alphabet which vastly reduces the choices for the designers.

As noted, colors play a big role in designing in Vietnam, and the designers should equip themselves with a deep understanding of various meanings of colors and how they can be associated with other social aspects. There have been cases where I was told to use or not to use certain colors because they may not play well with the birth year of the owners. If you come from the Western culture this may sound absurd to you, but this belief comes from Feng-shui and Chinese astrology which plays important role in the decision-making process of many business owners (especially with ones from Northern provinces such as Ha Noi).

Most websites in Vietnam use open-source platforms

Many businesses in Vietnam often ask for the full source code for the websites and most digital agencies opt for open-source platforms for that reason. Among the most used open-source website platforms in Vietnam are:

  1. WordPress (Blog, Personal, Corporate website)

  2. Joomla (Personal, Corporate website)

  3. Drupal (Corporate website)

  4. Magento (eCommerce website)

  5. OpenCart (eCommerce website)

  6. Prestashop (eCommerce website)

Most business owners in Vietnam consider the websites one-off projects which leads to many website design service providers in Vietnam not offering maintenance and further promotion and development packages. The usual process of a web design and development process in Vietnam is:

  1. Design

  2. Development

  3. Deployment

The website is often deployed to a server of the client's choice and full permission and management of the host and the website will be transferred to the client. By keeping everything on the local servers or servers that they own, businesses create a false sense of security and data integrity for themselves because they do not trust service providers in dealing with data. This is usually the case when business owners consult with their own in-house IT or IT influencers who usually recommend owning everything on the company's own data grid. However, this proves to be a disaster down the road for many businesses in Vietnam for several reasons:

  1. Most businesses in Vietnam are SMEs without capable in-house IT teams specialized in the web. In 99% of the cases, the website will be left the way it is without any security and software upgrade for as long as it is still online (or until it gets hacked which happens more often than you may want to believe).

  2. Setting up and maintaining the infrastructure of a website is a complex and ongoing process. There are many software pieces involved under the hood to keep the website running smoothly and securely. In-house IT, even if present and with the skills, usually do not have sufficient time to take care of all this since they are usually tasked with other things as well.

Other alternatives to develop your website in Vietnam

You may not need a website yet. I have outlined many other alternatives for going online without a website. If you still believe that you need a website, don't rush to spend your money with an agency yet. If you are short on cash and willing to do most of the work yourself, I strongly recommend looking into website builders. Website builders are great tools to help you create and deploy websites online. There are quite a few local website builders in Vietnam, but I strongly recommend going with established names such as SquareSpace, Wix, or Webflow.

Please do note that some of these website builders do not support multiple languages by default, which can be a key feature in Vietnam. Even WordPress has sloppy support for multiple languages, with the necessity to purchase a commercial plugin such as WPML. Multiple language support is one of the features that we support out-of-the-box with our Nilead website platform. 

Websites in Vietnam are not used to their full potential

Is your company considering redesigning its website? Perhaps your current website is not performing as well as it should? I recently wrote an article containing tons of tips for maximizing your website's return on investment.

Many business owners in Vietnam task a web agency or freelancer to do a website just because they think it's something necessary to put on the business card. The website is usually not given lots of thought, preparation, and care during the planning, design, and development process. A website is not a one-off project. After the launch of the website then comes the content management, SEO improvements, User Experience measurement, and optimization,...

Most businesses that do not focus 100% on the online channel do not have the expertise and resources to manage all these tasks. Once launched, most websites are left un-maintained, outdated, and not fully used to their full potential. This is a sad fact and a huge waste of resources for the owners of the websites as well as the people who visit these websites to look for useful information. There are several factors that affect this:

  1. Most business owners do not have enough information and understanding about the website, how it works, and how it can help them to grow their businesses.

  2. Most companies consider a website a cost, not an investment because they lack the knowledge and experience (as well as the determination) to track, measure, and improve the Return on Investment of the website.

  3. Managing a website can be a very overwhelming and time-consuming task. Most businesses do not have dedicated teams to take care of the website or digital marketing due to budget constraints.

The website design in Vietnam is maturing and slowly transforming into the next generation. I believe that the next big things in Vietnam will have everything to do with technologies and especially with the web. I cannot wait to see more and more changes come to this 100 million people market to improve people's lives, to connect everyone together.

The cost of having custom web design services in Vietnam is still considered high because most businesses are not using their websites to get Return on Investment. The agencies (including us) should take at least half of the blame for that. For a long time, designers and developers simply take the requests from the customers without analyzing the real business motivation behind the website. 

At Nilead, we understand that a solid website builder platform is key to manage and grow your online business. We offer Visual Website Builder, CRM, Ticket Support, and Automation tools with FREE technical support, FREE feature update, backup, and maintenance.

Any budget can be met by our enterprise-level design options, including bespoke and template options. Maintaining a website IT team in-house is proving to be difficult? Nilead ensures that your marketing campaigns and sales push are successful with reliable website support services.

Our approach ensures that we:

  1. Deeply understand the pain points and goals before suggesting a solution (and sometimes the solution is not even a website).

  2. Thoroughly research the business's strengths and weaknesses, target audience, and competitors before coming up with a Digital Strategy.

  3. Carefully integrate Design, Development into the business's goals to ensure that we have a final solution that can actually move the needle and achieve high ROI.

If you are looking for a reliable partner in Vietnam, please drop us a message. We will be more than happy to discuss your needs and share our experience.


About the author


Vu Nguyen

Vu Nguyen is an entrepreneur, developer, and founder of Nilead. He loves backend website development and has experience in eCommerce (owning an online store as well as being a developer), Search Engine Optimization, UX Design, and Content Strategy.

Since 2005, Vu has headed and overseen UX design teams for projects in corporations, start-ups, individuals, etc., regardless of their size. He has been involved in both the creative and technical aspects of each project - from ideation to concept and vision, prototype building to detailed design, and build-up to deployment.

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