Web design requires different skills, knowledge, and discipline in order to make and maintain the best websites. At the same time, targeting international customers or viewers requires a lot of effort and planning. Global companies or organizations such as WWF, McDonalds, Facebook or Twitter show the significance of adopting designs to reach different audiences. Carefully consideration of different design cultures from around the world is crucial, from the choices of colors, size and amount of text to navigation.
Web design actually has many facets, including Web Graphic Design, User Experience Design, Authoring, and Search Engine Optimization. In this article, however, we will focus on the front-end aspect.
The cultural aspect of web design
Websites from different countries often have a very different look. While most web designers use the same coding languages and CMS systems all around the world, the style of web design can vary greatly, depending on which region or country the website is in. Web design is heavily influenced by culture, tradition, and interpretation. Every country has its own unique style. For example, Chinese culture focuses on community, masculinity and power distance, while individuality and long-term orientation are not as important. Because of this, Chinese designs tend to feature groups of people, not individuals. They are also more likely to prefer male subjects rather than females. Their website designs tend to be more simple and plain.
Areas of interest
Some studies suggest that the way audiences use a site is influenced by their cultural background. Chinese and Japanese users tend to register more “Areas of Interest” in a short period of time. They are less likely to use a sequential reading pattern then American viewers. East Asian users will search the relevant information from a much larger pool and only focus on what they are interested in. Thus, a design that works well in Japan or China might appear too busy or simplistic to American or Scandinavian users, who are used to a more modern look.
High context vs low context
“High Context Cultures” such as Africa and Asian countries tend to use more symbols and interpret meaning from fewer words. “Low Context Cultures” such as American and European countries tend to use more text and spelled out messages explicitly. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese web designs are expected to use more images, videos and sidebars compared to Scandinavian or German designs, which are more text-heavy.
West vs East
In general, Oriental web design is based on simplicity. Most websites are dominated by the color white or black. Not much focus is given to typography. The designs are usually very basic, and the websites usually look very simple and even outdated or spammy to a Western user. A good example of this is Japan and Korea.
Japan has a prevailing impression of beauty in minimalism: Tranquil Zen gardens and serene templates. At the same time, they showcase cityscapes that features bright and busy neon advertisements. The same country that was the home of Zen Buddhism also is home to the noisiest pachinko parlors (Pachinko is a game that is something between a slot machine and a pinball machine). This duality in Japanese aesthetic also adapted to the online world. The reason why Japanese web designs are unique is that they use a lot of texts and images, they have a busy layout, they display smaller graphics, they feature small characters, using contrasting and dashing colors, and using flash animations. They use heavy text and simplistic design. Type オンラインカジノ in Google and you will see some relevant examples.
Korean web design is also very minimalistic. Most Korean blogs are simply a white background with some text and a few images. A good example of this is the blogs you find on Naver. Naver is Korea’s answer to Google and is by far the most popular search engine and website in Korea. It also features a highly popular blog section. Even though some of these blogs have hundreds of thousands of visitors, they still are simpler than even the most basic WordPress template.
Most (if not all) users prefer to browse the internet in their native tongue. However, translating a site can create stress for web designers. Multilingual web designers are aware that German text uses about 30% more space than English text. Chinese characters are more compact since they can fit the equivalent of a word, or even multiple words in one symbol. This is an important factor to consider if you plan to target multiple regions with the same website.
In China, the color red is used and symbolizes “up” and color green means “down”. Thus it is common sense that they are less like likely to green in their designs. Chinese superstitions and traditions also apply to website designs. On the other hand, in the Western part of the world, the color green stands for “environment and nature”. Western web designers tend to favor this color in their designs. Green brings associations of calmness, purity, and cleanliness for most western users. However, in Indonesia, the color green is considered the “forbidden color”. Naturally, they do not really use this color in their designs.
Symbols also matter in web design. A “thumbs up” sign may seem easily understood everywhere but it is actually offensive in certain countries. The “V” sign means peace to most western people but it can also cause offense in some cultures. It is also important to be cautious in using photographs most especially in conservative countries like Middle East. Web designers in the Middle East did not really feature sensitive photographs or symbols. For example, they prefer to use modestly dressed models for a clothing website.
Web Design can be for everybody. It can be learned. It does not matter where we are in the world. The skills and knowledge matter. Different countries and regions have different perspectives, but it does not change the goal of web design. Web design helps is there to help businesses grow; it is an advertising medium. Web design is the base of web development. Whatever the concept of the design is, we should always consider the usefulness and benefits it can bring and how it affects the business, the users, while keeping clients happy at the same time.