Talking about web design in Asia (especially in Chinese-speaking countries) and in Western countries, we can notice there are some differences that are due to cultural reasons. Knowing about these differences could be important for graphic designers, but also for those who work in the field of localization.
Indeed, localization doesn’t simply mean directly translating languages. It also involves adapting the whole concept of your design so that it perfectly aligns with your target user’s expectations.
Below, we will see some visual specificities that are due to the cultural differences.
Among all colors, red is the most remarkable one in Chinese-influenced cultures. Very different from its sense of alarm and danger in the West, red in China denotes happiness and prosperity. Therefore, it is often used for celebrations such as weddings or the Lunar New Year.
Generally speaking, the use of the color red is welcome for product and cultural promotion, or even on personal websites. However, due to the country’s history of communism, red has also historically been used by revolutionaries to represent “the People”. So its use for websites with a political intent could be a sensitive issue.
Another example is the color white. In the West, white means purity. But in China it is linked to funerals and death. However, for a modern website, a black and white design could also be successful if you can properly manage the meanings of the colors.
The most important is to understand the meaning of the most symbolic colors in Asia (like red, white, and yellow) in order not to fall into the trap of certain contexts.
The high complexity level of design
Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher, is famous for developing the concept of proxemics. This concept explores cultural and social cohesion and describes how people behave and react in different types of culturally defined personal space.
According to his theory, there are two kinds of cultures: Low Context cultures, such as the US or the UK, which favor direct communication and High Context cultures, such as China or Japan, which prefer implied or indirect communication.
Therefore, this may explain why many Asian websites have higher information density. Even some big brands – like Coca-Cola – made some adaptations to their website when they entered the Asian market. For pages dedicated to Asian countries, it is often more loaded with information and images.
However, that’s not to say that all designs for Asian markets need to aim for maximum complexity. Some Western brands like Apple have also successfully entered the Asian markets without altering their approach. But at the same time, Amazon tried to do the same and failed.
Coca-Cola homepage for the USA vs Coca-Cola homepage for Taiwan (accessed 28 February 2020)
The Asian market: one app for all and all for one
Have you heard of WeChat? It is the most popular application in China which offers almost every conceivable kind of service. Only through this application you can send messages, complete cashless payments in stores (like Google Pay), order food and drink (like Just Eat), book a taxi, pay your utility bill, etc. Indeed, Asian users generally like an application that covers as much functionality as possible.
So the idea of creating a single function application for the Asian market is a bit risky, unless it can not be replaceable by other competitors who offer often multi-function services.
To conclude, we can see that having knowledge about your target country’s culture and atmosphere is important. It can determine whether a website localization project will be successful or not. From a positive point of view, even if big cultural differences can sometimes cause non-negligible challenges, it can also stimulate the imagination and allow us to surpass the existing designs.
It’s up to curious and courageous graphic designers, as well as localization professionals to play the game.