When you think of Chinese design you think of ancient practices and styles that have been around for centuries, but China has evolved and is still evolving along with the rest of the world, and design for digital media is now an important outlet. It’s a fair statement to say that although the Chinese are masters in many areas, innovation in digital and interaction design is not currently one of them. In this respect they are followers and not leaders, at the moment anyway. There is a very stereotypical view that Chinese children are pushed by their parents to succeed strongly in academia, and not really encouraged in creative subjects, but with more than four hundred design schools in China to date, clearly China is growing up into a creative nation. The proof for this is that good Chinese generated design is in a rapid state of growth.
China found itself following in the paths of nations that are already developed in digital design. They may be the forerunners in production, but many of the plans and designs for goods and services manufactured for retail and use in the West came from the West and had just been brought to life in China, and often design originating from China was actually imitations from other nations, with China following the “fashions”. Was this partly because China was impeded from absorbing from and keeping pace with other countries because of a lack of open web environment? With restriction on Internet usage in China, perhaps spending time creating great design and content for the Internet wasn’t really seen as appealing or worthwhile.
A few years ago there was a trend where Chinese websites were imitating Korean ones, they were vibrant, colourful and heavily flash based. All focus was on the visuals but as the average Chinese Internet user developed, the websites and designers were forced to develop too. Website’s aren’t now shunning the heavy visual basis for their sites, but they are making a big effort to incorporate good content hierarchies and design to optimise their sites to suit Chinese Internet users, and not the users of any other country.
It’s important to realise that China is developing a web style all of it’s own, it is not just trying to match the quality and character of other countries that are web leaders. China is such a huge country and therefore has an instant huge market, it can easily thrive without trying to gain business from the rest of the world. This allows Chinese web designers to design for China and nobody else, so naturally as culture plays a massive role in the lives of the Chinese, it also plays a big role in the messages they communicate through the medium of web design.
Lytous Zhou, a Shenzhen based visual designer and author of the book UI Evolutionism provides an example of the differences between an American site and a Chinese site, both selling the exact same product but offering different experiences.
“Pizza Hut China, which is an example I like to use every time I explain cultural differences, uses Chinese elements heavily all over its website: in the color scheme and family theme. Warm reds and yellows are colors symbolic of festivity in China, and the family dinner is highly regarded in Chinese society.”
“By comparison, Pizza Hut US highlights fast food and online ordering on its home page. Red is also Pizza Hut US’ theme color, but it’s more solid, darker and cooler than the warm red on the Chinese website.”
Zhou also states that when targeting a Chinese audience a websites profile should reflect the profile and aesthetics of its users.
This is not the only difference in approaching web design that Chinese designers take note of. The Chinese use the same keyboards as the West and typing Chinese on an alphabet based keyboard is hard, therefore sites are designed so that users can click their way though the site rather than searching. To Western eyes the sites just look complicated and cluttered, but for the Chinese it’s practical.
Back to the point in the beginning paragraph, that the Chinese are followers and not leaders when it comes to website design. This may be true for the techniques and technologies used, but for style and usability they are designing for their own unique market and are therefore not trying to follow anybody else. Chinese web design is moving into a category of its own.