China in Interaction and Web

China has had a great deal of influence in many disciplines around the world, from textiles to architecture and pottery to animation. Sadly though, China has had very little influence in the field of Interactive Design and is only just beginning to work into the world of influential web design. Because of the many political issues involving access to information on the world wide web in China, the country was very late to get in the game. As such, China’s influence in the web based and interactive media is severely limited.

Due to the fact that little to no digital interaction of note is being produced in China or has been in the past by Chinese designers, there are sadly no ways for China to have innovated under this discipline. And as such, Chinese culture and the Chinese style isn’t at all a part of digital interaction design or web based design around the world. The more the world (and so China) develops and grows, the more of an industry for Chinese made and influenced web based design grows. It’s a small but growing industry due to the legal issues surrounding the access to world wide information. Also, now that Hong Kong is officially a part of China once again, the country has gained a fairly sizeable foothold as many great web designers and design companies reside in the great city

That being said, there are several very influential web designers based around the rest of China. Since they have moved towards the web, more and more fantastic web designers have been springing up such as this one: doopaa.cn, (Upon Interaction and Design) who are part of the East Pai Interactive Technology Company Ltd. a high-end web design and interaction company based in Tianjin, the company also has a branch in Beijing.

The company have designed many web pages, ranging from traditional to modern, Cartoon-y to more serious. Upon Interactive and Design is a very diverse company when it comes to the style of page and the design, but typically tend to focus around traditional Chinese style and culture, using recognizable Chinese imagery such as the warriors on horse-back and the ferocious looking dragon, even taking inspiration from classic Chinese cobalt work pottery. This site, made by Upon, is the first part in a series of three animation based websites made for their own company to promote themselves. Each of the three in the East Pai Series have received high praise from Chinese design consultancies about the quality of their work. Not only do each of these sites entertain you from the aesthetic perspective, but Upon make sure to fully immerse the viewer in the sights and sounds of their pieces.

As a commonality between many Chinese made websites, a large number of designers use Flash in many aspects of the site. Flashps.com is another one of them, along with the three Doopaa.cn sites for the East Pai Series. Adobe flash may be common place amongst Chinese web developers, and often times, flash can be a hassle for anyone without the correct and updated version. Despite this, designers around the world, not only in China are using the tool to their advantage.

EightBridge.com are a world wide known web design company who have done work for hundreds of world wide big name companies while having their main office in Beijing, China. EightBridge are one of the few big Chinese design companies for work for English speaking countries and companies, and as such, bring in a lot of business. Another company working for English speaking companies is Pixology Studios, also based in Beijing. Pixology might be a small company, but with the growth of China’s stake in web based and interactive design, they are bound to take off into the world of web.

Even the Chinese versions of English speaking companies, like the Nokia.cn site uses flash animation to create a fully immersive and interactive section of the site.

China might be late getting into the game, but the level of determination and grit these companies, and freelance Chinese web designers are showing quite clearly show us that they will do their upmost to catch up with the rest of the world. Through the coming years I fully expect to see many more web based and interaction designers coming from China, and I look forward to seeing what they will produce and how.

Web Design

The majority of Chinese Internet users are under the age of 30 years old, like to play games and use the Internet for entertainment purposes. You will usually see a lot of visually interesting web designs that intend to target this group of users.

At first web designers in china would make their websites using Flash. It would all be about colourful and flashy visuals. This was because the designers were imitating Korean websites and their use of Flash; the majority of Korean websites were made in this way. Chinese designers and business owners considered this the fashion and were quick to copy this style. A lot of Chinese websites were usually cluttered and very busy with loads of information being shown to the user at once. Usually there’s not much user centred design either.

However China are steadily moving away from this style of web design as users are starting to explore content more rather than just the visuals. They want useful and helpful content, rather than the overwhelming visuals they are use to.

Since China is such a large country, it can sustain itself when it comes to web design and does not need to go international. Majority of Chinese sites don’t even have an English version, even in their navigation. This makes China sort of separate from the rest of the world when it comes to the web.

How the Chinese interact with their websites differs from the way we would. The Chinese language is made up from hieroglyphic characters unlike the English language. This means that typing can be slow and not very efficient when trying to navigate through a website. This could play a part in why the web pages are usually so busy with text, images and links as users would mainly have to visually spot what they were looking for and click their way through the site. Here is an example of a gaming website:

As you can see there is no search bar, so navigating through this site relies on the visuals. This could cause difficulties to users who may have visual impairments.

Western designers who are designing a website for the Chinese users try to bring Chinese style into their websites. Here is a good example of this:

These two different websites are for the same company, Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut US focuses more on online ordering where Pizza Hut China focuses more on showing a bit of culture and happy family’s. Also In the US one there is and input bar where the user can type into where as in the Chinese one there isn’t. This is a good example of the different interaction between Chinese users and US. The colour scheme of the Chinese website is the warm red and yellow colours that’s associated with traditional Chinese culture. The American one also uses reds, but the reds are much darker and colder. I personally prefer the Chinese one, even though I can’t read mandarin, it just  looks more visually appealing to me.

Chinese web design is definitely unique and in a league of its own. I think culture and habits of the Chinese people play a huge part in that.  China has loads of opportunities            with its big market, intelligent people and its increase in innovative and user centred design thinking. China is making design one of the countries main priorities, by putting a lot of money into their design education. It will definitely be one of the leaders in web design In the future.

 

The China Wide Web

Designing for the Chinese when it comes to websites is not as easy as converting the information into the Chinese language, there are many barriers to be considered. Here some light will be shed onto the Chinese web design world, the focus and reasoning behind website creation along with understanding parts that westerners would see as bad practice, or horrible design.

Chinese web design will not work for the western world, why? Culture, the Chinese web could be seen as a reflection of Chinese culture. The way people interact with each other and information to honour that is held in high regard to the local people, this along with other barriers creates more personalized web interactions.

Censorship, a driving force in the China wide web, could be seen as a hindrance and a blessing to the web design world, where websites are banned a new website can be created purely for the Chinese people, centred on their own preferences. “It limits your freedom, but meanwhile, it has a positive effect on UI design and content presentation. There is less room for gimmicks. It forces you to concentrate on useful content and how to present your content.” – Whitecrow Zhu

Before getting deeper into the cultural aspects of China it would be good to see an example of a popular Chinese website:

Sina could be seen as a copy of Yahoo as we know it, providing news, mail, blog platform, instant messaging, communities etc. At first glance of this site, most western users would leave; the website is cluttered and full of images and text, general ‘bad design’.

Many websites in china follow this style, and are popular and well used, why you may ask yourself, well this could be because of cultural influences and web design practice that is used in china.

The above website example is based on a design principle called “Designing for clicks” this form of creating websites is placing as much recent information on the front page as possible allowing the user to interact with what they find interesting, also allowing people to see an over view of everything at once.

The concept of ‘Face’ plays a role here, this could be likened to what we know as honour, and you can gain it or lose it. This cultural aspect affects the design of websites, having a website trenched in text and links is showing people what your site has to offer, nothing is hidden from the user, this leads to trust of the site, unlike western counter parts where the user is lead down a path to where the designer wants them to go, this could be seen as dis-honest to the average Chinese user.

Other cultural influences on designing for clicks can also be understood when seeing how the Chinese interact with information, at school there is more focus on memorizing facts, rather than understanding the information they are being given. The idea that later in life this information can be understood and put to use when it is needed this is reflected in how websites are read. Upon logging onto a site information can be digested then the user can go deeper into the site at their leisure.

In the same way the western world would shun Chinese web design the same could be said the other way around,  upon logging onto a minimalist website Chinese people are more likely to leave thinking there is nothing of interest, so would  Chinese web design ever be seen in the western world?

An opinion here would be no, simply because Chinese web design focus’s a lot on the Chinese people, traditions, celebrations and festive past times. Colour use holds different meanings to them as it would to us. Acceptance of cultural differences is as positive as it has been in the past, diversity is the spice of life as we like to say, Chinese culture has a lot to offer us, including new ways to create the web, but understanding the way Chinese people use the internet can help us branch out into their culture and vice versa.

Chinese Web Design

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.