Culturally Speaking

This week, I brushed up on international website design. I never really considered designing for an international audience because, selfishly, I know what I like or at least, what we are conditioned to here in the states. So after viewing many websites on the group exercise and doing some investigating on my own, the international websites look a bit more cluttered than what I am used to, but they are also more information based. I am so used to international trends especially in technology being ahead of us, this surprises me. But why is this? In How Fluent is Your Interface? Designing for International Users, the authors go on to say,

According to Taylor, “properly Iodized software applications, just like properly localized automobiles, toasters, beverages, and magazines, reflect the values, ethics, morals and language (or languages) of the nation in question.”

This was particularly prevalent when comparing the North American versions of automobile websites and the international ones. BMW, by and large were the same internationally, just with more tabs and information. Mitsubishi (when comparing the North American and China sites) were vastly different.

North American Version

Chinese Version

The North American version features a sleek Flash design showcasing the latest products as well as having a menu on the left hand side along with large graphics with little to no text at all. To me, the trend of design has been going the way of less is more here in the US. Whereas, Mitsubishi China’s version looks like the websites here in the states looked 10 years ago. Animation limited to the main banner and a lot of text (as well as a gradient background). In some sites today, you might see a simplistic graphical button (usually 3-4) with a very little text, but in this site there are 9 buttons. The unifying theme is that the sites remain the same in color.

After looking at many international site designs, I might scoff at the layout of these sites (like Mitsubishi China) and the alignment of the layout or the overuse of text, but I realized it is not necessarily just layout differences, but cultural differences. I am so used to the “less is more” mentality, it is easy to forget that other countries may want the information that we tend to skim in our websites. Given that our culture is lives in a “time is short,” DVR, overstimulated way here, it is easy to forget that other cultures design works best for them, because it is the most functional.

Reference:

  • Russo, P., & Boor, S. (1993). How fluent is your interface? Designing for international users. Proceedings INTERCHI ‘93 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: INTERACT ‘93 and CHI’93. Amsterdam, 24-29 April (pp. 342-347). ACM Press.
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