Asian Language Web Design

I have yet to face this in my development experience, but it’s certain to be on the horizon. Bob Aman had this to say about Asian-language websites

Most Chinese/Japanese/Korean websites I’ve seen lately tend to have unusually “busy” designs…I usually react with something more along the lines of, “Yuck, how do you guys read the text on a site like that?!” There’s obviously a lot of sites out there that people typically point to as examples of good web design, but the vast majority of such examples seem to use the latin alphabet.

Sporkmonger >> CJK Web Design

His repulsion at the design of many asian-language sites might be the sheer fact that the language itself is seen by his brain as a visual element.

That is, you don’t see it as text, because you can’t interpret it. Even though you might not speak Spanish or French (if you do, just play along) you still know the letters, while the characters of many Asian languages are completely outside your linguistic perception.

Therefore, you perceive them as visual elements, then you deconstruct the page into having a ton of visual elements. This leads to your conclusion of it being “busy” or “cluttered.” I would suggest that you might find the same issue on Arabic language sites as well.

For examples, you might try any of the large consumer sites in their Japanese or Korean incarnations like Sony Korea or Sony Japan or Nike Japan or Nike Korea. Not that these are great designs, but it drives home the point.

What’s even more bewildering is how we might build these ideas into the web software which can change its interface language and presentation language “on the fly.” The challenges there are truly mind-boggling and by examining what the large companies have done, you’ll see that they purpose-build for every region and language. There’s wisdom in that, if not technical ease.

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  1. The fact that I have to interpret the symbols as a visual element is part of the issue, yes, and I’m well aware of that, hence the specific interest in the text.

    But it’s more than that. Russian websites, for example, are almost as incomprehensible to me as Asian ones. But I have much less difficulty finding decent non-corporate examples of quality russian webdesign. (By which I mean, I’ve casually bumped into such before on more than one occasion.) I can actually read Arabic with a little difficulty, and for the most part, their webdesign isn’t too bad either, when they’re not struggling with right-to-left issues. Their text is a sea of squiglies unless I’m putting effort in, but I honestly find to be less busy than say, Compare both to, for example, Cyworld, on a good day. I mean, even Asian television shows are “busy”.

    Then again, I started to say, that perhaps the examples you cited were consciously less busy simply because they were big corporate sites, but I immediately was reminded that that is true for virtually every corporate design anywhere, in any culture.

    So perhaps the better question, is why popular media in Asian culture is so dramatically busy. Why all the pink? Why the chartreuse and yellow? Why the blinking red and purple?

    That said… what I was -really- looking for, was something akin to thoughtful typography, but within the asian scripts. Given that calligraphy has such high regard, I wonder if typography gets anywhere near as much consideration.

  2. Oh, and repulsion is probably too strong of a word to be using to describe my reaction. It’s more like ‘Ewww’ with a question mark: ‘Ewww?’

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