Sunday 30th September marked the celebration of a Chinese holiday called the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is also popularly referred to as the moon/mooncake festival reflecting the traditions and stories associated with the festival.
It is one of the largest festivals in the Chinese lunar calendar. Being half-Chinese myself, I celebrated it with friends and family with a feast fit for a king!
As a web design agency, we are often asked about multilingual web design for global audiences and multilingual SEO. You may think that having an international website is straight forward and simply a case of using a professional translation company to get your website translated but think again! Different cultures, languages and geographies will have different design preferences and aesthetics.
The language issue alone is enough to give some people headaches. Not all languages use the Roman alphabet and not all languages read left-to-right and top-to-bottom. Whilst traditionally there may have been some difficulty in displaying a language in its entirety on a computer, great steps have been taken to make even the remotest language digital.
And of course, colours and imagery will have their own cultural connotations and meanings that are not always shown when translating a website. As such, I wanted to take the time to look at how Chinese web design is different from English (read: British) web design.
Comparing Chinese and English web design
For the purpose of this blog I’ll look at one of the most popular websites in China and one of the most popular websites in the UK. QQ.com is China’s hugely popular portal website and to make it fair, it will be compared to the UK Yahoo website – still the most popular portal website.
Yahoo! UK & Ireland
What’s the same?
The first thing that you’ll notice is that the overall layout is very similar. The logo is on the top left and the search bar is at the top and in the middle. There are some quick navigation links above the logo and search bar on both websites, these are to log-in pages or email accounts.
There’s also an MPU (mid-page unit) advert on the right hand side and the websites both feature a three-column layout.
In terms of colours, they have a rather limited colour scheme and feature dark text on a white background. Additionally, although Chinese can be read from right-to-left and vertically (as opposed to horizontally), most Chinese websites follow the same text orientation as English and other European languages.
What does this say about the two different types of design? Well, that they are quite similar in fact! For a portal website, you would expect a similar layout regardless of what language the website is in. The very nature of a portal website often means that displaying a large amount of content from a large number of sources is its most important job. But there are quite important differences.
What are the differences?
One of the most obvious differences is the amount of text on the page. Where Yahoo! utilises large areas of white space and graphics to draw the eye, the Chinese page is very text heavy. Some lines of content are not just links through to a single article – they have two links!
Perhaps the use of text-based content compared to imagery and multi-media is down to China’s internet connectivity. Although, in total, China has the second largest number of internet users after America, broadband penetration was just 4% in 2007. This would mean that websites with a focus on large images and video content would take too long to load. Therefore, text plays a much larger role in Chinese web design.
Furthermore, there are far more navigation links throughout the page. On QQ.com there are 46 navigation links in the top navigation bar. If that wasn’t enough already, there are also 46 links in one of the side areas. Can you imagine visiting a website where there are 92 links in the main navigation areas!
In fact, what you’ll find is that QQ.com is far longer than Yahoo!. Much longer! I’ve got used to infinite scrolling – in fact, I quite like it but I’m not sure if I could put up with such a long website! I think this succinctly encapsulates the differences in design.
Considerations for Chinese web design
So, for any international agencies looking to enter the Chinese web design market, here are some simple tips that might help you:
- Text is still very important for Chinese websites. Slower internet connections mean websites with a heavy focus on imagery may be unusable
- Smart phones are widely popular in the region – in fact many people do not have a desktop or laptop. Try to optimise for mobile where possible
- Chinese words are often made up of groups of characters (two or three). Unlike in English where words have varying lengths, Chinese words are more structured. This can impact your navigation design
- Despite what you might have heard to the contrary, you should design your website with the same orientation as an English website – text goes from left-to-right and from top-to-bottom
- Some characters are very intricate, so using a font size that is too small may make it difficult to read
- Colour plays an important role. Red and gold are both auspicious colours in Chinese culture. Use them to reinforce positive marketing messages