Why is Japanese web design so different?

Konichiva Habr!
In the eyes of many, Japan is a land of tranquility in Zen gardens, serene temples and exquisite tea ceremonies. Both traditional and contemporary Japanese architecture, books and magazines are the envy of designers around the world. However, for some reason, virtually none of these skills have been transferred to digital products, in particular to websites, most of which look like they started around 1998. Theories about why everything is like this are numerous, and today, on the eve of the start of the course Profession Web developer Let’s try to develop some of the most common theories in this post.

Browse the most popular sites in Japan and this is what you can see (see Goo, Rakuten, Yomiuri, NicoNico, OKWave, @cosmeand others):

  • Dense, tightly packed text.
  • Tiny, poor quality images.
  • More columns than you can count.
  • Bright flashing colors and banners.
  • An overabundance of outdated technologies such as Flash.

Why is this the case?

Language differences

Convenience of symbolslogographic languages ​​can contain a lot of meaning in just a few symbols. While the hieroglyphs may look cumbersome and confusing to the Western eye, in fact, their columns allow you to comfortably work with a lot of information in a short span of time and space (the same is true for Chinese).

There are no accents in the language – Japanese does not have italics or capital letters, which limits the ability to add visual accent like in Latin alphabets. This makes it difficult to create the hierarchical contrasts needed to organize information with font alone, although many designers work around the limitation by adding embellishments or graphical text.

The language barrier – The web and most of the programming languages ​​that run it were developed by English-speaking or Western corporations, so most of the documentation and educational resources are also written in English. Much is being translated, but this very fact still causes a delay in adapting new technologies and trends.

Cultural differences

Avoiding risks – Japanese culture generally discourages taking risks or standing out from the crowd. As soon as a precedent for the behavior or appearance of a thing is created, everyone follows it, regardless of whether there is a better solution. Even Japanese subcultures obey their own fashions and rules.

Consumer behavior – The Japanese demand high guarantees, this requirement is fulfilled with long descriptions and technical specifications. When making a purchase decision, they don’t hesitate in front of a catchy headline or a pretty graphic. The adage “less is more” is not entirely applicable here.

Advertising – Instead of looking at the Internet as a tool to turn people on, Japanese companies often look at the Internet as just another advertising platform to get the word out about a product. Websites are ultimately a maximum concentration of information in the smallest space, a brochure-like, not an interactive tool.

Urban landscape – Walk around one of the centers of Tokyo, for example Shibuya: you are constantly bombarded with bright neon advertisements, noisy pachinko parlors (arcade games parlors), crowds of violent mercenaries or schoolchildren. The same chaotic busyness of the streets seems to have carried over to the web. Also, since physical space is expensive in Japan, it is not wasted, and the same goes for white space on a web page.

Web Jobs – look at any job site in Japan and you will still see advertisements for roles like “webmaster” and “web administrator” dating back to the time when the company hired one IT professional to write the code by hand and run the entire web -site – many people still do this. On the other hand, creative people want creative freedom that they are unlikely to find in a large Japanese corporation, so they go elsewhere.

Technical differences

Mobile heritage – Japan has been using its own mobile Internet on advanced clamshell phones long before the iPhone and even more so than on PCs. Screens were tiny back then, and sites had to be designed to cram content into that small space, and this continues to influence what is happening now.

Web fonts – there is a shortage of web fonts for non-Latin languages ​​(Chinese, Japanese, etc.). This is because each font requires an individual design of thousands of characters, which is prohibitively expensive, time consuming and takes longer to load. For these reasons, designers prefer graphics over plain text for displaying custom fonts.

Windows XP & IE 6 – although the number of people using ancient Microsoft software is rapidly decreasing, there are still a fair number of users with these “dinosaurs”, especially in a corporate environment. Enough!

Walking around Tokyo, I often feel like I’m stuck in the future as it was seen in the eighties, and in many ways these opposites characterize landscape design in Japan. On the one hand, we have huge conglomerates making boring mass products, and on the other, we see artisans creating things of incredible beauty and functionality.

More positively, small design firms and companies such as UNIQLO, MUJI, CookPad and Kinokuniya prove that they can create aesthetically pleasing and functional websites in Japan. Let’s hope that the rest will learn from them and soon catch up with the help of smart professionals with the right knowledge. These are the very ones we prepare in our courses – come and teach you too. A promo code HABR, will add 10% to the banner discount.


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