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The Puzzle of Japanese Web Design

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the how-to-pack-five-eggs dept.

The Internet 242

I'm Not There (1956) writes "Jeffrey Zeldman brings up the interesting issue of the paradox between Japan's strong cultural preference for simplicity in design, contrasted with the complexity of Japanese websites. The post invites you to study several sites, each more crowded than the last. 'It is odd that in Japan, land of world-leading minimalism in the traditional arts and design, Web users and skilled Web design practitioners believe more is more.'"

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Furst Poast~! (0, Troll)

djfuq (1151563) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026622)

Oh yeah baby first poast agean! OMG WOW!! weeeeeeeeeeeeee!

yes bad karma 4 me!

Do not RTFA, the summary is TFA (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026632)

Nothing to see here, a blurb from a blog, kdawson strikes again

Re:Do not RTFA, the summary is TFA (4, Funny)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026774)

Do not RTFA, the summary is TFA

What, you mean I unknowingly read the article itself? Great, and I was about to break my previous record of going the longest without reading TFA.

Re:Do not RTFA, the summary is TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027224)

That's really unfortunate, and to think today's also the day that you lost the game.

Re:Do not RTFA, the summary is TFA (3, Funny)

phizi0n (1237812) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026928)

We should all start writing nonsense and see how much of it we can get kdawson to approve. Those sites have pretty simple and straight forward layouts and the only problem I see is the 2nd one has too many colors with those buttons in the middle.

Ever been to Tokyo? (5, Insightful)

gregrah (1605707) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026638)

Ever been to Tokyo? If ain't flashing and neon, no one is going to notice it. For a population conditioned to such an environment, it would make sense that LOUD websites draw more customers.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (2, Funny)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026754)

I very much like your insightful deductions, sir, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. To whom may I make out the money order?

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (1, Funny)

gregrah (1605707) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027468)

Click on the RSS button in my profile. Then you can watch in real-time as I make it rain +5 insightfuls all over this biyatch. No charge, because information just wants to be free.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (4, Interesting)

gullevek (174152) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026836)

The longer you stay here, the more you ignore it, or your brain makes you ignore it.

When I open those webpages, I just see a normal web page. I am way too used to over cluttered web here, that my brain automatically filters what I need. I probably feel very lost on a simple designed western web page. Like, where is all the content?

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (3, Funny)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027618)

> Like, where is all the content?

Stuck behind a flash intro?

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (5, Insightful)

kumanopuusan (698669) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026904)

Ever been to Tokyo?

Yes, I lived there for a number of years, including a few brief periods during which my projects included web applications.
There are some places in the city (for instance near Shinjuku Station) that are covered with lights, flashing signs and colorful buildings (even the occasional giant motorized crab, if you look carefully).
However, there are even more places in Tokyo that are always quiet. You don't even need to leave the Yamanote Line. Take a walk between Ikebukuro Station and Sugamo Station sometime.
It's no surprise that you've only seen busy streets if you haven't gone far from the big stations.

To get back on topic, the idea that Japanese web sites are on the whole somehow over-complicated is a bit bizarre. If anything, the key difference between web design in Japan and web design in America, is what seems to be a lag of several years. Technologies that seemed rather commonplace in America such as Ajax, or even widely accepted best practices like CSS-based layout were fairly rare in my experience.
I don't have time to find good examples at the moment, but it's anything but difficult to find a Japanese web site that looks like it came straight out of 1995.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027058)

Yes, I lived there for a number of years, including a few brief periods during which my projects included web applications.
There are some places in the city (for instance near Shinjuku Station) that are covered with lights, flashing signs and colorful buildings (even the occasional giant motorized crab, if you look carefully).
However, there are even more places in Tokyo that are always quiet. You don't even need to leave the Yamanote Line. Take a walk between Ikebukuro Station and Sugamo Station sometime.
It's no surprise that you've only seen busy streets if you haven't gone far from the big stations.

Well done with the "I've been to Japan" name/location-dropping.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (5, Interesting)

gregrah (1605707) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027208)

My point wasn't that there are no quiet places in Tokyo, but rather that the advertising is louder there. This is true not just for Tokyo, in my opinion, but all across Japan.

Some examples:
  • Video billboards with loud audio components outside at train stations even in relatively small cities
  • Every supermarket plays its own catchy theme song on infinite loop
  • IRASSHAIMASE!
  • Pretty girls in bright yellow company-themed overcoats handing out free tissues everywhere you go
  • Pachinko (and everything about it)
  • Nudie magazines displayed in the window of every neighborhood 7/11
  • Cars with loudspeakers campaigning for local politicians
  • Vending machines with embedded audio and video that make fun noises when you insert coins

And it's not just confined to advertising. Everywhere you go you are subjected to escalators that beep when you approach the end, traffic lights that play Japanese folk music when you cross the street, trains with their own theme songs that play at every stop, garbage trucks with their own theme songs. Japan is a very stimulating place to be.

And I think that as a result, Japanese people have a higher threshold for stimulus than other cultures in less densely populated countries. What I may find loud or tasteless because it overloads my senses, Tokyo residents seem to have no trouble processing. What I find to be tasteful (Facebook, if you can call it tasteful), a Japanese person would find very boring (compared to Mixi, which is MUCH more colorful and packed to the brim with emoticons).

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (1)

Tsian (70839) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027458)

There is certainly a lot more aural stimulation in Japan.

Actually, the advertising cars (not just for politicians, but also often for second-hand stores and garbage recyclers), at least for elections came about partly due to the wording of Japanese election law as I understand it.

But you are certainly right that there are far more audio-visual displays (and giant advertising screens) even in smaller cities here in Japan than elsewhere. Interestingly though, I had to think about whether one actually existed in my city... you sort of tune them out.

I also think Mixi is a good example... though I think it has a fairly clean design, it also illustrates how important (picture) emoticons are -- something which has been inherited from the cellphone culture.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (0)

Tsian (70839) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027432)

Heck, even a few steps from Ueno (towards Ueno-park or Asakusa) can lead you to a relatively quiet area. I think that attempting to ascribe Japanese web-design layouts to the city layouts betrays a lack of familiarity with Japan as a whole (Japan != Shibuya. Tokyo != Japan), and simply "others" Japan as an easy way to explain difference.

I think there does exist a certain "do-it-yourself" attitude within Japan which favours home-grown solutions (especially in the technological/mobile area -- look at how closely the carriers control development of cell phones). Mixi, for example, created their own version of twitter (and, made it linkable with twitter, but only for twitter->Mixi, not the other way) and emulated what they saw as the best parts of facebook (the "like it" / "ii ne" button anyone?).

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (4, Interesting)

wisty (1335733) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027534)

Another explanation - Kanji is much denser than English, but attention thresholds are similar, so they need smaller boxes to deliver bite-sized messages to the readers. Smaller boxes means more boxes, which means more clutter.

A quick search (site:.cn, site:.jp, site:.vn, site.kr, site.kh, site:.th) suggests Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese sites are sparser than sites with Kanji or Hanzi.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027050)

Something about being able to read the characters makes it seem less cluttered. I used to think signs in Chinatown were overcrowded and very loud, but when I spent an extended time in China and learned to read, it no longer seemed very cluttered. Easier to read from a distance, though.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027498)

That's one of the bugaboos of Asian language proficiency - what once was meaningless noise to you all the sudden becomes offensive, in-your-face advertising.

Hebrew vs Dutch (5, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027642)

A dutch program from my youth tried to explain dyslexia by showing street signs in Hebrew, rather then dutch. It looked apparently very confusing. Except to my mother who could read it. The clutter wasn't there for her because she parsed it as readily as dutch.

ANY foreign language will look cluttered because you brain is trying to create meaning out of chaos and failing. If you watch a loading dock you will see chaos. A person who knows the process will see organization.

People who say in this topic that Tokyo is crowded obviously never been to Time Square or for that matter the Kalverstraat. But your brain can parse those signs and classify them as unimportant.

Your brain, being inhabited in tasty meat, is trained to react strongly to things it doesn't expect because it expects them to be a hungry animal on the lookout for said tasty meat. We don't have to notice that tree we have grown up around, but we have to notice the addition of two eyes and a twitchy tail to its branches.

Here is a simple test: Install a japanese language pack in your OS and change the setting so everything is in japanese. Notice how cluttered it all of sudden is? Excactly the same layout, but you suddenly can't find anything.

For that matter, put slashdot through google translate and see how suddenly the site seems filled with random ramblings by sociopaths who live in their mothers basement.

Re:Hebrew vs Dutch (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027792)

Yeah they really aren't more cluttered than similar "anglo" pages.

From what I see the Japanese tend to be more fond of multi-tone pastel colour schemes even for business/corporate stuff.

Click on the links from: http://www.ntt.com/index-e.html [ntt.com]
And compare with the links from: http://www.ntt.com/index-j.html [ntt.com]

The first I'd say is more "US" style. The second is more "Japan" style.

Not saying it's a 100% thing - there's plenty of diversity around. And maybe I've just been seeing a biased sample of sites.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (1)

Migity (1199059) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027394)

This kind of reminds me of Japanese efficiency--so efficient that it's no longer efficient. For example, instead of making something better/more efficient by starting from scratch you make it better/more efficient by adding to it. Processes and procedures in the work place are exactly like this. You can NEVER do something a different way than the way it's already being done...that's just preposterous. You have to "refine" it to make it better/more efficient.

You'd really have to live and work here to know what I mean.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027420)

Really. Any shopping area in Japan that I have been to is loud, bright and flashing. I see no reasons why commercial web sites should be any different.

Re:Ever been to Tokyo? (1)

thomthom (832970) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027438)

No - because you never see a website side by side. The only time you choose between a set of websites is when you do a web-search, and then you pick from the text extract summary and it's location in the search results.

Not my experience (5, Informative)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026656)

> Japan's strong cultural preference for simplicity in design

What? It's the exact opposite.

This is my only real complaint about Japan. I can't stand the shops here. There are colored flashy signs everywhere, and you can always hear at least a dozen different adverts at the same time.

Likewise every device is ridiculously complex. My fan has 6 buttons and a remote control. Just to blow air! And the toilet has a dozen buttons and two knows to adjust seat and water temperature. Everything is completely overdesigned.

Re:Not my experience (3, Informative)

purpledinoz (573045) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026954)

I have to totally agree. I was trying to use this shower in Japan, but it took me 10 minutes to figure out how to use it. There was a huge control panel full of buttons to adjust temperature, pressure, shower head type, and so on. From then on, I truly appreciated the simplicity of the single lever tap.

Re:Not my experience (5, Interesting)

purpledinoz (573045) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026958)

I forgot to mention though, the Japanese toilets are awesome. At first, the water spraying in your ass is really strange, but it cleans much better than wiping.

Re:Not my experience (5, Funny)

binkzz (779594) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027022)

Did you figure out how to use the three shells?

I'm still stuck on that one.

Re:Not my experience (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027212)

He doesn't know how to use the three seashells !

Re:Not my experience (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027692)

The idea of "cleaning" your butt using toilet paper seems rather strange and unhygienic to me.

Definitely cleaner if you use soap and water.

If someone has "stuff" on his hands and was going to make you a sandwich, I'm sure you'd rather that someone wash his hands "hospital/surgeon style", and not just use toilet paper to wipe it off...

Yes even if that person uses gloves (not like someone else is going to help him put the gloves on)...

Re:Not my experience (2, Funny)

Monolith1 (1481423) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027702)

At first, the water spraying in your ass is really strange, but it cleans much better than wiping.

You are supposed to wash your face with that water spray. Very refreshing for your pleasure.

Re:Not my experience (1)

lordmetroid (708723) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027034)

I hate the single knob design of american showers I have used. Either you can have good pressure and scolding hot or no pressure and temperatures not used to cook living things in.

A shower needs in my opinion three fundamental design solutions. One knob to regulate the pressure and one to regulate the temperature, I suppose a lever with 2 degrees of freedom is doable but clumsy as it is contantly reseted after each use or the temperature is hard to keep constant. Also a hose is definetly a requirment rather than a fixed exit fixture in order to easily reach all locations of your body.

Re:Not my experience (1)

kikito (971480) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027258)

The 2-degrees-of-freedom knob doesn't need to be reset.

Re:Not my experience (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027452)

Don't share your bath much, I guess.

Re:Not my experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027312)

My shower has a single lever which goes in two directions, vertical for pressure and horizontal for temperature, and an on/off button so you can find your perfect zone and leave it there.

I love it

Re:Not my experience (2, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027436)

A really intelligent shower would remember how you like your showers, and repeat it. Really, why should I spend time to get the temperature and pressure just right, when I always want the same thing. There could bather 1, bather 2, etc., for shared use.

Now, there's an innovation I would expect to see in Japan first.

Re:Not my experience (2, Funny)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026974)

I don't get what the fuss is about... Japanese sites look perfectly clean to me. For example: http://apple.co.jp/ [apple.co.jp]

Re:Not my experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027440)

Dude, have you been paying attention. Even thought the website's in Japanese it OBVIOUSLY wasn't designed by a Japanese.

Re:Not my experience (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027816)

Hell, they even make wrapping up a store purchase [gaijinchronicles.com] complex.

uh, stupid anglo-centric post. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026660)

this is a fairly stupid [read:ignorant] article. 1) in japanese, the websites mentioned in the article are relatively simple. 2) japanese like their content information-dense. pick up a japanese newspaper sometime (or a hot pepper guidebook). it's not that the design is cluttered. it's that they are very eco-friendly when it comes to using paper [read: they like to cram a lot together to save space]. it's very anglo-centric to declare their design to be so cluttered, considering these two things.

Anglo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026848)

Author of TFA is a Jew. Thanks for stereotyping!

Thanks for playing the racist game... (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027402)

Parent obviously referred to "anglo-centric" regarding authors CULTURAL heritage - not genetic.
You know... English speaking western civilization in general instead of author's parents' religious preferences.

Implying that parent poster is somehow wrong because the author of TFA is Jewish is kinda... you know... racist.
Makes it sound as if Jews can't be a part of any civilization or culture but their own.

Re:Thanks for playing the racist game... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027454)

hebrew documents/newspapers/websites appear cluttered too. http://www.haaretz.co.il/
no idea if this violates some cultural bias towards simplistic design elsewhere. just saying....

Re:Thanks for playing the racist game... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027600)

Jews assimilate into non-Jewish cultures? Just when did that start?

Do you know any self-respecting Jew who would claim to hold an "Anglo-centric" worldview?

Looks less cluttered translated (5, Interesting)

SpazmodeusG (1334705) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026662)

Google Chrome offered to translate the pages in question.
After translation it looks cleaner. I stopped looking at the characters as a mess of intelligible symbols but instead as words that i understood.

Here's a great example of the effect in reverse.
http://slashdot.jp/ [slashdot.jp]

Re:Looks less cluttered translated (3, Informative)

OnePumpChump (1560417) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026734)

It isn't just a language thing. Japanese web pages usually have 2-3 times as many distinct regions with distinct functions on screen at any given time versus American ones. It's like every Japanese website is Amazon (one of the few major offenders in the US)

Re:Looks less cluttered translated (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026892)

Looks no more crowded than any western site I have ever seen, if you view all the chars as text then it is relatively clean and simple ?

Re:Looks less cluttered translated (1)

binkzz (779594) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027032)

Looks no more crowded than any western site I have ever seen, if you view all the chars as text then it is relatively clean and simple ?

Or at least similar to Western sites. For example http://www.tomshardware.com/us/ [tomshardware.com] looks just as cluttered, especially with Japanese characters: http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http://www.tomshardware.com/us/%23redir&sl=en&tl=ja [google.com]

Too much? (5, Insightful)

clemdoc (624639) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026666)

I don't really see much of a difference between the JAL page und delta.com, united.com or lufthansa.de. And the page of the ministry of health isn't looking too crowded either. Neither is the third one, but I couldn't figure out how to switch that one to English (still, ebay.com seems just as stuffed). The japanese versions of the pages look like a crowded mess, but that's rather because I can't deal with the characters. Switch to english and you should be fine.

Re:Too much? (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026934)

I took the "article" to be comparing Japanese web page design to other stereotypical simple Japanese designs, rather than websites for the same services in other countries.

My experience (1)

AndrewBC (1675992) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026668)

> Slashdot editors' strong cultural preference for finding the irrelevant

Oh, okay.

Wabi Sabi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026680)

Wabi Sabi [wikipedia.org] apparently doesn't translate well into the internet.

Our Western globalization has made it so the new medium follows what they believe is more "Western" than Japanese.

Or they're just crazy. I dunno. We're talking about Japan here.

I wonder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026694)

If the author of TFA could actually read and understand Japanese. Although the example websites he gave seems overwhelmed, I found no difficulty in locating the information I need, and I think the layout is rather well organized.
Some "simple" website can have information arranged so awfully that you spend minutes of time just to find out that what you need is under the "Click here!" link.
And to say Japan is a country of minimalism? Please look at the complexity of their kimonos and gift wrapping, not to mention many other things. They've the minimalism side of course, but it doesn't mean all the things they do are so simple.

Re:I wonder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027074)

It's clear from one of his replies to the comments in the article that the depth of his Japanese knowledge is "knowing Tokyo from the movies". He's pulled a few websites from the air to support his ramblings, but they're no more cluttered than their American equivalents.

Shit's all the same. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026700)

Looks like every other Asian website I've ever visited.

Different writing system (1)

hoshino (790390) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026702)

http://mora.jp/artist/80307744/80006846/?cpid=sony.co.jp [mora.jp]

This example has a design no more complicated than an English website serving similar purpose (in this case, music retail). It mere appears to be more cluttered because the Japanese writing system is more complex.

A similar observation can be made with regards to Chinese, which is even more compact than Japanese due to the lack of a phonetic alphabet. Take a look at Yahoo:
http://www.yahoo.com/ [yahoo.com]
http://www.yahoo.com.cn/ [yahoo.com.cn]
http://www.yahoo.co.jp/ [yahoo.co.jp]

The hanzi/kanji writing system simply does not lend itself to minimalistic designs in the same way that can be achieved by the Roman alphabet. This is partially why many modern brands in Japan make liberal use of English in their designs and typesets.

That said, it is also true that Chinese and Japanese web designers appear to follow a set of standards rather different from the Web 2.0 design philosophies. Many of them still like to use <TABLE> to format their layouts.

Re:Different writing system (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026998)

"Many of them still like to use to format their layouts."

So do I!

But then the last time I actually tried to learn how to make a web page was 1997. I still find it amusing though, that if you cut out the css and js files that a lot of sites use (using something like adblock), they go back to looking like early 90s websites.

Also spreading hundreds of stylesheets and scripts across many domains doesn't half slow down the browsing experience...

Re:Different writing system (2, Insightful)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027080)

Yahoo is quite cluttered in any language.

Not that bad (1)

Netshroud (1856624) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026720)

Those sites don't look that complex, and aren't that bad run through Google Translate. Probably the complex-looking symbols of Japanese are overemphasizing the sites' clutter.

Korea is the same but worse (3, Insightful)

OnePumpChump (1560417) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026724)

And it infects real life. Any business district in any Korean city looks Geocities circa 1998.

Re:Korea is the same but worse (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027324)

The Korean web is worse than Geocities. Allow me to explain why there will be a special place in Hell for Korean web designers.

  • Banking and e-commerce sites require ActiveX components. (See: Korea Exchange Bank [keb.co.kr] , click "Personal Banking.")
  • Flash is often used for basic menu navigation. (See: Hi, Seoul [seoul.go.kr] .)
  • DHTML pop-ups. (See: Suri High School [suri.hs.kr] .)
  • New window pop-ups. (See: e-People [epeople.go.kr] .)
  • Text is often difficult to copy (JavaScript). (See: Bakdal Elementary School [nuripass.co.kr] .)
  • Text is often impossible to copy (images). (See: 7 days vacation [7v.co.kr] .)
  • Layout is busted (IE-only design). (See: eMode Tour [emodetour.co.kr] .)
  • Site is non-operational (IE-only JavaScript). (See: Why Pay More [whypaymore.co.kr] .)

Re:Korea is the same but worse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027820)

Any business district in any Korean city looks Geocities circa 1998.

Sorry, this site is UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Simplicity != Simplification (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026740)

A preference for simplicity in design does not imply a preference for a simplification in design.

"One should make things as simple as possible; but not simpler."
--Albert Einstein

Simplicity is highly prized wherever the clutter is superfluous or gimmicky. In 'classical' computer science fields such as language and operating system design, this is given the synonym "elegance".

But that is not the same at all as cutting away useful material simply so that you have less material. Even Ubuntu users were wild once Gnome decided that being able to configure sounds for systems events was something that was unnecessary. This was (contrary opinions notwithstanding) an oversimplification.

Japanese website design works differently to western design for a number of reasons. To begin with, the typical font size is somewhere around (the equivalent of) 16pts due to the requirements of distinguishing many and much more complex characters. Up your zoom level by two factors and see how many non-Japanese websites fail to look cluttered.

Also, decent support for native and interoperable characters (and decent support for fine-grained character placement) has historically been poor for Han/Kana scripts, which need it far more than Latin scripts do. Hence why huge chunks of Japanese websites regularly use images of text rather than text. Part of this is admittedly stylistic, but it is still due to the desire to cram different sizes of font into a "block" shape; this is much more common in Japanese due to the fact that ALL characters inherently take the same space and so they are more commonly written into a "grid" than on a "line", logically speaking.

In short, there are many reasons - some technological, some cultural, some stylistic, some inscrutable - for why things are as they are and will remain so for some time to come. But it's not as simple an issue as you might think at first.

Cities reflect websites (2, Interesting)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026760)

Asian websites seem to reflect pictures of downtown areas of major asian cities - Tokyo, Hong Kong, parts of Beijing, Vietnam, etc. Shockingly, their major cities don't look terribly different from western megalopolises like NYC and London. Their colorful ads just happen to have asian character sets, which have a lot more lines and end up looking more busy to the western eye. Have you looked at yahoo.com/ [yahoo.com] or amazon.com [amazon.com] lately? I mean, Yahoo has cleaned up their image some, but it's still very cluttered and messy. I can only imagine what Google News.jp [google.co.jp] or .cn looks like, or heaven forbid, the japanese translated version of Wunderground.com [wunderground.com] ?? Just add some purple and yellow rounded corner rectangles in the background and it looks like every other stereotypical asian website out there.
 
Anyways, my point is, websites are driven by advertising. Websites of local languages are going to look similar to the Times Squares and Piccadilly Circuses of the world, in their local languages and alphabets. Certain color combinations might make certain alphabets stand out better. Helveltica (and all the child fonts it's spawned over the years) happens to look really good in Red, White or Blue on a White or dark colored background, which is probably why western advertising all looks the same for the most part. People tend to use more asian color schemes for party invitiations when using Comic Sans, and that font everyone loves to hate, Papyrus, tends to look best Black on white on tan.

Re:Cities reflect websites (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026802)

I think the author's point was that sites like yahoo.com or amazon.com are considered bad design in the US, while the Japanese sites he mentions are considered to have good design by Japanese standards. It's not that they have more cluttered sites, just that they actually like them when it's cluttered, while Google got so much marketshare in search from the likes of Yahoo and Altavista because Google's home page wasn't all cluttered like the others'.

dom

Re:Cities reflect websites (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027088)

I think yahoo and amazon are considered "bad design" by contract web designers, but on the whole they are very good designs. Both companies are highly successful* at what they do and their main page is what generates that success and revenue for them.
 
*yahoo was gutted by Microsoft in the not too distant past, but the main page hasn't changed drastically since then.
 
If your job is to make websites that you can sell a multi-year contract to build, design and maintain, then yes, yahoo and amazon are terrible websites. If you are an internal team for the company and are focused on generating revenue, they're the gold standard. There's a huge disconnect between what contractors design and why they design them that way, and what an internal team comes up with and who they are (or perhaps, more importantly, not) selling it to. Ebay, Youtube and Craigslist are all notoriously ugly websites, yet a) they're designed and maintained by an internal team and b) highly functional pillars of online commerce

Re:Cities reflect websites (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027070)

I was thinking about how I liked the presentation of Japanese or Chinese books but then I also remembered that the characters were vertically aligned, which is next to impossible to do with simple HTML + CSS today. I mean, there's a part of the CSS3 specification defining the problem of vertical aligned characters with right to left or left to right flow, but it's a part of the norm which is ignored by almost any browser.
Half of their typographical techniques are just crippled by the current state of the implementation of web standards and I think that, maybe, if they are implemented and used, those website could render a tad better.

Re:Cities reflect websites (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027118)

Wow, you just reminded me how ugly websites are in general. I had gotten so used to them I had forgotten. Thanks for opening my eyes again. I think.

a bit unfair (2, Interesting)

sakurakira (1227342) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026764)

I looked at the three websites linked above, and they didn't really seem that bad to me. The author of the blog doesn't say if he can read Japanese or not, and it should not be assumed that he can for the fact that he wrote the blog entry in the first place. I think that probably makes a difference. Just looking at the language itself makes it seem more complicated than it might be.

Something that I've noticed on various Asian sites over the years is that they seem to be mainly text based, displaying a lot of information right when you go to them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially for the Asahi Shimbun [asahi.com] or it's English [asahi.com] page. It's a newspaper, it should have a lot of information displayed right in front. So should the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (linked above). The New York Times has one of the best newspaper websites around, mainly because it uses very few images and displays a lot of information right on it's front page. Other local newspaper [miamiherald.com] websites [nwsource.com] I've visited leave little to be desired. I think if the New York Times website were written in Japanese, one might feel the same way as the blog author.

Re:a bit unfair (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026912)

I get the feeling this is what's going on. On all three sites there's a left panel, a right panel, the middle goodies, and a series of links at the top. This seems to be a fairly standard layout. I don't understand the language and maybe there's more clutter than what I'm seeing, but that seems like a fairly straightforward layout. Research in the past shows most people pay attention to the middle and are more likely to look to the right than the left [useit.com] , which you can see in more modern websites(like youtube, google, battle net, etc). Other than the american sites I've seen ditching the left panel, the Japanese layout is the same. It also seems that a lot of sites ditching the left panel are doing so to draw in a larger mobile crowd as well.

For us to know .jp sites are 'cluttered' we need some sort of comparison to other country's sites. Similarly, for us to know Japanese culture is minimalistic we need a comparison to other cultures, and examples of minimalistic Japanese culture, and none of these issues are covered. I just can't take this article seriously since there's no data other than the author's opinion on what a cluttered site is. What even constitutes a cluttered site? What's the boundary between cluttered and not cluttered? Are all Japanese sites cluttered? 90%? 80%?... How many American sites are cluttered? British? German? French? Is the clutter happening on mainstream pages or barely visited pages? Is the clutter happening on professionally designed pages or pages thrown together by Joe Schmoe(he's not a talented web designer at all)?

No data and all conjecture makes me a sad panda.

Many Chinese websites suffer same (1)

grainofsand (548591) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026776)

Many Chinese websites also seem to want to jam everything onto the front page. I used to find it disorienting and confusing but I guess my eyes are accustomed to it now.

http://www.taobao.com/ [taobao.com]

Not so sure (2, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026782)

I'm not so sure he's right, looking at the examples he gave. The examples are crowded and small (even the banner ads are smaller than on American web pages, maybe because they tend to have smaller laptops with smaller screens in Japan), but they aren't cluttered. They are simple in the sense that they present just what is needed, and nothing more. I think this matches the Japanese style he is referring to.

Just for comparison, look at the Japanese Ministry of Health [mhlw.go.jp] and Ontario Ministry of Health [gov.on.ca] web page. They both start out with a similar header, announcing what page you are on and showing the search function, but the Japanese page takes about half as much space. Then on the Japanese side it's just a solid wall of information from top to bottom. I question their color choices, but as someone else mentioned, Japanese like bright colors.

The Ontario web page then has a huge, stock-photo section with a small little section on each one. What a waste of space. I should say, to me it looks fine, but the same information could have been presented in significantly less space, and the photos, while pretty, are nothing more than that.

So I think it's just a matter of Japanese trying to fit the most amount of information into the least amount of space. Or maybe they don't trust stock photography of smiling people, I don't know.

Re:Not so sure (2, Insightful)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026952)

I compared the two sites and if you think the Japanese site is good in any way I can only say you're giving the cultural thing too much credit. The header of that site is the only thing that look well designed.

The 4x6 grid of colorful banners is so all over the map in colors and fonts that you have to mentally refocus when reading each of them. And the color choice on the text on the left side is too thick to see the details and they don't even try to break the lines properly. (Only seen this done well by school kids since it's never needed normally)

While the ministry of health site is good compared to most other Japanese sites, it will likely be many years before they move towards western designs. I've only seen one example shown of a newspaper site where the designers did put simplicity and ease of use as top priorities. They thought they were rather progressive and unique.

In Japan, that is true.

Re:Not so sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026966)

It's the phones. They do most of their web stuff on phones. High info density is required.

Re:Not so sure (1)

sakurakira (1227342) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027502)

I totally forgot about this! Great point.

what paradox? (0, Troll)

Michael Kristopeit (1751814) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026788)

"Jeffrey Zeldman brings up the interesting issue of the paradox between Japan's strong cultural preference for simplicity in design, contrasted with the complexity of Japanese websites.

japan's preference for minimalism created a writing style that fits entire words in single character space. with this minimalism their bandwidth per character space increased... they could either take their gains, or up their usage of the character space to that of other writing styles, and see compounded returns, maximizing their value. the japanese written language is about maximizing space. the website is space. japan maximizes the utilization of the space. isn't that what modern minimalist design is all about? if the space is to be utilized for sitting, then all it needs is a chair. there is no paradox here, just a simple minded article author with questionable motives especially considering our government pages full of graphics and text and even video [whitehouse.gov] . extra digital content is effectively free. a moose head on the wall isn't. what do racist patriots have to gain by attempting to propagate a labeled paradoxical stereotype upon others? why would they try when their claims fall flat under the least scrutiny? does jeffrey often wonder if all of his countrymen are illogical as he is? if you do, jeffrey, THEY AREN'T.

Clearly hasn't been around much (1)

enoz (1181117) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026814)

So a blogger looks at five websites and makes a cultural conclusion based on that? That's just not science.

I've been to Japanese websites, and sometimes instead of words they use a single Unicode character to denote a link. That's minimalism.

The worst offender of all... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026854)

... is Japan's biggest BBS 2ch, check it out: http://www2.2ch.net/2ch.html

How the hell it got that popular while still looking like that however many years after it was made, I don't know.

I cant read your crazy moon language! (4, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026900)

He's right! Those sites are full of meaningless glyphs and contain almost no words!

Re:I cant read your crazy moon language! (1)

Narishma (822073) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027764)

Glyphs? All I see is a bunch of squares.

You call that simple yet cluttered? (1)

Eudial (590661) | more than 4 years ago | (#33026962)

If you call that cluttered, you have obviously never seen the web sites of Swedish tabloids [aftonbladet.se] .

What is with the Swedes and Verdana? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027580)

I visited that site and it had these huge headlines in Verdana. Just like Ikea, where they have signs in foot-tall Verdana type. Makes me wince every time I go there.

I love Swedish design, but Verdana was just not intended for use at that size.

this premise makes me lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33026996)

On the contrary, I would have said that Japanese sites are most notable for the huge-wall-of-text-on-a-plain-or-patterned-background design style. For instance:

http://www31.ocn.ne.jp/~kabuky/kiminote1.html [ocn.ne.jp]
http://www.geocities.jp/teikakaku_videocards/kako/1080732188.html [geocities.jp]

They`re a lot easier to find when I`m not looking for them. I`m talking about pages that are lightyears long and nothing but text (and probably not updated since 2003)

Re:this premise makes me lol (1)

Tsian (70839) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027500)

except that the type of BBS/Bulletin-Board page you linked to in the second link remains fairly common and popular today.

Why? Because it's easy to have it and a cell-phone version. As a lot of internet-browsing gets done on cell-phones, this has meant that many sites create their cell-phone version first and the PC version second.

Not just Tokyo (0)

sgtspacemonkey (1130605) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027038)

I got to spend some time living in Okinawa, Japan, a small southern island where the US military has a lot of bases. The culture there, while leaning towards being very conservative, does pack a lot stuff anywhere they can. Most stores & shops are small, with a lot of stuff, the tv news programs, are almost like there websites. Yet families live as generational, (everyone from great grandma to her great great great baby granddaughter live under one roof most of the time) family honor is first, meaning lie to everyone else. People know how to save, and when you do start to understand the language, and ask the guy your age what that says, he doesn't either, since the younger generations are not learning the more advanced characters. I find that though my experiences that Japanese culture has many contradictions. While the occasional person would talk to you with the little English they know to test it out, (usually a tourist from mainland japan, as in winter Okinawa is there Florida Keys) they practice what is considered in the US, discrimination. You submit a photo with your application for a job, appearance is everything. You do not date, nor marries a gaijin (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gaijin). It is hard to say for sure why it seems that Japanese websites have so much on them, but with out translating the pages, it might just be that they are using more a simplified kanji. But if you the look a photos of Tokyo, the same can be said, in simpler terms of Okinawa Japan. It was so bright there, that you would walk out and only see a bright radiating haze from all the lights, and coke machines. (Rumor was that there was 1 vending machine for every 3 people on the island.)

It seems it's the same with their TV (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027098)

Always a scrolling ticker, two big, flashy, animated popups in the corners, something popping up near the bottom, the actual content is obscured in 50% or more.

That's a very limited selection.. (1)

Seth Kriticos (1227934) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027140)

I can show you very ugly mainstream sites in the "Western" Internet too: AOL [aol.com] or MSN [msn.com] .

As for non advertisement sites, Japanese ones tend to have much less clutter. Ever read around the Japanese Wikipedia? A typical article looks like this [wikipedia.org] , which is much less frills then the English counterpart [wikipedia.org] (e.g. much less images, and that's pretty common for Japanese sites).

Hungarians do it too (1)

Vahokif (1292866) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027150)

Compare the Hungarian [felvi.hu] and the British [ucas.ac.uk] websites for university application. On the Hungarian site, the link for actually doing application stuff is the tiny "én felvim" box in the top right.

He's right, their pages are nothing but clutter! (2, Funny)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027160)

I checked all three examples and I can't find a single word of text. It's all just meaningless pictures!!!one

It's a lot to do with Japanese character set (1)

ewrong (1053160) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027182)

The Japanese character set is bigger, bolder and to my western eye rather scruffy and scrawly. All characters are also the same size as CAPS so it feels like their websites are shouting at you.

I was working on a Japanese site recently and during production we had it all set to English so that we knew what we were referring to within it. Design wise it was a nicely put together clean and simple site. As we neared the end of development we switched it all over into Japanese and suddenly it looked crowded and messy and as though there was too much going on in the page.

If you, switch the Japan Airlines example into English http://www.jal.co.jp/en/ [jal.co.jp] it becomes much more palatable to the western eye.

Re:It's a lot to do with Japanese character set (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027268)

The Japanese character set is bigger, bolder and to my western eye rather scruffy and scrawly. All characters are also the same size as CAPS so it feels like their websites are shouting at you.

I was working on a Japanese site recently and during production we had it all set to English so that we knew what we were referring to within it. Design wise it was a nicely put together clean and simple site. As we neared the end of development we switched it all over into Japanese and suddenly it looked crowded and messy and as though there was too much going on in the page.

If you, switch the Japan Airlines example into English http://www.jal.co.jp/en/ [jal.co.jp] it becomes much more palatable to the western eye.

I was going to post a reply to the article then I saw yours.

I completely agree with you. I checked the sites in the summary, but they didn't look over-crowded at all. Actually they look just like any normal website (not crowded, not really simple). That's just the effect of the Japanese characters and the fact that when your average-Joe-slashdotter (kdawson?) don't understand Japanese characters, and thinks of chicken feet when they look at them.

If you want simple, check 2ch.

Fixed font width is evil! (1)

dvh.tosomja (1235032) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027220)

Japanese font is fixed width. They also combine the chinese, their 2 alphabet and fixed width latin and even fixed width arabic numbers. Half of the page are often rendered images with no hinting or as low quality jpeg. No wonder it look like shit.

That's nothing (4, Interesting)

2Bits (167227) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027244)

compared to the web sites in China. In China, not just web sites, all UI have terrible "busy" problems, everything has to be jammed onto the same page. Have you seen an application with 233 buttons on the UI? Yes, that's all the functionalities of the system, and I personally counted the buttons.

I've been working in Shanghai for 7 years. Initially, I just couldn't understand why customers wants us (the vendors, system integrators, developers etc) to put so many things on the same. It's simply not good to have menu, or navigation. Everything has to be presented on the same display. And every customer wants flying ads, flashing images and icons, animation, sound, popups, etc, etc.

After so many projects, I finally started to understand, although I hate it, and would not use it personally.

  • Project decisions, down to the smallest thing, such icons and fonts, are made by the big cheese.
  • No one really dare to make decision. As any decision would be turned down by the big cheese.
  • The big cheese has to make every decision, otherwise, he would not be able to show his power.
  • If he does not turn down other people's decision, the big cheese thinks he loses face.
  • The big cheese always want to get the most out of the project, and pay as little as possible
  • The more he gets from the project, the more it shows his achievement.
  • The big cheese is not the final user of the system or the web site. He would look at it at most for 5 minutes. Therefore, as long as it looks animated, seems to have a lot of functions and information, it'll be good. How it affects the end users is not his problem.
  • The big cheese is the one who signs the check. Vendors just play along.
  • The busy UI becomes a norm.
  • For new projects, the big cheese will look at your proposed simple UI, and say: "I want that one", pointing you to a busy UI example.

And everything turns into a vicious cycle that feeds onto itself. There's simply no way to explain to the customers.

Re:That's nothing (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027662)

Great insight, 100% accurate. I know a lot of people who have lived in China for a lot more than 7 years, and they haven't grasped these concepts yet, other than to become negative about it.

The big cheese is not the final user of the system or the web site. He would look at it at most for 5 minutes. Therefore, as long as it looks animated, seems to have a lot of functions and information, it'll be good. How it affects the end users is not his problem.
So true, so true. I saw so many things that were screwed up at the World Expo, and my eye told me it was that way to please The Leaders.

modS Up (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027288)

Finally, the true path to Profit!!! (1)

Rogue974 (657982) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027298)

1. Create a Website with ads per view of the site

2. Post a slashdot article talking about website design and how it is different in some local/culture, etc. and link to your websites as references.

3. Profit!!!

Ginza (1)

BlindRobin (768267) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027396)

The web sites are very like Japanese newspapers, magazines or Ginza signs. Not surprising. Web design != (high concept)design.

Japan is a country of contrasts (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027590)

Nothing new here.
Being extremist one-way only exacerbates being extremist the other way, which is why Japan has so many contrasts.

The main reason they have such flashy things everywhere is probably because the traditional culture of Zen, Tao etc. became overwhelming, and they wanted something different.

You're not reading it right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027746)

Western Viewers see the kanji, and it registers as pictures and not words. Most of those pages have english versions. Check them out in english, and all of a sudden they seem normal, if a little dated, looking.

it's the characters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33027788)

their layout seems cluttered, but it really is no different from ebay, or amazon. it's just that they use kanji characters which may seem overwhelming to those not used to it

If I could read Japanese... (1)

pedantic bore (740196) | more than 4 years ago | (#33027836)

then I'm not sure whether these sites would seem all these busy at all. I suspect that they just look like they are confusing, because I'm confused and don't understand them. That's my fault, not theirs. I'm the one that doesn't speak the language.

For example, compare the sony site with the same sort of thing on itunes [apple.com] . Doesn't look all that different, and might even have fewer elements.

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