Chinese vs Western: Design across cultures

Have you ever visited a Chinese website? Unless they’ve adapted their design to our market needs, Western users often feel these sites are cluttered and confusing, comparing it to early 2000’s websites due to its crowded nature at first glance. However, it’s important to understand how culture majorly influences user behaviour, which ultimately determines web designs.

Knowing web design differences of China vs Western countries is crucial for companies who are expanding their presence into the Asian market, or Chinese websites who expand into ours.

The above shows just how much localisation is integral to a successful website. In this article, we will be comparing the different design characteristics of the same website in both Europe and China, exploring the importance of localisation in order to create the best user experience for each unique audience.

Note: The following aspects listed are not perceived as negative - just observations from someone who is used to the designs of the Western web. We are simply just not used to them, which is why it is even more important for us to not only identify these design elements but understand why they have been used.

A brief overview

Chinese culture differs greatly from the Western world. Typically, everything is heavily influenced by ancient traditions, which are deeply embedded in their current culture. Furthermore, China has an extremely collectivist society, meaning that they are heavily focussed on the way they are immediately perceived by their community. These are the two main pillars of which Chinese web design is heavily based on.

West vs. East - web design differences

White space

🔴 China: White space is not ideal for Chinese websites. As they value so highly how they are perceived by society, it means that they often try to include as much content as possible on their websites, in order to demonstrate their values and positive characteristics at first glance. Furthermore, in ancient Chinese traditions, the colour white is a symbol of death or mourning, which may also contribute to the lack of white space in web design.

🔵 West: White space is often a key element for Western web designers; in fact, it is often considered more important than the content itself! Not only does it have aesthetic qualities that are enjoyable for western users, but it also creates emphasis and direction, so we can guide our users on our preferred path, as well as increasing readability.

Example: Amazon

Written content

🔴 China: When skimming over a Chinese website, the number of characters on a single page can seem excessive, with no clear breaks in sight. But if we look at the way the Chinese language works, it becomes clear why this may be. Firstly, there are no spaces needed between words in Chinese. There is also no capitalisation, making it difficult to divide content when initially viewing the page from a Western perspective. Again, as mentioned above, the importance of including as much as possible on a page also tells us why there is a bigger focus on content-dominated designs.

🔵 West: As mentioned above, Western web design often prioritises white space over the content itself, as users often can get overwhelmed quite easily. A lot of websites therefore opt for space and more visual content such as videos and images, minimising the written content to only what is essential for the user.

Example: Ebay


🔴 China: Chinese websites look difficult to read from a Western perspective due to the lack of variety in font size and style. That’s because the Chinese language is made up of tens of thousands of characters, so the typography must accommodate a wide variety of these characters. Furthermore, some of these characters are extremely complex, with up to 60 strokes in a single character. The style and size of the font must be clear and large enough to show each character clearly. This is why Chinese websites usually use the same size and styles for their content, as they value practicality over aesthetic qualities.

🔵 West: Our sites rely heavily on different fonts as part of our branding - they become an integral part of the brand identity. We use different fonts in different situations depending on what we wish to convey. Our font sizes vary throughout a page as our alphabet is extremely simple, with a maximum of just 3 “strokes” per letter!

Example: McDonalds


🔴 China: Menus located on the top banner very rarely have an expandable version, meaning that every category is included in a horizontal fashion in the top banner. Sidebars also rarely exist in Chinese web design. These navigation design choices are due to the fact that Chinese users often have a holistic approach to viewing websites, so having everything available straight away creates a better user experience for Chinese users.

🔵 West: When it comes to menus, the Western standard of web design is to make the menu as simple as possible - if we have to expand the menu, we expand it vertically, or, incorporate a sidebar to the left of the web page for easy access. This simpler design creates a better user experience for Western users.

Example: KFC


🔴 China: Due to a content-heavy design and a lack of white space, Chinese website designers usually rely on bright colours to direct users to important sections of the website, as well as maintaining interest and conveying certain qualities and ideas. A lot of colour choices are also determined by traditional meanings of colours in Chinese history. For example, a lot of websites will use the colour red, as this is a very auspicious colour which reflects positivity, and good taste. Other popular colours include gold, which represents prosperity, and purple and black, which represent power and luxury. These are the most common colours used as they demonstrate these qualities which will be perceived well by society.

🔵 West: Western websites often stick to a small number of colours in a website - these usually link to the colours of the companies branding. Due to the importance of white space, white is almost always the predominant colour in any Western website. Whilst colours can represent certain qualities for certain industries, the significance of a colour is not as strong in the West as they are in the East.

Example: Toyota

Localisation is extremely important when accommodating different cultures around the world. Always improve, adapt and deliver for every type of audience … and you’ll experience nothing but success in return!

Click here you want to know more about design differences in different cultures.

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