Website Design in High-Context Cultures like China


Though globalization
is an inevitable trend, Local websites within different cultures still show variations in terms of information presentation
and visual design. Let’s borrow a concept from anthropology to help us understand
some of this differences. The anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduce a factor called context. Context describes how
people exchange information in their particular culture. People in low-context culture communicate in a more direct and less personal way. Information is explicitly stated. For example, they might prefer emails rather than face-to-face video chats. According to Hall, Americans and Scandinavians fall into this low-context category. In contrast, in high-context cultures
people pay more attention to the context of communication. Richer verbal and non-verbal cues, like gestures and tones of voice, are more heavily used to help communication and interpretation. Examples of this cultures include China and Japan. But how does this
influence the web design? Well, websites work as
a communication medium between the creators and the users. People in high-context
cultures typically expect information displayed in
a highly related manner with a rich range of communication media to create a meaningful context. During an eyetracking study in Beijing, users commented that the
official website of Bose had fragmented information. One user said, “I wish it were more integrated. I scroll several times only
to see a handful of pictures. I won’t make my purchase
decision on this site.” Compare this to the
(foreign language) TV page on Taobao, which is much more detailed and denser. Another user praised this page because it is very
detailed and comprehensive with many comparison pictures to illustrate the features. In high-context cultures, according to Hall, people are also more likely to notice subtle cues in communication. In our study, we observed this difference in the comments that user made about tone of voice
and emotional response. Compared with our U.S. participants, Chinese participants more
actively made comments on their emotional
responses towards sites. For example, all 12 participants agreed that the Chinese Red Cross Foundation website was very concise, but four of them believed that it was not warm and loving enough for a charity website in
terms of its visual design. Two of them even doubted its authenticity because of this. One user said, “This is a charity full of love so it should be more
red-ish or more colorful. I feel that this site is too neutral and very business oriented. Just like a government website, it is very indifferent,
bureaucratic, and very official. It didn’t give me that feeling of love or willingness to help.” If you’re designing a product for users from a different culture, it is always important to learn
about cultural differences and how they can potentially
change user’s expectations.

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