I’ve always been fascinated with Japan. The culture, the scene, the art, the social dynamics. Its seems to me all at once plastic pop and raucous rock and roll, overly expressive steampunk techno heaven and every Japanese person’s silent, repressive hell. How much of this is assumption and fantasy, how much the PR facet and how much is just plain wrong, I don’t know.
I have just finished Pico Iyer’s Beginner’s Guide to Japan and have firm plans to explore this amazing country as the next leg of my world tour.
But I have a question…
What is up with your web design, Japan?
Super dense layouts, countless CTA’s and high cognitive load. I’m talking everyday websites, not designer portfolios or agency showreels – those tend towards the simpler, distilled UX of a more “Western” aesthetic.
I have to assume that Japanese web users are able to process much more information based on your website design trends. I found myself wondering whether Japanese websites mirror the daily reality of living in one of the Japanese mega cities where the visual landscape is a cacophony of colour, information and LED.
Then I began to wonder whether it is how your typography, your language and letterforms scale up that enable you to decode visual complexity so easily.
Or is it just that Japanese websites have always looked this way and your users are averse to change? This explanation would surprise me.
The site that sparked my curiosity again was the Japanese Designer Association website below:
I would assume this website would reflect the latest in Japanese design as well as being a portal to important local design resources. The design is simpler than most Japanese websites but does it strike me as thoughtful, considered and creative? Hmm, not really. Sorry. To me it looks like a website from the 90’s. Legit. And the overall spacing, padding (and lack thereof) bothers my Western design sensibilities. But that’s a good thing. Making my mind itchier than a meth head scratching their brain demons. I’m posting this to a Japanese group I’ve recently joined on Facebook, hoping for some feedback, local or otherwise.
In the meantime I’m gonna read up on this perplexing Japanese web aesthetic. I’ll be back.
Okay, so I got some answers here https://medium.com/@maxwellforrest/the-overwhelming-world-of-japanese-web-design-2d41ad447297.
According to the article above, Japanese websites try to create a bustling, busy shop-like experience. Hmm, ok. The author also states that UX/UI design is apparently only now becoming a thing in Japan. I find that hard to believe.
With some more digging, I found this guide to Japanese web design (directed towards web professionals like myself) https://www.humblebunny.com/japanese-web-design-trends-in-japan/ and this quote immediately stood out:
“Rather than imagining it as some kind of objective measurement of quality (that transcends culture and location), remember that UX is always intrinsically connected to the preferences and needs of individuals.”– Humble Bunny “Japanese Web Design – Intriguing Trends and How to Cater to Users in Japan”
This is so true. It speaks to the universal need to adapt the visual aesthetic to best serve the end user of the UI.
Apparently, Japanese web users expect a lot of information from the get-go. According to studies, users from Japan are some of the most risk averse in the world and need lots of data presented to them quickly to engender trust – a website with little information is seen as untrustworthy. Japanese culture also highly values the effective use of space and a sparse, spaced out webpage design is seen as wasteful. Text is often laid out in both dimensions and margins, padding and gutter space is minimised (makes me wonder how dense VR spaces must be in Japan) – Japanese users generally have no problem with this high cognitive load.
Obviously, there is more than one way to skin a page in Japan. Below are some examples of website design trends. All creds to Humble Bunny for this great breakdown – I’ve copy pasted directly from their article in the interests of knowledge sharing:
Popular Japanese Web Design Styles and Trends
Japanese website designs are fascinating and beautiful. Even with some of the design restrictions and limitations we’ve outlined already, the digital landscape here offers endless sources of inspiration that showcase intelligent uses of space, color, graphics, and technology. Below are some of the most important design trends to consider when building your website for Japan.
Offbeat and Unusual
Deliberate rejection of commonplace conventions is a popular design trend for Japanese websites. Rather than showcasing extreme chaos and randomness, the aim to use shape, color, photography and layout to create a unique and distinctive design that stands out.
Vibrant Color Palettes
The Japanese love a wide range of colors and include a diverse palette when designing websites. Neon, natural, muted, pastel or bold are all accepted, and regularly combined within a single page to create interesting creative concoctions. This kind of vibrancy is something the best Japanese web designs showcase.
The Japanese culture of cuteness, or “kawaii”, is used all over Japan and across thousands of websites. After spending some time here, you’ll likely develop your own sense of what passes as cute in Japan, but many will find it hard to explain what defines Japanese kawaii to others. Nevertheless, this kind of huggable playfulness is something that thousands of websites use to their advantage today.
As a branding and marketing tool, custom fonts are a powerful way to convey your brand’s personality. In recent years, there has been a growing trend for many Japanese companies to design (or commission) a custom font.
As well as the multiple scripts we’ve already mentioned, the Japanese like to throw in a bit of English every now and then. Graphic designers and web developers are not afraid to mix and match these characters to create interesting visual effects or to add emphasis to particular areas.
Calligraphy & Brush Strokes
Calligraphy is regularly employed in Japanese web design. As a powerful form of art and method of communicating character, emotion, and personality, many web designers endeavour to employ calligraphy, vertical lines, and expressive brush strokes into the digital spaces they create, to offer a sense of tradition and expression.
The Japanese people’s wide acceptance of cartoon characters in both animated and static form is something that the marketing world regularly takes advantage of. This is no different for Japanese web designs, which leverage the appeal of comic book style graphics and characters to get their message across to users.
The Virtual Shopping Mall Experience
Online ecommerce platforms like Rakuten offer Japanese customers a kind of virtual shopping mall experience that caters to the needs and preferences of Japanese consumers. More information, product details, promotional content, and general opportunities for branding let merchants fine tune their online hubs for better conversions, while giving shoppers an immersive experience similar to walking around an actual shopping mall.