I find this quite ironic, especially given how unusable most websites are due to third party advertising resources being loaded into them these days. HN users in particular will agree I bet, ad blocking seems prevalent here because of that exact reason.
I think Japanese websites are better in this sense because their ad technology is usually 'outdated' banner ads and internally served sponsorship content. They're luckily stuck in the era of static and freshly-baked server-side content.
I'm just joking but then again I'm really not
But as soon as you cut off ways to make the Web more "engaging", it makes it far less interesting for the ads market, so less contents. Even individual content producers (e.g. Youtubers, Twitchers) look for monetization these days.
Something like WebAssembly, then?
In other words, WebAssembly won't cut the Gordian knot, in my opinion.
They are only better if you never use them.
That’s probably the worst usability problem with the current web, it used to be popups, now it’s constant in your face consent forms. Consent forms are really just legally enforced popups.
Probably US users don’t know how bad it is because the US sites only add them to requests originating in the EU.
Most of these sites needed or wanted them implemented on the cheap. Restricting it to EU customers would require extra work...
It makes no sense. If there isn’t a legal requirement, why would they risk impacting their ability to make money?
For the last 20 years there has been a steady stream of articles on how Japanese web design is "broken", or "behind", or "cluttered".
There is also a steady steam of UI experts arriving from the US telling Japanese companies they need to modernize their look and feel.
The thing is, e-commerce sites like Rakuten are already heavily A/B tested and optimized. That graphic experience is common because it is most effective. Any analysis that does not focus on actual, observed user behavior is simply navel-gazing.
That said, the ubiquity of iPhone and Android UI is causing a shift in Japanese UI/UX design. People are becoming used to that as the primary interface.
They might be “ugly” from some bauhaus art school designer’s standard but I’d way rather use an old school but feature rich interface like eBay than the sleek-looking but totally UX deprived site like FB marketplace. I recently liquidated a bunch of my belongings to move, and I can’t deny that it’s probably the best tool to do something like that because of the eye balls, but god damn. The mobile first design, gobs of white pace, the annoying “blurred copy of your picture behind your picture” effect that local news sites seem to love, completely re-created React component replacements for every standard UI element like a select drop down. It was usually easier to just use my phone than their website.
Now I have to enjoy the “experience” that some designer put together which doubtlessly enhanced their engagement. More often than not I’m not looking to “experience” anything. I just want to load a page of data and quickly review it. Over designing things and and hearing PMs drone about “experiences” for everything has made that word chafe for me lol. It’s like they think logging into their website should be like going to Disneyland or something.
If that leads to difficulties for complex and infrequent tasks, it's only a disadvantage for the more technically oriented user.
Dialing numbers and texting on my old flip phone used to be easy. Now, using google voice on my iPhone to dial a number is horrendous because it’s trying to “suggest” someone for me to call with every digit that I dial.
I agree that suggesting a contact based on digits is a very odd feature, one of the type "because we can". I can't imagine it being helpful at all, really: almost all users know how to operate the contact list.
There might be other paradigms looming out there, but the current situation is not just people lazily relying on A/B testing.
I use AliExpress _in spite of_ their UI, not because of it.
You’d think a bookstore would have a good way to show books of the same series in order, and make it easy to find any specific issue. Or help you follow random authors, and not just some handpicked ones, or notify you of a new book coming out in the future. All of these use cases are mildly (wildly) broken and it was the core of their business for a long time.
When I say they are similar, I’m thinking mostly about how they’re ignoring “pretty” and “logical” design trends and stick to very basic while chaotic page designs.
Personally, when speaking in abstract I stick to saying "local extremum" just to avoid this nagging question.
Shouldn’t a designer be able to put themselves into the mindset of the customer?
This has made the rounds on HN several times already.
153 comments - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16254569
129 comments - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6718067
=> I believe that we are lacking the commitment that one had to put into a project such intent as a book then with the current fastfood social medial / article generation.
I also believe that in its place, a hybrid of sorts will come and surface softly back multiple time to underline the impact it left on the collective unconscious. This sounds like what we're seeing.
I also avoided Toyotas because of the crammed dashboard/consoles and all the beeping. Unlock door, closing hatch door, starting the car is just beep, beep, beep. Instead of toggles like BMW, they would have an individual buttons for AM, FM, CD, Bluetooth, Aux.
So the buttons are serving a purpose, the question is whether it's better to have more buttons or more touch-screens or other "less crammed" designs. Aesthetic concerns aside (personally I've gradually grown more fond of the "crammed" designs as having their own aesthetic), buttons are also practically better because they always do exactly one thing -- meaning it's easier to learn and use for most people (including older and vision-impaired users). If the cost of having less buttons is that users have to learn how to navigate a set of menus for each appliance they own (many of which will have rubbish UIs) then I'll take the extra buttons. I also like that my rice cooker beeps when it's done -- it reminds me to go fluff the rice (or acts as a signal that it's time to have dinner).
Cars are possibly the best argument for physical-button-based designs -- because you usually operate them without looking at them! Touch-screens or any other complicated but "less cluttered" design just means that you can't use them in that setting. I get anxiety looking at the Tesla dashboard -- maybe the reason they're developing self-driving cars is so that you can operate the dashboard without crashing?
Of the people I know who use rice cookers, they all use it to make rice, but usage of the other features drops significantly afterwards. After all, do you feel like using your rice cooker to make oatmeal?
My ideal rice cooker has one button: a physical switch, and no timer.
But I guess whether you'd find those features useful really depends on how often you eat rice at home -- my partner is from south-east Asia so rice is part of basically every meal. When the rice cooker is empty, I fill it at night and set it to finish cooking in time for lunch the next day (if you just cooked it and left it overnight it wouldn't be as fluffy).
I don't use my rice cooker to bake cakes, but these kinds of features are born from the fact that in Japan very few households have full-sized ovens and so other appliances have to fill those needs.
We have a Subaru with manual settings (3 dials) and a Volvo with a thermostat. The Volvo was set the day we bought it and I don't know that we've messed with it since. The Subaru, on the other hand, is always being adjusted.
The Volvo one seems to be smart enough to know when hot or cold (dry) air is needed on the windshield. It's pretty great.
Basically I think three dial is the right UI, but the temp one should be a thermostat, not output control (as I guess it generally is based on experience) - that doesn't obviate the need for (or utility of) the other two.
IMHO, the Volvo system is superior. That car also cost about twice as much so maybe it's not fair to compare the two.
It's one thing to have a touch screen to control your phone - where your attention is the phone.
It's another to have a touch screen to control the accessories of your car - where your attention is driving.
$ ls --help | grep '^ *-' | wc -l
That in itself does of course not take away from the article, but I am catching some negative undertones how Japan is "behind" or "unable to change" because of their society. I guess you could even open the bottomless barell of a discussion about racism, but my point is just this:
Seeing "them" as "behind" is a bad way to think about it and prevents true understanding.
Family staffed restaurants which revenues are 90% regulars remake their website and the agency slabs a 4MB hero image on their "landing page". They of course don't need any of that. Only clicks the website gets are people checking the opening times or showing their friends how grass-roots it is. To literally quote the article "Once a precedent has been set for things looking or behaving a certain way then everybody follows it, regardless of whether there is a better solution."
Consider the memes about the weird distorted discolored vector graphics everything tech now has . Consider JIRA managers talking about a 4 second loading target for web pages. We are actually subconsciously aware that "our way" is just as random, weird and wrong, we just like to default to "ours=the way".
Fun article - definitely made me think - but IMO the real takeaway is: The Overton window of design is arbitrary and way more influenced by what $IMPORTANT_PERSON said in 2003 than by logic or sense, and we are not there yet.
They load pretty much instantaneously, run few scripts, have no swooshing animations or scroll behavior overriding, elements don't jumble around and rearrange themselves as the page is loading... they are basically just plain text and hyperlinks on a plain background. From my perspective they're lightyears ahead of the state of English-language webpage design.
I guess they're behind in the sense that they have declined to incorporate many new bad practices. They're behind like a farmer who doesn't use pesticides, a candy-maker that doesn't use artificial coloring and flavoring, or a gas station that doesn't play ads on a screen at the pump.
> Go on a safari around some of Japan’s most popular sites and here’s what you can expect to find (see Goo, Rakuten, Yomiuri, NicoNico, OKWave, @cosme, and more):
The links, in case you still don't want to read the article:
Pretty close, same dense pack of information, tiny photos. Seems to check most of the list.
I think this is very similar to discussions of payments in the US vs China, with QR codes vs credit cards. Credit cards are old tech now, and so a country building out a ton of infrastructure today has no real reason to follow that path now that there are alternatives. But a country with a ton of infrastructure already built for them also doesn't have much incentive to rip all that out and replace it. So something primarily determined by "what was the state of tech when building out infrastructure for the first time" now gets used to answer a question of "who is a more advanced society?"
(Here it's more a question of "what were influential design trends" instead of "when did you build your infrastructure" but that's a similarly arbitrary starting seed, as it were, not a reflection of "progress.")
If you're looking at Rakuten then compare it to Amazon and eBay which are also pretty cluttered but functional.
If you're looking at Yomiuri then compare it to New York Times or CNN or Fox News all of which are pretty cluttered but functional.
That minimalist "clean" look isn't a general trend of e-commerce and news sites even in the US, if that is what they are using as a reference point.
Japan has no shortage of modern web design either. You just have to be looking in the right places, e.g.
This temple https://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/
This Michelin restaurant http://akiyamashirokane.com/
This tea house https://www.fukuda-chaya.jp/
This startup https://www.kudan.io/jp/
This web design dude https://kuon.space/
This startup accelerator https://www.j-startup.go.jp/
This website about traditional Japanese colors https://nipponcolors.com/
Even in the author's website. It's not bad per se, and it seems to load fast. But there is more spacing than necessary, and the minimalism makes it look like any other blog.
EDIT or Alegria? https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/dont-worry-these-gangley-armed-...
So I guess still using Fax Machines to do business in 2020 is not "behind", it's just "different" right?
Let's call a cat a cat when we see one.
>Handwritten messages have long been a necessity in Japan, where the written language is so complex, with two sets of symbols and 2,000 characters borrowed from Chinese, that keyboards remained impractical until the advent of word processors in the 1980s. Faxes continue to appeal to older Japanese, who often feel uncomfortable with keyboards, experts say.
People can write handwritten notes when they order from a restaurant, for example.
The racism starts whenever a foreigner starts explaining Japanese culture, and they will usually incorporate some old fashioned Japanese nationalism.
Japanese people are just people. There is nothing inherent to our culture, genetics, or soil that makes us like bad websites. We just have plenty of bad web designers.
The article states some reasons under Cultural Differences that are inherent (though not unique as the Update 1 note shows) to Japanese culture that would explain the proliferation of bad web design. Maybe they're wrong but they at least seem reasonable. Are we going to argue that Japanese culture generally is going to have no effect on work style and commerce on the web, while we're also to believe it's just chance that led to 2 out of 71 (I checked) of the websites I looked at being adequate?
> The racism starts whenever a foreigner starts explaining Japanese culture, and they will usually incorporate some old fashioned Japanese nationalism.
I'm not sure about the old fashioned Japanese nationalism, but have you considered the possibility that they've experienced a modern type of Japanese nationalism and it's going to be incorporated into their assessment of life in Japan?
We all know it’s ugly. Nobody looks at those designs with approval and admiration.
> I'm not sure about the old fashioned Japanese nationalism, but have you considered the possibility that they've experienced a modern type of Japanese nationalism and it's going to be incorporated into their assessment of life in Japan?
There is no modern type. This is a country run by old men. They keep repeating their Japanese people propaganda, but you don’t have to believe it. In that sense, when I first arrived in Hawaii to study, my foster family felt very strongly about America being the best in everything, and they made sure I heard it all, but in the end, I never really believed what they said. It sounded too similar to what my family said back home.
Well, at least that's an insight. I wasn't sure that anyone Japanese does think it's ugly because, as the article points out at the very beginning, it's in contrast to other parts of the culture that are deemed part of the design world.
Other than that though, I'm not sure what your point is?
> They keep repeating their Japanese people propaganda, but you don’t have to believe it
Strangely enough, I have no inclination to believe it. I'm more worried about the insidious racism and xenophobia that it breeds in those who do believe it, which seems to find enough expression in the general population that there's an endless stream of anecdotes shared among foreigners here.
> my foster family felt very strongly about America being the best in everything, and they made sure I heard it all, but in the end, I never really believed what they said. It sounded too similar to what my family said back home.
Okay, it's just bad luck and foreigners are being mean by bringing up fax machines. Convenient how that argument insulates the culture from criticism and implies that nothing should change, which is a view that over-patriotic people would probably agree with.
Another case in point: The US just can't move away from credit cards and slow freight trains and cars, all due to infrastructure issues, while countries that have been historically behind have been able to jump ahead to mobile payments and high speed rail.
The big difference is really the infrastructure and the ownership structure. Since the infrastructure is private and being competed on, it’s not shared across operators. It’s not a public utility and consequently in a sort of optimal state of minimal spending.
Anyway, the story is much more complicated than „early adopters“.
Try a crazy modern place like Hong Kong or Shaghai (where I went several years ago, but already had the impression these places are ultramodern compared to US/Europe) and you'll quickly understand what you're saying is incredibly wrong.
Ditto on the point where Japan is stuck in the 1980s future. Everything's optimized for tiny cellphone screens optimized for text. If I recall correctly iPhone adoption was slow, and many people lacked a desktop to provide updates. I still find wifi to be incredibly scarce in Tokyo. If people want a desktop, they go to a cafe. If they want a mobile connection, it's faster to just use your telecom plan.
That seems to have changed under COVID.
No way. It's hard to exaggerate what a smash hit the iPhone was in Japan. It immediately changed the mobile landscape, and continues to have an outsized market share: ~57% compared to 45% in the US
Train stations, 7-11, Family Mart, Starbucks, Gasuto, McD's.
Plus all of the locations in the Japan Connected-free wifi app.
I was without a SIM card for several months recently and rarely had to go far finding connectivity.
That sounds great tbh. Not everything needs to be a 4MB bootstrap.js webshit that doesn't even load with adblockers enabled.
Edit: that was quick! Fixed in https://github.com/easylist/easylist/commit/4bf4c04186f4a7d9....
Well, why do people have cultures might be the same question.
Companies started in the last 10 years are abandoning what we might deem as a cluttered aesthetic and moving towards something which wouldn't look out of place in the west. In fact my current company ended up going with the same UI when they launched in the US with minimal modifications.
This is because each font requires thousands of
characters to be individually designed which is
prohibitively expensive, time-consuming, and
would take longer to download.
Given the affluence of emoji's and various Unicode symbols these days it weakens that argument even further.
Most of the time these symbols and emoji are using fallback font though. It's not included in every font.
One example of a "web 2.0" era site (and it needs JS to work, so you know it's modern): https://maidragon.jp/2nd/ Flashy intro, bold non-box outlines of content sections and non-straight (i.e. it's slanted) text, animated background, static background element. News link button has character to it, it's not just a <button> with default browser styling nor with the standard bootstrap CSS and calling it a day. Clicking it goes to https://maidragon.jp/news/ which has a nice vertical column of main content, though again that so nostalgic (to me) slanted design shows at the top. Viewing the source (direct payload) you can actually read the HTML. It might be wordpress based?
For contrast one fully modern, including the "why does it need to be" part, is a site like https://sephira-su.fensi.plus/ Non-standard TLD, google translate doesn't even work -- I think because of shadow dom shenanigans. There's a dev blog about that site's tech that is readable with google translate though: https://cam-inc.co.jp/p/techblog/405653224037549201 (The dev blog and the company's home page itself is another modern site, it's even updated significantly since I saw it last in March, and they blog about other modern tech.) The backend of Fensi is microservices, content served in a "headless CMS" style, the front-end is built as a re-usable theme with web components (LitElement framework) making use of shadow dom...
In summary, there's plenty of modern web design going on in Japan, and just like here there's probably too much.
Just to add to this, I am Asian myself so I have experienced this and seen this first hand.
As if the spinners were not bad enough, now western web design created the animated grayed out text, which I particularly find an aberration.
Youtube interface is another example. You click on the "videos" tab and you get infinite scrolling without pagination. Killing pagination is a huge usability issue. Comments section with the "Load more" approach, another annoying feature, just load me all the comments in one go please.
I heard that many decades ago.
All of them have this very bright, visually busy style that is, as the website says, very different than some imagine the Japanese aesthetics.
What's optimum has a lot to do with what people are already used to. No newspaper reader is going to be confused by a news website with the same layout as the print edition.
Aside from the security implications of using IE/XP, um, no, how about we don't and let them do what they want? How dare the author maintain that they should follow the West's path of bloated web design practices. Get out of here with that shit.
Here are sites that don't spam.
And here is a web design aggregator. Here you can see more of the Japanese aesthetic at work.
SE Asian countries have a pattern of widely adopting technologies before others do. Despite not having any obvious technological edge. They just seem to catch on easier. It would seem to me people are simply more willing or more able to deal with them.
Patterns that may be a huge usability issue in one place might not be elsewhere.
Wechat in China is a good present-day example. It's not impressive in its tech or design. Would probably be considered a mess in most places. What's impressive is the adoption.
Everything gets broken into smaller chunks, and those chunks get put into small columns. The pictures are small because a big picture will throw things off.
I'm not sure, but I think Japanese people (and Asians in general) have very different rules for negative space - they either don't use it at all (and pack the design like blocks of tofu) or will use it in a very intentional way. It's rarer (as far as I can tell) for negative space to just relaxing filler, it's more a bold statement similar to an attention-grabbing graphic.
Any answer to this question that doesn't include a mention of this is grossly misinformed to the point of being wrong.
A lot of the Japanese sites that I visit(ed) were designed for i-Mode first/only as late as 2011.
I believe that as with WAP, it was necessary to have completely separate i-mode sites, so I don't think the front end rendering of one would necessarily affect the other even if companies like Yahoo Japan were serving similar content over both.
> Japan was using their version of the mobile web on advanced flip phones long before the iPhone came along and in even larger numbers than had personal computers.
I think the bigger problem is that this is a seven year old article and the web landscape in Japan has changed significantly since then.
They're almost identical except the English page includes links to Google Store and information about "Carbon neutral since 2007". The English page's "About" link is in the upper left corner of the page. The Japanese page's "About" link is in the page footer.
The Japanese language itself has very low "information density" - it takes many more syllables to convey the same thing in Japanese than it does in most languages. This is the result of the language having much tighter phonotactic constraints; literally there are fewer "legal" phonemes (and combinations of them) in Japanese than in most other languages.  This isn't a criticism of the language of course - just an interesting tradeoff: A Japanese speaker has fewer sounds to learn, but must learn to speak them faster in order to convey their ideas.
As a result, Japanese speakers are some of the fastest speakers in terms of syllables/second, out of necessity.
Therefore it's no surprise that the typography is going to appear more "densely packed" on a Japanese website. With the exception of Kanji which is a pictographic (logographic? I'm not really a linguist) writing system consisting of many, many characters (and thus can be quite information-dense) - Japanese's other writing systems are purely phonetic - each character representing a single syllable. Take a look at the front page of a Japanese newspaper and show it to an English speaker, they will think it's "crowded", but I bet if you translated it to English you'd see something that resembles a typical English paper.
The reason that you might think that Japanese is more "bloated" is probably because the form of the language you hear most - in TV news and speeches - are in the "polite" form. In that case, they mean to be verbose. But in the casual form, the same thing can be said much shorter.
Also, keep in mind that Japanese has a very different phonetic system. Their phonetic intuition is mostly based on "mora" and many find the notion of syllable confusing and inconsistent. I don't think these two are very comparable (at least mentally).
It's funny that you mentioned that a Japanese newspaper looks more "crowded" than English one. Japanese people would think the exact opposite. The "information density" is really in the eye of the beholder.
The methods this paper employed may certainly be biased in a way that makes Japanese appear less information-dense than other languages.
As for the _written_ language's density, that's entirely different! You say that as written, translations come out to be about the same in Japanese and English, I assume this corresponds to roughly the same number of characters as well? If so, if we can believe the authors of the paper above that Japanese has less information-per-syllable, then perhaps Japanese writing's syllabic/ideographic writing system accounts for this handily such that the information density of _written_ Japanese is about the same as written English.
For what it's worth, I think you were agreeing with me actually:
> Take a look at the front page of a Japanese newspaper and show it to an English speaker, they will think it's "crowded", but I bet if you translated it to English you'd see something that resembles a typical English paper.
What I meant here was that in terms of _written_ information density there are clearly significant gains made thanks to the writing system.
Japanese usually has less characters, but Japanese character are bigger than average latin character.
For example, a random ad on the Yahoo Japan homepage proclaims 予約来場いただくと進呈QUOカード５０００円分, which means "get a 5000 yen gift card if you come visit", but uses literary words like 来場 (arrival/visit) and 進呈 (gift) that would rarely be used in spoken Japanese, and even the polite いただく (to humbly receive) is in the short "dictionary" form instead of being conjugated out the way it would be in speech.
Not op, but I can answer.
Not very common (reported speech, simulating speech, etc.).
You see this in NES/SNES-era game translations. Both versions of the game had to use the same number of characters. So the level of detail in English is quite low compared to the original.
Recently, modders have hacked the English versions of the games to add variable-width fonts to achieve more true translations. Breath of Fire 2 is a good example.
Because each character is equivalent to an entire syllable in English, not a letter.
For example look at the wikipedia article for mother in english vs Japanese
In the English sections with pictures there's significantly more white space between the text and pictures than in the Japanese version.
 : https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/9/eaaw2594
- Why's it so hot today? = 6 syllables
- Nande konna ni atsui no kyou? = 10 syllables (spoken colloquially)
What about written length? You can see the Japanese sentence is a little longer here (when the English uses a non-monospaced font). It's also enough to demonstrates the why using kanji doesn't always provide the huge reduction/compression that you're expecting.
- Why's it so hot today?
Do you understand than 1 kana represents 1 syllable? They are BY DEFINITION, more concise than Latin letters.
> 1 kana represents 1 syllable
ちゅ <-- 2 kana, 1 syllable
> BY DEFINITION, more concise than Latin letters
smash <-- 1 syllable, 5 latin letters, ~3 kana in length
スマッシュ <-- 5 kana
Where in the US are you from?
Japanese sentences are usually shorter than the english translation.
This is just wrong as characters are much more concise than using Alphabet because of use of Kanji and the like.