Also: the Golden Gate needs a better agent. Given how many times that bridge has appeared in photo backdrops, it should be rich enough by now to stretch further into Marin.
The author is conflating two things which don't necessarily have any bearing on each other - equating fickle trends in design to mastery.
Flat icons, low-contrast fonts, parallax scrolls or whatever else are not necessarily an evolution in, much less mastery of web design.
People in glass houses should not throw stones.
1998 might have been "boy-band era" for YOUR culture. Not for everyone in the world. The have their own culture, they don't have to escape to some current trend in the USA.
Language Barrier - The web and most of the programming languages which drive it were designed by English speakers or western corporations and hence the majority of documentation and educational resources are also in English. Although much gets translated this still causes a delay in new technologies and trends being adopted.
1. Many of the Japanese coders I've met have put in the effort to learn English. They might not be able to carry fluent geopolitical conversations, but they do tend to have enough chops to read API docs and skim code. Most of the Japanese professionals I've met, in any trade, are ultra professional, and will do whatever it takes to stay on top of their craft, including learning English if needed.
2. It's easy to forget that some of these programming languages, notably Ruby, are actually from Japan. As recently as a few years ago, some of my favorite resources for Ruby were in Japanese, out in front of English.
3. Go to a Japanese bookstore and check out the section for programmers. More recent web languages/tech, like node.js, are not well represented. But then look to the next shelf and you'll see something like Unity stacked to the ceiling. It could be that Japanese coders would rather work on different kinds of projects, spend their time learning new tech in those domains instead of the web, and only see the web as a means to an end. I wouldn't consider this a "language barrier", but rather a difference in priorities.
I put a longer response addressing this point in a different thread, but you're interacting with the cohort that has already chosen to be a computer programmer. It's a biased sample group. I would expect people with no interest in learning English would be disinclined to even enter programming.
(This is still tertiary to actual cultural preferences in web design, mind you.)
Japan and Germany export tons of complex high-tech machinery but not much end-user facing software. And it's not just software, it's also global ad agencies, the film industry or even music. There are of course exceptions like Sony and SAP.
Examples for the reputation of things are a little difficult to come by, because it's a feeling you get when you talk to people. But look at the names of contributors to open source software.
If you see a Russian name, the odds are high that they are working on some of the most challenging engineering parts far away from anything user facing. You'll see them work on garbage collectors (https://plus.google.com/113761107534428240799/posts/LjPnay7h...), web servers (http://sysoev.ru/en/), (http://cesanta.com/), that sort of thing.
Of course you see people from the US do these things too, but the distribution appears to be different.
If they have to put in an effort, there _is_ a barrier. Compare that with parts of Europe, where the first words kids learn to read are "OK", "Cancel", "Yes", "No", and "Level". And that's only a slight exaggeration. That's a barrier, too, but a lower one.
In Germany, for example, it's pretty easy to find major websites which are fixed-width, left aligned and looking dated. There's no real geographic or historical reason for how it is, other than the fact that their neighbours have a similar style.
In a similar vein, many startups have similar designs. Even on the Internet, where you can connect with anyone in the world, there's a lot of tending towards those who are closest to you.
If I look at these sites (picked because I have seen them in use, because I know they're 'important'), I'm having trouble understanding the design decisions as well
So .. isn't this just these sites catering to their local culture? Who cares about people from overseas shaking their head?
- Compared to English, Japanese text can cram more information into an easily-skimmable space, but typing is slower, so cluttered, link-rich interfaces have an advantage. This may well explain why Yahoo! Japan's portal is so much more popular than Google's.
- I can well imagine that, in the minds of the staid gerontocrats who maintain an iron grip on Japanese corporate life, a website is merely a modern version of those "me! me! me!" brochures that get shoved in my mailbox every day. So it's natural that they would expect it to look like one.
- Japanese culture is not nearly as minimalist as its made out to be in the West. Minimalism has its place, of course, but in commercial spaces its all about competing for attention, to the point of sensory overload.
I second this theory. A similar version of this happened in China too. A few years back, when Baidu was still copying Google's minimal design pixel by pixel, they suddenly discovered that it was losing traffic to a random site with only one static html page setup: hao123, which also fit into the 'cluttered, link-rich' interface category. Baidu ended up acquiring hao123, spending close to a million dollars on a few lines of html. Note that Chinese language bears quite some similarities to Japanese, they are both character based and typically a hassle to type in large chunks.
I'm British, living in the US, and I've always felt this way about America. I recently heard from an American friend that he felt exactly the same when visiting Britain.
Not sure what to make of it, but it's interesting!
 "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"
Before i got to your comment, reading the grandparent about this being a 1980s future immediately put me in mind of something else William Gibson said in ~1993:
"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed"
Meh, I don't think this is really a worry. We still read Shakespeare - we just have to make an extra effort to understand the nuances. In fact, that's part of what makes it so interesting.
The "same", meaning he felt like Britain was stuck in 1980's version of the future? Or the past? Strange, my experience and I think the usual experience of Americans visiting GB/Europe is of feeling like you've timewarped into the past. How far depends on where you visit. Paris/London may feel twenty years back, other places fifty or a hundred.
My impression was that something "modern" in Britain would tend to fit a stereotypical 1980s-era optimistic prediction of what the early 21st century would be like. Compared to the U.S., a "modern" space in the U.K. seems to me a little more ordered, neat, well-packaged, brightly lit, and perhaps a little more sterile than its counterpart in the U.S.
Of course, most spaces in the U.K. are not like this. But that may be why such "modern" spaces exist: if your town has an 800 year-old castle, and your pub is 150 years old and filled with well-worn, comfy furniture, having other more brightly-lit, ordered spaces is probably an interesting contrast.
My impression of the U.S. is that "modern" spaces are a little more warm, and less concerned with presenting an ordered and tidy facade. For example, it's easier to find "modern" spaces with exposed ceiling pipes, building supports, etc, in the U.S., whereas those seemed almost always hidden away in British spaces.
But at the same time, you don't have nearly the same amount of contrast between spaces. So it's hard for me to find a "pub" in the U.S. that has the same warmth and comfy feel as a U.K. pub.
Design where correctness is defined as optimizing some metric goal, like designing an electronic circuit for maximum performance at a fixed price, or the strongest bridge pylon for a fixed cost or perhaps for a fixed concrete volume.
Design where correctness is defined as a large group of people trying to imitate each other at an optimum distance as close as possible without introducing legal difficulties with accusations of direct copying and not failing at user interaction much worse than anyone else.
Web design and most software UI is obviously almost entirely in the latter category.
A huge source of disaster and trouble is people using language and attitudes from one category in the other category.
I'm not sure what to google / wikipedia for... this must be well trodden ground after a couple millenia of ladies high fashion clothing design, for example.
> Logographic-based languages... actually allow Japanese speakers to become comfortable with processing a lot of information in short period of time / space
not true - article with references: http://persquaremile.com/2011/12/21/which-reads-faster-chine...
> Japanese doesn’t have italics or capital letters which limits the opportunities for adding visual punch that you get with latin alphabets
Italics and capital letters have little or nothing to do with how 'Western' web layouts are generally created, and are far from the only way to create emphasis or hierarchy in text.
> Language Barrier... Although much gets translated this still causes a delay in new technologies and trends being adopted
Is the claim that the Japanese are technologically behind the rest of the world? Why would web development/design be different than almost every other technical industry? This sounds much more like surface intuition than considered insight
> Risk Avoidance
This might help explain why Japanese websites look similar to each other, but not why they look different from 'Western' websites. You could make a similar claim about big sites like Microsoft and Yahoo that have copied the look an feel of Google, or the mass of slightly-modified Bootstrap-based 'Western' sites. Risk avoidance/copying is universal - it does not explain the difference between Japanese and non-Japanese websites.
> Consumer Behaviour - People require a high degree of assurance, by means of lengthy descriptions and technical specifications, before making a purchasing decision
Evidence, or is this just a personal observation?
> Advertising – Rather than being seen as a tool to enable people Japanese companies often see the web as just another advertising platform to push their message across as loudly as possible
Haven't Google, MS, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, everyone demonstrated that this is the goal of what they're doing? It's not culturally unique.
> Urban Landscape
This has some research to back it up - Nisbett, Masuda, Shah, others
Other claims also read as casual inductive observations that don't hold up to much scrutiny. There probably are very interesting reasons why web design appears to be so culturally influenced, but this article doesn't really elucidate much.
>Is the claim that the Japanese are technologically behind the rest of the world? Why would web development/design be different than almost every other technical industry?
Many programming languages are based on English and the Latin script. Programming, and more specifically web programming, requires a level of fluency with English and its alphabet that I would expect significantly decreases the available talent pool in non-Anglo countries, especially countries with different writing systems.
No other technologies lean so heavily a specific language. Math and science are universal and independent of any language. Computer science is universal. Computer programming is not.
Comparing a country like Vietnam (that uses a Latin script) to another equivalent Asian country might be interesting.
Sure they can go read an IEEE article, but 9/10 times they'll go to a Japanese source b/c it's so much easier for them.
For programming it's probably only worse. I imagine there is a Japanese equivalent to Stack Exchange, but it will have a tiny fraction of the help you get on the English language one. It's probably like programming in the 90s! =)
It's as if mammals evolved on an island without any dinosaurs, and then swam over to the mainland.
Either way, isn't Japan also famous for its engineering prowess? I doubt that country with such high engineering competency will lack talent for web development simply because of the language barrier (if there is actually the lack of talent at all). I'm not saying language barrier doesn't exist but if language barrier didn't prevent them from having companies like Konami, Square Enix, Namco, Bandai, Nintendo or Sony then why would it prevents them to have more web developers?
Ruby was created by a Japanese for that matter.
Because UX/design = programming..?
I'm not the OP, but I am working on side projects here in Japan with two guys working for local large internet players, and I personally worked for another very large one where I was close to technological decisions at the company level, so I'll offer more than "surface intuition".
Language barrier exists. Not only the lack of documentation (which is real), but the lack of Japanese stackoverflow (&co.) answers, fewer people on the mailing lists, and other language related problems seriously hamper the adoption of new technologies. It is also one of the many factors behind the large amount of NIH seen around. Using open source maintained libraries in your software makes less sense if no one on your team will be able to read the docs, changelogs, & co. NDAs prevent me to cite examples, but I'm sure you get the point.
This article and references is about continued reading speed (bandwidth), and as it notes all languages read at similar speed, because the bottleneck is in cognitive processing. Actually, how adults read English is not much different from how they read Chinese -- ie. we do not parse individual letters, just as a Chinese reader does not parse character components.
But for a shopping website, the relevant issue is not bandwidth, but latency -- ie. how fast the reader can recognize what's written on a button, and I suspect the results there may be quite different.
You can bold, color, and shadow Japanese text just fine though, so I don't really see the author's point.
They are key to graphic design. Though even in the West, web designers have only been waking up to formal graphic design in the last few years.
> Haven't Google, MS, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, everyone demonstrated that this is the goal of what they're doing?
The real money now is in commerce, and Japan is well-known for being behind in online commerce due to trust issues with plastic money. I guess that leaves them with old model of ads which would explain the 'million-dollar homepage' look.
Just a guess though.
It would look really jumbled, incoherent, and poorly architected. Given that you can speak English, it's relatively easy to digest the nav, suggested books, ads, etc.
My guess is that there are cultural expectations driving their design choices (particularly in color scheme). But the biggest difference is probably the fact that their type appears impossibly complicated. Nothing more.
I have a retina screen now, but the effect of cheap Windows laptops on the aesthetics of Japanese text shouldn't be underestimated either.
Japanese startups, on the other hand, appear to enjoy their SV-style big stock photos, large bold text and colourful calls to action:
But with 2000+ characters to choose from, written text can be very dense.
For tweets from their marketing department, they would write a tweet in Japanese first which would fit into a single tweet, but would spill over between 3 tweets when translated to English.
Within the FFXIV game, they had a chat box (like chat in many MMOs). The input field for typing in text only allowed 80 or so characters. This was fine for Japanese, but for English it was extremely limited. They fixed it soon after release, but it was something the dev team didn't realize as they were all Japanese.
I disagree in general with his statement, but Nobel Prize winner in physics Hideki Yukawa said that "The Japanese mentality is, in most cases, unfit for abstract thinking, and takes interest merely in tangible things".
Also, those patterns are not unique to Asian websites.
If you go to cnn.com or msn.com, they're not that different either.
Since Japanese sites apparently look like they have not evolved since they were last like English sites around 1998, the better question might have been what factors have been driving evolution of English sites which did not affect Japanese?
You may add other languages, but I'll just stick with Japanese since it is referenced by the OP.
http://yahoo.com and http://yahoo.co.jp both have similar, tight aesthetic with a lot going on.
http://youtube.com (view in incognito if you are signed into an account http://nicovideo.jp are very similarly information-dense. I'd say Youtube's layout is even more jumbled with all the different column widths as you go down the page.
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/ and http://newyorktimes.com are both very information-dense, with a lot of text on the page.
And these are the cherry-picked examples that this very article chose.
Here are some other sites that are among the most popular in Japan:
- http://naver.jp - Clean, Google-like simplicity
- http://www.ameba.jp/ - Very common splash page style front page, and inside is a very busy social-network-like page, but not really that much different from Facebook, except the ads are a bit more tastefully done.
- http://www.nifty.com/ - Yahoo-like portal
Do these sites really look that different to you? If your answer is yes, I'm going to guess that you probably don't read Japanese, and that it being an unfamiliar jumble of characters is what makes it look weird/different/intimidating. Look past that, though, and you'll see that the similar sites ended up at a similar conclusion, even if aren't mirror images.
About a year ago, yahoo.com and yahoo.co.jp looked rather different. Yahoo! Japan's portal was astonishingly cluttered. Then it seems that Yahoo! HQ cracked the whip and ordered everyone to get in line, so the Japanese site became more like the US one. Still pretty messy, but nowhere near the sensory overload levels it reached before.
Now, it looks like Yahoo! have cleaned up their site more, and turned it more into more of a "What's hot!" portal. But, on my browser, Yahoo! Japan hasn't changed yet.
Of course, the article is cherry-picking a bit, but I don't think it's being unfair. Popular Japanese sites, including big e-shops, are garish and cluttered to a degree that would be unacceptable in the West.
Japan is a very pluralistic country and there are going to be all kinds of different styles and personalities there in any field you choose.
My feeling is that big companies take a long time to change design. In the US, sites like the new york times, Dell, yahoo, Ebay, Techcrunch, zappos all had, at one point recently, really old-looking or just plain bad websites.
Even amazon is busted. Try searching for something and navigating to the 10th page of your search results. amazon is a wasteland in terms of usability and design.
There was some study done awhile ago within China that I can't find the link to that compared the designs of a complicated site like sina.com.cn with text and images all over the place and compared it with a much simpler design that practiced white space and minimalism. It showed that the Chinese actually preferred complicated designs over simple designs. Having lived in China, this makes sense to me because of the culture. Simplicity and white space is not very well practiced. The "East Meets West" graphic by Yang Liu is probably a good example of some of the cultural differences.
While there are a bunch of reasons for why it is the way it is, I think a big part of it is the goddamned Keitai. For a lot of Japanese, the only way they ever accessed the web was via their mobile phone. Until smartphones, this meant a very very dumbed down experience. Sadly, even now that smartphones are prevalent, there's still an attitude of "Let's wait and see if this smartphone fad keeps up for a while..."
Enterprise versus consumer apps is the same story - lack of disruption and consumer choice leads to decisions that make sense only to the middlemen.
I regularly used a fax machine at my job in Japan, and personal computers were not prevalent in my workplace. Businesses are very conservative and don't want to stand out.
In Japan, print is still the dominant way of spreading information. I always figured that the best designers ended up as print designers—and my web developer friends used Dreamweaver.
Not only that, CSS is very inconsistent with its english: "visibility: visible" OK! so then the opposite is "visibility: invisible" right? No. It's hidden.
Is it just cultural ignorance on Apple's behalf or do Japanese people secretly appreciate this design style (given the popularity of Apple products in Japan)?
Search is an afterthought, and if you want to get to something at the bottom of a category page, have fun wading through several dynamic sub-category load times.
"Apache/2.2.8 (Ubuntu) mod_jk/1.2.25 mod_python/3.3.1 Python/2.5.2 PHP/5.2.4-2ubuntu5.27 with Suhosin-Patch mod_ssl/2.2.8 OpenSSL/0.9.8g mod_perl/2.0.3 Perl/v5.8.8 Server at randomwire.com Port 80"
If this is your server, you shouldn't be giving so much information away. Make would-be attackers work a be at enumerating you.
Google captured the page before it went down :)
The requested URL /why-japanese-web-design-is-so-different was not found on this server.
Apache/2.2.22 (Ubuntu) Server at randomwire.com Port 80
They have a U.S.-sized population and nearly U.S.-sized industrial base running inside a California-sized archipelago. They've gotten good at making the most of space.
Wow, this is like saying their clothes look different from ours because their sowing machines are too old. Their hair styles are different because their scissors have longer blades, their food is different because they use chopsticks - ETC.
Their web design is different because they are different culturally. Their tastes and preferences are stylistically different. just because their gardens are liked in the west, does not mean we like all of their stylistic preferences. This blog post is completely wrong IMO. "Enough said".