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Adapting your Website to China - The Design Edition

Posted in Design on May 26th 2014
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Vice President and Co-founder at IT Consultis

Welcome to part 2 of our "How to adapt your website to China" series. If you missed part 1 and want to know all about the technical details—hosting, licenses, browser compatibility—check it out here! Now that you are all caught up, let's dive into something just as important: localizing your website's UI and UX.

We've said it before and we'll say it again—there’s a huge potential in the Chinese market. Consider this: China is currently the most populous country in the world with 1.3 billion people. Out of those, almost half are regular internet users—a total of 618 million users at the end of 2013 and 81% of them go online via their smartphones compared to just 57% of Americans.

Why Do We Need to Localize UX?

Making sure those 618 million people understand, relate to and at least find your website useful and easy to use should be reason enough. However, when it comes to localizing, most people go one of 2 ways.

Option 1: they build a single version of their website with a consistent layout, and then simply let visitors from all over the world enable the language of their choice.

Option 2: they build various localized versions of the website to better adapt to the culture of the target country. Obviously, this second route takes more time, effort and resources, but if you really want to succeed in the Chinese market, it's the smart choice.

If our first reason wasn't good enough, here are a few more compelling reasons why website localization for China matters.

  1. China has a deeply-ingrained culture. The Chinese are big on culture and tradition. Despite their industrialized ways, cultural identity is important to them. A recent study revealed that Chinese “users visit websites they find culturally proximate.” Therefore, to effectively attract your Chinese audience, be prepared to make your website as culturally relevant to them as possible.
  2. Smartphone usage is hugely popular in China. As we’ve mentioned, 81% of Chinese users go online through their smartphones. The country is actually home to a wide array of brands—not just the well-known and established brands, but relatively new ones as well such as Xiaomi, Coolpad, and Oppo catering to a wide demographic. For this reason, it is extremely important that your web design for China is responsive. Otherwise you are going to miss out on the vast majority of the smartphone-wielding public.

How do I localize UX?

1. Break the Language Barrier.

Google Translate has become increasingly better over the years, but some translations can still be awkward and robotic. This why it's still better to hire a professional who can accurately translate your website from its default language to another, while conserving the underlying tone and getting the intended message across.

  • Remember that a lot can get accidentally lost in translation. Avoid idioms, figures of speech, humor, culturally specific terms, and other problematic language nuances. You don’t want to cause offense when all you wanted was to be funny.
  • The original default language—e.g. English—must be plain, simple, and direct as much as possible to make the translation easy and smooth.
  • An effectively localized website resonates well with customers. After all, there's nothing sweeter than being able to read words in one's own language.

2. Mind your Colors

When catering to the Chinese market, websites need to pay attention to how they use colors on the page. Colors have the power to affect people both psychologically and emotionally and will therefore have an effect on how they perceive your website and what actions they take from it. However, the effects and meanings aren’t universal since they vary from culture to culture. Below is probably the best color comparison chart ever made.

As you can see from the above chart, the Chinese have very strong and peculiar feelings about color when viewed from a western perspective.

  • In Western cultures, red signals danger, fury, romance, passion, and communism, while in China it generally means good luck and happiness and is often used as a bridal color.
  • Orange is associated with Halloween and autumn in the West, while it stands for joy and courage in China.
  • White, on the other hand, might be clean, pure and minimalist in Western culture, but it actually signifies death and mourning in China.
  • Green means dependability in China.
  • Blue is generally a safe color to use since it is universally regarded as a positive color. Companies who want to appear trustworthy use blue in their logo— Facebook, Twitter, Samsung, Pfizer, Internet Explorer and HP just to give a few examples. Blue also signifies immortality in China.

3. Choose Your Values

Not all societies place the same values the same things. Chinese societies in general are more tightly-knit than their Western counterparts. When localizing a website for the Chinese market, keep in mind the values that are important to your audience so you can earn their trust.

  • In 1976 anthropologist Edward T. Hall proposed the theory of high-context and low-context cultures. Simply put, culture greatly influences the way people communicate with each other. This insight is very useful in creating websites that resonate with your target audience.
  • Asian (as well as African and South American) countries are high-context cultures. They tend to value family, friendships, community, and tradition. When communicating, they put emphasis on the context (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, etc.) rather than on the words. Decisions are based on feelings and intuition, and preserving tradition is valued more than progress.
  • Meanwhile, Americans, Brits, Germans, and other Europeans are low-context culture which tend to value individuality, independence, and privacy. Communication is for the most part a clear and straightforward process, using words for their precise meaning instead of relying on context. Their decision-making is mostly based on logic and facts, and their action-oriented lifestyle always strives for progress.
  • This is why you'll often find images of happy, smiling people bonding with their friends and families on Asian websites. Meanwhile, US- and UK-based websites are generally more serious and formal.

What's the Takeaway?

If you keeping all the above in mind, the challenge of designing a website for the Chinese market becomes easier and more feasible. A good mix of user interface and user experience will look something like this:

User Interface (UI)

  • Include visuals. Make use of large, catchy images, dynamic animations and slideshows.
  • Promote values of fun and belongingness. Show images of people in happy situations with their families, friends, and communities while using your product or service.
  • Keep the page content-rich, varied, and busy, with lots of points of interest so users will always find something useful on the page.
  • Engage your visitors by making the website as interactive as possible through chatboxes, tagboards, forums, etc.
  • Select colors with a positive meaning

User Experience (UX)

  • Landing pages are really appreciated
  • Use parallel navigation (as opposed to linear). Pages should open to a new window or tab.
  • Pop-ups are allowed as long as they serve a purpose and aren't overly annoying.
  • Ensure a responsive design to cater to all users regardless of their computing device of choice.

Don't forget the Technicalities!

Of course, some technical factors will have to be considered in localizing websites for the Chinese market. Here's a quick summary if you haven't checked part 1 of this blog series yet:

  • Since you'll be dealing with foreign languages such as simplified Chinese with very complicated characters, UTF-8 can be a great tool.
  • Localizing a website can be more effective when it's done on a localized domain (.cn for China). This is good for geo-targeting purposes, as well as for boosting your site's search engine rankings in that country. Chinese users also prefer local domains since they expect to find content that is specific to their needs. Keep in mind that for this you will need to host your website in Mainland China and have an ICP license!
  • Make sure your website is accessible on a wide range of browsers. Chinese users are still very much Internet Explorer fans, so you should ensure they can get a good UX even in IE8 (or older!). Finally, test your website on people from your target demographics in real time to find out if your website design is usable and as easy to navigate as intended, and to see how they respond. If you have any questions or need any help localizing your website, give us a shout! We are here to help.