I’m inspired. I woke up at 6.30am on a Saturday morning and I couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up and I started researching an idea. I’d been talking about website user experience with a colleague of mine, Carla, who is from Peru and is planning a website for Latin entrepreneurs in Australia and I was telling her about how people in Japan prefer a different, more busy look and feel to their websites than we do in the western world (Carla is an engineer).
We were talking about language translations and design layout for websites and I told her about this presentation I saw at Ignite Sydney by a girl called Penny Kuo who explained that people who speak (or learn) a different language, think differently.
I want to explore some more how culture and language influence how people behave online, which I’ve been researching this morning and I’m nowhere near being able to adequately put it down on paper but I just could help myself in starting the ball rolling here.
Some of the things I’ve discovered this morning, with more clarity (because some I already knew professionally and others I already knew instinctively but now I know for sure because somebody else has researched it extensively) are:
– Colour is incredible important.
For example, purple is seen as the colour of the crucifixion in Italy and some parts of Europe and thus users don’t take well to it being used trivially online. Whereas in China yellow is the colour of the emperor and is synonymous with Royalty (whereas in Britain purple might be related to Royalty and yellow to a bumble bee).
In India, red is the colour of purity (hence the tradition to have red wedding dresses, whereas in western culture white implies purity and thus our wedding dresses are white) but in Australia it can represent passion and lust and in some cases anger or evil. There is so much subjectivity depending on the context that the colour is placed in.
– Language is key.
Not only are things spelled differently in different languages ie Munich (in English) versus München (in German), but the length of the word can be different, the orientation of the text can differ, In latin languages we write left to right but in many Arabic or Asian languages they can write from right to left and in some cases they right from top to bottom, like Japanese characters.
– How we describe location is not universal.
Language can affect the forms we use, such as subscription forms, form fields for phone numbers because not every country writes their address in the same order as we do in the west (number, street, state, country). When I was living in Costa Rica, our address was the suburb and our house was described as being opposite the Minimart and the Fig Tree. How delivery and Taxi drivers found us, with our broken Spanish and our poor descriptions, is still a mystery to me.
– Design & Layout reflects culture.
In Japan they love cute and cluttered and animal mascots. In the west this would be considered painful to navigate and childish in perception. But that’s because we see the world differently. In Japan they have a word for “when somebody does something for you, which you really wish they hadn’t, but you can’t complain because they were being nice”, whereas in English we can only describe this as a feeling, there isn’t really a specific word for it.
– History and religion plays a part.
Depending on our recent or past history, we are sensitive to certain things. In the west and particularly in Germany the Swastika is a sign of evil, whereas in India, to the Hindu’s, it represents good luck and well being. In China, when the country opened up to the rest of the world in 1979, its citizens started to travel and study outside of the country and live in the west. Now there is a cultural divide between people who have never lived outside of China and the way they see the world and those who have lived outside of China and have returned home with their better influence from the west.
As you can see, I find this subject fascinating and I plan to explore and share it in much greater detail.