THE JAPANESE WEB | A new language in the making

The striking difference in the design of Japanese websites compared to design trends prevalent in the west has been and still is a fascinating and curious landscape to the western eye, perhaps due to a similarly different and intriguing world of Japanese culture, language and society.

Culture, language and society are arguably most essential to the ubiquity and influence of design in every aspect of our lives, so much so that in fact design eventually becomes the mirror through which the intricacies of our social behaviour become apparent; the advertising industry for instance, thrives on constantly observing, understanding and using this information for monetary value.

Similarly, in web design understanding the user is of paramount importance and it’s from this that the concept of UX (User Experience) has emerged and stamped a paradigm shift on traditional buyer and seller relations in the digital space; providing an experience is now just as important as whatever goods or services are on offer. Visual design (UI), Information architecture (IA) and technology combined in creative ways ensures a good UX ensuring that the user will return which is the whole point to the business, returning users.

The nature of written Japanese affords Japanese designers the luxury of choice in the use of horizontally or vertically oriented text; the manner of reading from left to right in the west would render this a nonsensical design approach in most cases, in Japan however, although the two orientations each have their place (vertical generally used for traditional, or Japanese subject matter and horizontal for contemporary texts) users can readily alternate between reading from left to right or right to left depending on the text orientation, making for an interesting case in typographic considerations when designing for the Japanese user.

If Japanese web design can perhaps be considered (at least at surface level) a reflection of the inner workings of Japanese society and more specifically the Japanese consumer, the resulting UX from a Japanese website or application would likely not quite be what is expected in any usability study conducted in the west; from the complex writing system of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, and exceedingly dominant mobile usage to the highly competitive consumer culture among many other aspects,the web in Japan has certainly evolved into a world of intrigue.

The design sphere in Japan, from digital to interior to architectural and various other disciplines is often seemingly layered with paradoxes: sublime minimalism often existing parallel to overwhelming clutter and chaos, the serenity of temples and shrines in the midst of a bustling metropolis and outdated web technologies such as flash and IE 6 still at large in a country that’s often at the precipice of technological innovation are but a few.

Some websites however, have transcended this juxtaposition and are neatly reshaping those paradoxes into what may be a new and interesting design language.

Suffice to say, the development of the Japanese web design language is something certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Read more about the Japanese design landscape on DMIJ: http://designmadeinjapan.com/

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