When we talk about User Experience (UX) design process, we refer to all those elements that contribute to making a website more user-friendly.
How a visitor perceives your site depends on several very different factors: aesthetics, speed, colour palette, functionality, and clarity all play a part in the usability of a page. As more and more websites compete for people’s attention, offering a great user experience has become essential to stand out from the crowd and make one’s product, service or message memorable. However, what a user might find pleasant is highly dependant on culture and on what an individual’s habits are. Because of this, web designers based on opposite sides of the globe may have a completely different idea of what good UX is.
In this article, we’ll look into how Japanese UX design processes differ from European approaches. By looking at some examples, we will explain how culture can affect the style and the structure of a website, helping you understand how design always connects to a broader context. By understanding how UX design processes change in different parts of the world, you’ll have a clearer image of how new customer groups can be reached and spoken to.
What is UX Design process?
The User Experience (UX) design process involves all the techniques and strategies designers use to make the navigation of a website more pleasant and meaningful for the visitor. UX design, in fact, is composed of various elements, starting from the way the brand is presented to the structure of the site. In general terms, a web designer that keeps UX in mind will try to find the best balance between aesthetics, functionality, and usability.
A UX web designer doesn’t only focus on the User Interface (UI), or what the visitor sees when they land on a page. A UX designer has to be aware of the whole customer’s journey and will, therefore, take into account what happens before, during, and after a transaction. Every step of the journey can provide valuable insight for a designer willing to increase a website’s engagement or revenue. But while approaches vary, understanding the target audience and their cultural background is essential to improving the look and feel of a website.
Information or distraction? Typography in European and Japanese UX design
Picture yourself walking in the streets of central Tokyo. What is the first image that comes to mind? Strong neon lights, overlapping shop signs, and lots of text and colourful visuals, trying to conquer your attention. What may feel like an overcrowded atmosphere in Europe is normality in Japan. Something similar happens in UX web design. While a minimalistic aesthetic seems to have become the standard in Europe, the Japanese still prefer to present the user with as much information as possible.
Let’s look at an example from McDonald’s. In their British version that main call-to-action (CTA) shows a single product with few words that express the essence of the burger. In the Japanese version, on the other hand, the CTA contains much more text, telling the viewer about pricing, different product varieties and sizes.
The importance of typography in the Japanese UX design process is even more evident when we scroll down to the central part of the home page. While in the UK website, the focus remains on a limited number of messages and heavy use of imagery, the Japanese version presents the user with small blocks of text that give immediately all the information needed.
Why is typography so important in Japan UX design? On average, Japanese people expect to receive more information before deciding to buy a product. It happens in real-life shops, in newspaper advertising, in television, and, of course, also on websites. The text-heavy Japanese websites may appear cluttered to the European eye, but they are designed to provide the best user experience to domestic customers.
Colour usage in Japanese and European UX web design
When looking at some of the largest Japanese websites, a European user may find the design a bit retro, with blocks organised to squeeze in the page as much information as possible and bold colours that guide the eye through headers and buttons. However, what may seem chaotic for people in the Western part of the world, is the ideal way to present products to Japanese people, who are used to scan through text-rich pages and prefer to know up-front what they are getting themselves into.
Colours play a crucial role in the presentation of the content on both Japanese and European websites, but what is considered visually appealing changes depending on where you are. While in Europe the colour red is usually associated with relevant calls-to-action or to errors, in Japan it is used more freely, as it is synonymous with positivity and good deals.
Let’s look at two examples to better understand how colour coding works.
Website UX design Japanese process: a case study
Rakuten is a Japanese marketplace selling product that ranges from tech to clothing. It is the largest e-commerce store in the country and one of Japan’s most visited websites, ranking in Alexa’s Top 10 of most visited websites in Japan.
The home page employs a bright pink and red palette to highlight discounts, deals, and offers. These, however, are not the only colours used: we find bold yellows and blues that help the user find their way through dozens of products.
The product photography is also typical of Japanese UX design: the objects on sale tend to be portrayed in a real-life situation. You can see food being eaten, a blender being turned on, a flat-screen TV sitting in a living room. The brands appear to be secondary to the products put under the spotlight.
The top-bar menu is also very rich in content: rather than using drop-down labels or a hamburger button, every link is explicit, filling the whole screen when navigating from a desktop.
Considering that Rakuten is one of the most successful websites in Japan, it is clear that minimalism doesn’t work as well in Japan as it does in Europe. Both showing and explaining all there is to know about a product immediately is a more successful UX strategy than one could expect.
Website UX design European process: a case study
Let’s take a look at the UK version of Rakuten’s website to understand the differences between Japanese and European UX design processes.
The first thing one notices when comparing the two home pages is the bold colours of the Japanese website versus the softer, more natural feel of the UK website. In this version, Rakuten has left most of the page white, allowing the colours to emerge from photography in the hero section.
The red that was so prominent in the Japanese site is used sparingly in the UK version, only for the calls-to-action and the primary logo. Text is also reduced to a minimum, with a strong focus on the brands available, rather than on the benefits a user can obtain by buying the products.
The top menu is also hidden behind the hamburger icon on the top left, allowing the user to navigate directly to the three key benefits and the deals positioned under the header.
Another noticeable difference is in the product’s photography. Rakuten’s UK homepage shows a selection of “cold” images that show the products floating, without showing how they will be used in a real-life scenario.
What is good UX web design? It depends on the culture!
As we’ve seen, there is no universal rule when it comes to the UX design process. Working with many European clients, we have noticed a developing trend, especially in e-commerce websites, where content is reduced to a minimum to avoid distracting the user. Too many colours, calls-to-action, links, images or videos are seen as undesirable, as they may cause a customer to leave before completing a purchase or subscribing. In Japan, however, there is no such thing as too much information: text, colours, and images are all useful tools to explain in detail the benefits of a product or service.
By looking at the examples above, it becomes evident that understanding the target audience of a website can make a massive difference in terms of UX design choices. They also remind us of the importance of a good localisation strategy for those companies who desire to reach a global audience, adopting practices that may seem counterintuitive to interact with cultures used to a completely different navigation experience.