Japanese/Western mobile website aesthetics

About a year ago, I wrote about the differences in Website aesthetics between Japan and the West. I was recently translating the review of a redesigned mobile website, and found a similar aesthetic.

The mobile site was for the Japanese subsidiary of a major European brand/fashion corporation. The company had changed the site from a cutesy, plastered-with-cartoon-animals design to a clean, stylish design inspired by the iPhone, and in fact designed specifically for compatibility with the iPhone. As an example, the page background was changed from white to a wood-inspired, shaded brown. The amount of text on each page was pared down considerably as well.

The company hired to evaluate the site did a focus group-style study with the target audience, and found that the subjects almost universally preferred the old, "busy" site, and found the new site 殺風景 ("drab").

Part of this dreariness may have been an attempt to appeal less to young women, who give lots of eyeballs but not much revenue, and more to older women, who might actually buy some of that overpriced stuff. But the study showed that even women in their 30s and 40s liked the old site design better, cutesy cartoon kittens and all.

On the one had, the company wants to maintain a consistent international image (one remark was that the new site design conforms the the global brand image). But I saw this as another proof that you need to design websites for your audience, not necessarily according to what looks good to you — especially when marketing in different cultures.

3 comments to Japanese/Western mobile website aesthetics

  • There’s so much food for thought here I don’t know where to start.

    In the USA, mobile web browsing was pretty much not worth the trouble up until the iPhone, and now that the iPhone exists, it is the overwhelming favorite. The Pre uses the same web rendering engine and display size; Android also uses the same rendering engine (and many Android phones use the same display size). So it’s fair to say that in the USA, the iPhone has pretty much defined mobile browsing, directly or indirectly. Part of this has made it possible for normal web pages to look good, but it has also prompted a lot of mobile-optimized websites that are designed to look more or less like an iPhone app. IE, drab.

    In Japan, of course, the iPhone is Johnny-come-lately to the mobile web, which for a long time pretty much meant i-mode. The iPhone has become pretty popular there since its launch, but it hasn’t defined mobile browsing.

    So clearly, some people like the iPhone in Japan. Perhaps despite the “drab” aesthetics, perhaps because of it. Which leads me to wonder: the people in this focus group, were they already iPhone users?

  • @Adam

    Ownership of iPhones wasn’t a selection criterion for the focus group, but some of them must have owned them given the demographic numbers in the report.

  • Mameha

    “I saw this as another proof that you need to design websites for your audience, not necessarily according to what looks good to you — especially when marketing in different cultures.”

    – absolutely. I remember seeing a program about Sony and they used the example that people in India like their electronics to be heavy and big, so they put a giant magnet inside all their hifis in order to sell them. There is a very real difference in ‘sense’ or ‘taste’ between different audiences, some countries seem to like it all colorful and sugary.

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