Websites Appearance: Criterions and Examples
Turning to practice, it is possible to see that the design of user interfaces in different countries demonstrates cultural differences in set of colors, degree of assistance in navigation, information-intensity, extent of its grouping, etc. It is possible to identify a number of the most important parameters for further analysis of websites. The first and foremost are iconic symbols. There will be complexity in matching one-to-one relation between specific concepts and iconic symbols in different cognitive contexts. Accordingly, creation of user-friendly interface designed for multicultural audience requires professionalism in designing iconic signs, because of the need to analyze the subject area and the cultural characteristics of the target audience and determine the composition and features of iconic signs.
The second class of problems in iconic is associated with a representation of abstract concepts as objects, expressed by iconic signs or represented in the form of visual metaphors. Depiction of abstract concepts in different cultures, differentiation within the iconic symbols, figural objects, pictograms indicating the nature of performing action, pictograms used as functional analogue and denoting the result of the performed steps should be considered. As it is well known, the basic functions of iconic signs include:
• notation of similarity to a particular object;
• replacement or representation of an object;
• illustrative and communicative function.
According to observations, high-context cultures’ websites contain more pictures and less text than sites of low context cultures. However, it is clear enough that the images (signs, icons) may be perceived in quite a different way in different cultures. For example, Arab resources show many national and religious symbols regardless of the topic. National symbols are in a very active use in Japanese resources. Not all of the iconic signs that are easily understandable to representatives of Western cultures can be adequately understood in the cultures of the East.
And, accordingly, vice versa. As more as possible neutral symbols should be used to avoid pragmatic inconsistencies when dealing with multicultural audience. As for set of colors, first of all, it is very important to consider the principle of functional, physiological and emotional relevance, and only then the factor of cultural specificity. It can be noted that in most European e-resources used gray and brown hues, while in Asian e-resources dominates hues of red. However, the symbolism of the color can be interpreted ambiguous too.
From the standpoint of navigation parameters menu layout, interface objects used and the place of the text in the site’s space are important in the chosen context. For example, Arabic and Israeli text is read from right to left, you can still meet the vertical inscriptions or entire articles in Japanese and Chinese. Parameters of access to pages and information also may have significant importance. In some cultures, users usually must have the permission to see certain information, while in other cultures information is mostly publicly available.
errors and instructions for navigation
In addition, there are differences in the interaction with users: errors and instructions for navigation can be placed in a rude form, while they may be accompanied by polite comments explaining why something possibly went wrong, and providing instructions on how to fix it. As for the menu, the Russian and Asian e-resources usually have vertical menu, while Western one – horizontal. It is connected to the construction of site, for example, the majority of American resources occupy the entire width of the page, while in the Arab sites there is the «top-down» structure. Specificity of filling the site with content can also be differentiated according to cultural factors.
In cultures with a high index of individualism, for example, for most of the web resources the method of open content is used that means users are able to add and edit the information placed, which is not typical for collectivist cultures. E-resources of individualistic cultures are usually characterized by ease of presentation, clarity of metaphors, navigation menu organized to prevent the user from getting lost, etc. Comparing the design of sites of different cultures, it can also be seen that, for example, Asians prefer «pop-ups», which are very rarely seen on the resources of northern Europe. Chinese websites often contain several simultaneous animations, overlays, sliders.
This can be explained mostly by the fact that the pop-ups do not appear immediately but after some time. This is unusual for low context Western cultures because of being annoying and distracting for their representatives, and, on the contrary, is positively perceived by Asian users. It has been observed that the representatives of Asian cultures do not like to type text; they prefer to click on the links, so their sites are often overloaded with links, images, and other interface elements, which allow avoiding typing. Such a variety of elements often shocks representatives of low context cultures.
There is one more type of differences between cultures – they pay attention to different objects in the website considering the different types of information to be important. Moreover, according to D. Matsumoto (Matsumoto, 2002), people from various cultural groups may use different strategies for working with information. For example, there is a tendency to make decisions based on the representativity in cultures with high level of such Hofstede’s cultural dimension as uncertainty avoidance.
This trend is affects user interaction with the interface too. That means that graphical applications in the form of presentations, models, etc. are needed in addition to the text information. Representatives of high context cultures often prefer descriptions to the facts, while the inhabitants of the countries with a high index of uncertainty avoidance tend to get detailed information. So that variety of sources of information should be offered on the international e-resource: descriptive text, statistics, pictures, videos (ofdifferent styles), etc.
After all, according to research of R. Zaltsman (Zaltsman, 2003), in a present-day cross-cultural information space there is a tendency of transferring Western web culture to the web space of the East, and the eastern web culture largely begins to adapt to the western.