Have you ever looked at a Chinese website before? If not take a look at sina.com.cn. It’s a popular infotainment website used by Chinese communities all over the world.
It covers news, entertainment, games, blogs and microblogging and features a QR code. How would you describe the design of this website?
Complicated, cluttered or confusing? Too busy, too many links or too much flash? These are just some of the criticisms that have been used to describe Chinese websites. I think in the recent past this would have been fair, but things are changing.
In this blog I’m going to look at some popular Chinese websites and compare them to their western equivalents. Are they similar or very different? Why do Chinese website designers use the styles they do? Read on to find out more and please leave some comments at the end if you agree, disagree or have something you want to add.
I’m going to look at some Chinese websites and their western equivalent to see if there are any major differences.
Lets start with e-commerce sites Taobao and eBay. The most popular C2C shopping site in China is taobao.com.
At first glance it looks like a mix between Chinese and western style websites: a cluttered homepage, lots of links that open in new windows or tabs, a little complicated, but also a simple white background and obvious navigation at the top of the page.
The top banner is used for adverts and there are also flash ads in the middle of the page.
When compared against the eBay website below there are some striking differences.
EBay’s homepage is longer, but the simple layout and minimal colours make it easy to quickly scan the page. There are lots of links to various products and clear navigation and a search bar at the top of the page.
The Taobao page is more colourful than eBay and the layout is more cluttered, but it still has very obvious navigation.
A distinct difference is the use of flash ads in the body of the homepage, which is common on Chinese websites. Western websites seem less inclined to have as many distractions compared to Chinese sites.
The sign-up page for both websites is practically the same, using the same colour scheme and layout. This is an example of how Chinese sites basically copy the best western examples. But this trend is changing as I’ll show below.
Recently with Renren users falling the site has adapted and diversified away from Facebook a little. Below is a more recent example of the Renren homepage.
Renren became popular by selling itself as the ‘Facebook of China’, but as social media has developed in China so has the need to be different to attract young Chinese users.
As is well known certain sites are blocked in China such as Youtube. The same is true of Facebook, which is why there are many direct copies of content and design.
And just as Renren tried to fill the space of Facebook, sites such as youku.com are competing to fill the void in the market left by Youtube.
The website design is practically the same with the only difference being where the navigation is placed. In fact almost all video sharing sites in China have the same basic layout.
The western version has a big flash banner ad at the top of the page as opposed the Chinese version though. But there is more advertising in general on Youku and lots of pop-ups as you navigate the site and many pre- and post-roll ads.
Western microblogging sites also fall prey to the Chinese censors with Twitter being blocked.
The Twitter feed follows a simple well know style. New Tweets appear at the top of the page and filter down in real time. The background can be customized, but there are no obvious adverts.
The most popular Chinese microblogging platform weibo.com is perhaps more text rich and has more obvious advertising than Twitter. In general the design is in line with western model.
There are a few stylistic differences such as personal information being on the right hand of the page. The biggest difference is the advertising at the top of the feed and also on the right hand banner.
This is a recurring theme throughout Chinese websites as we’ll see on the following examples.
One of the most popular travel websites in China is ctrip.com.
Unlike Expedia which is more focused on searching, Ctrip has more links and deals on its homepage. There is also the more obvious advertising space in the top right hand area.
The Expedia homepage features an advert under the search box. But in general the site is set up for users to search for what they want, whereas the Chinese version has many more images and suggestions to help users find what they are looking for.
Alipay is the most popular finance platform in China and is integrated into many e-commerce websites.
Alipay.com provides a number of services and some of these can be reached from the homepage. The top banner has four adverts related to Alipay products that rotate continuously.
This is in stark contrast to the PayPal homepage below.
The top of the homepage features an advert for PayPal. It’s a video about the services that PayPal offers. Lower down the homepage is more information about the benefits of PayPal.
There are a few similarities in design of these two finance platforms. Both are selling their services to users who visit the homepage. They both use a limited colour scheme and big striking images.
The differences are that the PayPal homepage is much longer, but is so simple and clear that it’s easy to scroll down and not miss anything.
The biggest difference is the fact that Alipay is much more text rich a uses more images. The images that it does use are in the rotating banner at the top of the page.
It’s well known that Baidu is heavily influenced by Google’s design. A big difference in design is that on the Google search page there is the ‘knowledge graph’.
The biggest difference in the design of the two search engines is the fact Baidu does not make the ads in the search results as obvious as Google.
Otherwise it would seem that both websites are designed exactly the same. They use a similar colour scheme, a similar style of presenting the results and an almost identical layout.
Some brands have a presence in various countries but their websites are sometimes very different. Lets look at KFC China.
This website very much falls into the ‘Chinese website design’ category. It has lots of information, links and pictures on the homepage. Something interesting to note at this point is the use of the QR code on the right hand side.
This is a common feature on many Chinese websites to help facilitate the popularity of mobile in China. A quick scan via WeChat for example can give a user many more options related to O2O.
Compared to the KFC US version below the Chinese version couldn’t be any more different.
The American version uses a flash banner, but it is very simple and all the information is in one window. Although they are the same brand the websites give the user totally different information.
The Chinese version of this well-known shopping site is almost exactly the same as the western version. The only difference is the products that appear on the home page.
So what are the biggest differences between Chinese and western websites? Well, from the examples of mainstream websites I have looked at not much. Chinese website design has come a long way in the past few years mainly driven by demand from users.
Websites that are blocked in China are replaced with Chinese versions that are almost carbon copies of their western equivalents. That is they are simple, sleek and easy to navigate in general.
The five biggest differences between Chinese and western websites are:
Of course there are some features of Chinese websites that will take time to change. The fact that links open in a new window is something that is quite ingrained in Chinese internet users consciousness. Why change something that is not that big a deal?
But the five differences that I have pointed out stem from what users in China want. Mobile is so important in China and QR codes help to facilitate integration between desktop and mobile.
Flash is a legacy issue in China and the wider use of colour schemes and more colourful sites in general is something that Chinese users like. Using more images too is also a feature that appeals to Chinese users and has links to the Chinese written language.
Finally pop-up advertising, something that the majority of western internet users don’t like, is something that Chinese users accept. It’s for this reason that you see a lot more advertising on Chinese websites.
Although Chinese website design has a reputation for directly copying, there are many design features that western marketers should consider if they want to create websites that will appeal to a Chinese audience.
Cover image: greycoder.com
All screenshoots taken from relevant websites
What features of western website design do you think Chinese designers should incorporate? Do you think there’s anything western website designers could learn from China? Please leave some a comment, I’d love to know what you think.