China’s changing design trends are driven by Millennials and Gen Z
Coming from a graphic arts background, I’ve always been aware of the different cultural aesthetics we associate with different regions and nations. Colour palettes can range from vibrant to subdued, and the use of imagery and space can differ radically from one context to the next.
I’ve also been very aware that it is easy to fall into stereotypes when thinking about national design trends. After all, whatever tendencies and preferences might exist culturally are usually rapidly submerged by artist, audience, message and medium – Japanese design is no more ‘all anime art’ than US design is ‘all tattoo art’.
Likewise China has many competing design aesthetics, and a few noticeable trends and differences.
I recently ran across an excellent and useful article by marketer Jeff Rajeck aimed at Western retailers considering Commerce in China that touched on design among many other issues.
Reading it, I was struck by how much the graphic design differences between China and the West may come from the nature of written Chinese. Not due to the evocative shapes of the ideographs, or the organic brush strokes of traditional calligraphy, but due to the far greater density of information that written Chinese can convey in a given space.
As users of the social media Weibo (Often called the Chinese Twitter) know, it is possible to pack a lot more information into 140 characters in Chinese than in English. In both print and online, Chinese consumers are used to much greater information density than Westernlanguages provide.
This in turn may be behind the ‘busyness’ many Westerners perceive in traditional Chinese web design, especially in the Commerce world.
Rajeck notes, “As Westerners, when we visit Chinese ecommerce sites, we are overwhelmed by all of the visual ‘noise’, and find it hard to focus … Instead of whitespace, Chinese consumers want a lot of information on the page so that they can easily compare many products.”
However, as many older Chinese will attest, the Millennial generation is itself a different country, and is bringing new attitudes and new aesthetics with them as they move on to centre stage in China.
It is interesting to compare a youth-driven eCommerce site with the Taobao example above. Tech In Asia recently reviewed KnewOne a gadget-oriented eCommerce site that focuses on sharing, reviews and social proof, intentionally downplays prices, and diverges radically from the conventional look of other online Chinese retailers.
“The people on our website, the first thing they think of is not the price,” Sha says. “The first thing they think is, ‘I want a quality product, or a product that’s different.’… To accomplish this, Sha created KnewOne as a community for gadget lovers first and an ecommerce site second. Users can write reviews, post photos, share to social media, and leave comments. They can follow other users with similar tastes in gadgets as their own. … That feeling of community also results in a high rate of return customers, who Sha describes as mostly young urbanites with good salaries and students.”
It seems to me that this emerging less densely packed design aesthetic is in keeping with the importance of both mobile devices and social referrals to Chinese Millenials and Gen Z. According to one study, “68% of 26-35 year old Chinese consumers frequently make purchase decisions based on what what’s happening on their social networks versus 7% of Americans.”
For the young, sociability and mobility are replacing an older set of attitudes, and in doing so are driving Chinese web design towards a less dense, less comparative, and far more mobile and social look.