A young Chinese teacher once told me that when he spent two years in Spain, he was impressed by the beautiful creative European museums, which include many different sectors and hidden rooms, much unlike the Chinese type of showcases, where almost everything is exhibited up in front, without any special order. He continued and added that such characteristic is evident also in stores and web pages.
While the shopping experience in China is very affected by the West, when it comes to internet pages, particularly home pages of Chinese portals, no sense of minimalism in info or clean design is ever seen. Millions of headlines in dozens of sections, all spread on the never-ending-scroll-down page. Some pictures are also uploaded but only when one enters a deep internal page can the eyes relax a bit.
And the eyes... Perhaps it's the long experience in dealing with Chinese characters that make it a non-issue for most Chinese, but somehow it seems that one should be in a size somewhere between an ant to a rodent to have the titles big enough for one's vision.
Furthermore, no much design innovations exist in well known portals, as all have the same white background, and about 4-5 column of endless chaotic titles.
From upper left clockwise - 163.com, sina.com, qq.com, sohu.com - Similar layout features, common categories. And what about the content?
It's not clear whether this layout habit can be associated with traditional Chinese concepts, but somehow, most Chinese users find it quite convenient. Most big portals cover a wide range of topics, from news to internet games, and they must display all sections on the front page. Numerous new headlines are updated each day and it is considered a waste not to show them in the display window. Normally, one can find a link to one's 'final destination' target page already on the homepage, making the 'clicking journey' quite fast, though the endless down-scrolling on the main page could be a waste of time...
Having it all up front, not promoting big colorful headlines but rather putting all the content 'products' on shelves of similar size. Is it lack of patience? Is it a skill of navigation between plenty of info? Is it wanting to be expose to a wide variety of content at once? Any insights by ThinkingChinese readers will be highly appreciated (you are welcome to add them at the 'Want to contribute?' option bellow). Meanwhile we can just wait and see whether the custom of preferring a huge open hall with many objects over many rooms, or a chaotic market over creative division, will continue to be favorable by Chinese, in both the internet user-interface sphere or other domains.
User Lawrence, a foreigner living in Gaobeidian, Hebei, added his insights about the busy webpages pehnomenon. We are here posting his comment 'as is':
I am a foreigner in China but I can suggest a reason (with foreign eyes) for the relative business of Chinese portals and associated web pages. Chinese are culturally opposed to wastage. This might seem ironic when more food is ordered at the restaurant than can be eaten, but a different cultural dynamic drives the latter to the former. Chinese collect & conserve & reuse where possible. Even the shells of prawns can be re-purposed into a high-calcium dish once the seafood is consumed.
The same goes for space. If there is a wedge in a traffic lane, Chinese will seek to fill it, even if it means multiple cars need to accommodate the full size of the mass, similar to the way some pythons might consume an animal several times its size. Minimalism is not a concept that fits with modern Chinese eyes. The overriding concern is to not waste a blank space by leaving it blank. Just like the opportunistic Chinese motorist - and the faster, more prestigious and more zippy the vehicle, the more it will live up to the ego driven opportunism of the driver to be both excited by the risk-taking behaviour and the driving experience all in one - an opportunity to post another fact, ad or headline exists in even the smallest wedge of white space.
And why not prefer a non-white background? I suspect it has to do with the darkness of night-time. Much of China, it's huge land area, and the vastness of its cities, is bathed in darkness, amid dreary over-sized energy-saving flourescent lights hanging from long lengths of tattered and repaired figure-8 power cabling, that break through this in dusty concrete shells that line streetways, absent of any curtains or coverings. Similarly, a dark dingy Internet cafe will make a busy web page hard to read unless a good light in the alien ultra-violent range is present as a back-light, stark and bringing strong relief to the solace found from everyday hustle and bustle in the relatively new past-time Internet-surfing Chinese. This is not to overextend the meaning of 'solace' to one of 'tranquility' - the web has to be pulsing and busy to counter any withdrawal from everyday life from bustling streetscape to electronic-scape. The transition to and from has to be a seamless as possible. The busy webpages are, to be sure, a microcosm of the bustle of life that is modern, urban & quintessentially, Chinese.