15 Dec 2015

Tips for Designing Websites for Asian Markets

If you are building or adapting a website for Asian audiences, there are a few practical considerations you need to take into account.

There are technical challenges posed by the need to cater for the character sets featured in Asian languages. You also need to factoring in for cultural differences and the higher dependence on mobile devices. But there are lots of other challenges too.

Asian web users have a tendency to cling to old technology like web browsers and operating systems long after the West has upgraded. Many will be using outdated browsers and the Windows XP operating system, even though Microsoft removed support for the product in 2014. Even so, there’s a reluctance to upgrade to newer technology and local operating systems such as Sogou Explorer are used by a significant minority.

Internet Explorer has around a third of the Asian market, and it’s thought more than 5% of Chinese web users are still on IE6.

Chrome has the largest share of the market, at over 48%. Others are using the local Sogou (‘search dog’) browser. It’s advisable to research which browsers and operating systems are used in your target market and to test your website on these platforms in order to be confident that you aren’t excluding users or delivering a poor user experience.

Mobile is critical

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of mobile in the Asian market. According to Clickz.com, a significant amount of your customer base in Asia are likely to be accessing the web exclusively via their smartphones – including over a third of Malaysians, a quarter of Vietnamese and 16% of users in Singapore.

Asian commuters, especially in China, commonly face long gridlocked commutes, which often means mobile is an essential access point to the internet for significant parts of their day. So, for some markets you may want to consider a mobile first approach rather than simply relying on responsive or adaptive design.

It’s essential that websites work in the Asian version of Opera Mini and on other popular mobile browsers including UCWeb and the QQ browser. But feature phones are still commonplace and some people will be using Blackberry-style type-phones. Your mobile site cannot assume everyone will have touchscreen.

Internet connection speeds can also be slow in many countries in Asia. So, it’s important to build your site well for mobile, avoiding Flash and cutting down on large image files to speed things up.

Your site also needs to work across a broad array of devices. This will include smart phones of all generations and a variety of tablets, including ones well-known in the West as well as some local brands that you’ll be less familiar with.

Xiaomi is one of the most popular device manufacturers in China, offering Android handsets much cheaper than rival Samsung. Xiaomi was also the third largest tablet vendor at the end of 2014, although Apple continues to lead the market for these devices. There are also even cheaper local rivals hot on Xiaomi’s heels, including Lenovo and Huawei.

Handling Asian languages

Not all browsers offer great solutions for handling Asian language characters. You may be extremely limited in your font choices, which may challenge your developers and be a barrier to developing a unique brand identity. Avoid using CSS or EOT embedded fonts as these will slow your site down, especially on mobile. Instead use common, UTF-8 encoded fonts such as SimSun for Chinese or Mincho for Japanese. This will mean that your fonts will be supported by all the main browsers you’ll encounter.

Writing forms

If you’re trying to write data capture forms, you’ll need to take into account the needs of the local market. What we would call a first name or given name (or even a Christian name if we were very old fashioned) doesn’t necessarily come first in Asia, and this isn’t used in the same way as we’d use a name like David or Susan in the West. Many Thais have a nickname, given at birth, that’s used for informal communications.

Some names consist only of a single letter or character, and you shouldn’t assume this is merely an initial.

Some Thai names are breathtakingly long, such as the surname “Thepsouvanchanmansyvongsa”. Some Asians use only one name, so it will be unhelpful to require them to complete two separate form fields for first name and surname. It’s best if your form logic doesn’t make all the fields mandatory. In Korea and Vietnam many people have three parts to their name, so you’ll need additional fields for that.

Indians complicate things further by throwing ancestor names, locations and sometimes their caste into the mix. So an Indian web user may have a name consisting of his ancestral village name, his father’s name, his given name, and surname. Show cultural awareness by ensuring your audience can input their full name and any titles that matter to them.

Also remember that it’s common in Asia to give your family name first, rather than what we call first name. Thus John Smith would introduce himself as Smith John and expect to receive communications addressed to Mr. John. Whilst this may not be a problem for your data capture, be careful how you feed this information into your CRM system and how you use the data to address communications to your customers.

Bear in mind people travel around Asia, so even in a market like Korea where people commonly have three names you may find someone completes the form using only one or two name parts. Depending on how much your web form needs to serve different Asian markets, we’d suggest you may need to explain precisely what data you want for each name field, employing a good understanding on how local people approach giving their names out.

It’s wise to build flexibility into your data capture, so be wary of insisting particular forms are filled out in case the end user has no data to give for a particular name field.

The same is also true of address fields, which may also be less conventional than you are used to. Some addresses may be orientated by a local landmark, and there not be anything resembling a postcode.

Testing is one of the most important ways to ensure your website is adapted for local conditions. User testing is extremely valuable, but you should also make sure you test the site internally across a range of devices and browsers. Asia offers many unique markets and a one-size-fits-all approach to website localisation won’t suit them all – it’s about much more than just adapting the language itself for each market.


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