Monday, December 08, 2008

Colours and Culture - don't always Believe what you Read

The use of color in varying cultures ...

"The ‘world wide’ bit of the web made many of us realise that our web designs have the potential to reach the whole world. Some of us work for organisations that explicitly want to attract audiences from many different countries. And gradually, the thought dawns: what if those people over there aren’t just like us? Will they like what we like? In particular, the discussion might turn to colour. Will our colours appeal to those people over there? To which the usability professional immediately answers: “Let’s go and ask them”. Back comes the answer: “Can’t afford that. Why don’t you find out what the research says?”. Right then. Let’s sit down with Google, or maybe even a library catalogue or two, to find out what the cultural impact of colour might be as it relates to user experience of web sites.


Sadly, the easy-to-come by advice will be along these lines. Here’s an extract from one site, which I’ll keep anonymous. It starts promisingly:

“If you use color on your Web site, then you should be aware of how your audience views those colors. This is especially important if you are designing a site that is intended for an audience of a different culture than your own (or a global audience). The cultural basis for color symbolism can be very powerful, and if you don't understand what you're saying with your colors, you can make big mistakes.”

And then goes on to give the “cultural significance” of various colours, for example:

- Japan: White carnation symbolizes death
- Eastern: Funerals
- Western: Brides, angels, good guys, hospitals, doctors, peace (white dove)”

And here’s a piece from another one (published by Xerox, which should know better):

“For the Chinese, white represents the west, autumn, metal, and mourning. White gifts are associated with funerals, and a woman never wears white unless she is in deep mourning. On the Chinese stage a dignified person wears a white face, while a comedian usually has a white nose."    (Continued via Usability News - Caroline's Corner)    [Usability Resources]


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