Liveblogging a presentation at @media2007 London by Andy Clarke (no relation)

(Plays “Jungle Boogie” from his Mac as everyone finishes filing in. Stops abruptly at 2007.06.08 14:15. Runs “Royale with Cheese” segment from Pulp Fiction.)

Wow. Another year, another @media. This presentation will be slightly different from the ones you’ve seen me do before – not in the fact that it’s unscripted and unrehearsed, but it isn’t me stomping around the stage telling people my own opinions. It opens up more questions, I hope, than it certainly gives answers. It was 2005, before the first @media, that I asked a question on my Web site, since I was beginning to get a bit more interested in what was making British design distinctive, or could do.

I’m also passionate about car design. I don’t happen to have a particularly nice car, but I love old British sports cars. I like the cut of continental suits, and I love Italian shoes. And I wondered if we were really seeing that on the Web. “Where on the Web is the Englishness that was Morgan or MG? Or the Gallic flavour that was Citroën?” I wasn’t really seeing that in terms of the work that came out of British designers on the Web, or from other places. “I hope that British web designers can escape from under the smothering influences of American-flavoured globalized design.”

(Does poll of where people are from. One guy is from New Zealand.) This led me to be fascinated with the little differences that I didn’t’ think I initially saw on the Web.

“When we look around the Web at designs from across the globe, what do we see?” I’m not really concerned with functionality, more the visual interface, the stylistic differences. So what do we see? Do we see a rich diversity of design cultures? Or different regions bringing their own unique flavour to the Web? I don’t know. That’s a question for you. Is it a multicultural melting pot of design influences and inspiration? Or a dull uniformity where design has become increasingly globalized?

Who here was in Richard Ishida’s presentation? There are one or two crossovers. None of the speakers really collaborate at the beginning, yet there are little common threads that link us. (Runs definition of internationalization.) I’m gonna redefine that term: Designing regional and cultural variations without changes to the underlying engineering. Localization: Creating a design for a specific region or culture so that people can, and want, to use it.

Globalization, as in the worldwide auto industry, is something I really regret. I don’t think there is a single British carmaker that isn’t owned by somebody else. (MAN: TVR.)

(Shows Geert Hofstede’s five dimensions of culture – power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, long- vs. short-term orientation.)

Because I’m a designer that works on the Web, by default I design stuff that can, if we accept the definition, reach a global audience. I think that counts for everybody now. And are we really qualified to do that? Because I’m not. Something I have realized about myself is I am a product of my own upbringing. My mother’s generation was the first to take packaged holidays abroad. (Shows 1972 family snapshots on holiday to Ibiza.) We got a kind of picture-postcard stereotypical view of what “abroad” was like. Today, things are really different. Or are they?

I decided a couple of years ago that I wanted to learn Russian – because it’s easy, obviously; it’s just like French. [Shows пограничник (border guard) and мороженое (ice cream).]

Shows Islamic cultural site, “best” South African blog, “best” African entertainment blog. Afrigator. Well, is this shit important, or am I just barking up the wrong tree about it? I don’t think I am. And dry academics have been talking about this for a while. (Shows academic quote, 1998.) We’d think that enormous companies would be looking at this in more detail. So let’s take a hit at some low-hanging fruit.

(Shows, I wouldn’t expect we would see too many differences. France: The same. What about Japan? I’m not seeing a particularly distinctive style for Amazon Japan. Are you telling me the Japanese don’t buy things in a different way in Japan? (Shows all four at once.)

(Shows HSBC, “the world’s local bank.” Hong Kong, Thai versions are similar. China is noticeably different. Shows AOL.) Are AOL playing it safe with their rather diluted colour blue? (Shows AOL Japan, which has more whitespace and a bit of green.) By the end of the session, anyone who is not employed by Yahoo will be employed by Yahoo. (Shows four Yahoos, mostly interchangeable.) There are reasons for this – infrastructure, controlled by the mothership and pushed out for localization. But I wonder if that’s not the way to go.

The differences in Japan are more economic- than design-led. Yahoo Japan is running on a completely different platform than Yahoo U.S. (Shows Yahoos, and icons in navbars. Shows Yahoo Kids from Korea.) IT seems the designers are given much ore free reign to bring their own cultural flavours to a Yahoo property.

(Shows Pokémon for Japan. Non-mainstream brands, like ladies’ magazines. Honda Japan illustration is actually painted [and shows an S2000].)

Not being an academic, I decided to actually speak to designers. I E-mailed about 400 people three main questions.

“Do you think your country has a distinctive design style? What is it?” Roger Johansson doesn’t think so about Sweden. (Same from Marko Dugonjić, Croatia.) Croatia has had a lot of history happen to it, so that’s surprising. But I could see something mid-European. Clean design is something we might associate with that Scandinavian style.

(Shows German example. Japan: Vertical and horizontal layouts are mixed. Tend to put more graphical elements and cuteness.) “I think that is due to lack of typographic control.” Pictograms, illustration, in very much a 2D way. (They put forms and shopping-cart buttons at the bottom. “It tells you a story, then lets you do things.”) They find it almost respectful to read the content and then be given the choice at the bottom. We can’t always assume the Amazon model for Web interaction is correct. yet we think ti is – that it’s just a matter of translation.

“Do you think that Web designers in your country look to local culture when they’re designing for the Web?” People confirmed that it is s much more than just translating text. Wh is a nation with enormous potential to give us things for the Web looking to us first?

(Shows Kak, with a different animated background on every page reload.) We gave that you 10 years ago because users don’t like that, but isn’t it interesting that people are still interested in doing it? There’s some enormously worrying stuff as well. Germany: Are we seeing things that are Teutonic, crisp,BMW-like, or are we seeing things that reflect that openness (to the wider Web?)

“Do you think that designers look to the wider Web for inspiration?”

(Shows comix, Japanese bubbles instead of zeds to indicate sleeping, Concrete.) Sin City really tries to get into that comic form – not a pastiche, but more a(n) homage.

(Runs academic quote: “A single globally [acceptable] Web site does not appear commercially feasible.”)

So many designers in other countries are almost aspiring to what we do. 60% of Japanese users set Yahoo as their homepage. Does anybody else find that a scary thought?

I think this stuff is important, for a whole variety of reasons. We need to reëvaluate when we do when we design for the Web. If I design something and think it will be usable by everybody, I think I’m being pretty deluded. It’s the ultimate in arrogance to expect you can take one interface and just translate it or have little tweaks done in different countries.

Richard Ishida’s model of I18N needs to be turned on its head, as with Last.FM’s: “Yeah, we’ll make a Japanese version: We’ll roll it out next week.”

“Culturalization: To design a Web site or application that encompasses regional variations at a regional level.” What right do I have sitting in Silicon Valley to dictate what people in other regions will see on the Web? I think it’s arrogant; I think it’s imperialism.

We should be involving designers from all around the world when we’re designing for their region. You’re much more qualified to make that decision than I am.

(Ends 2007.06.08 15:04.)

(Scribe did not write down the Q&A, given that he was barely awake.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.06.12 17:33. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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This personal Weblog is unlikely to be updated again until my next book comes out. (See Best postings)

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