Chinese Language and Interface Design

While in most Western languages vertical lists are perceived as easier to use, given the writing and reading orientations, research has indicated that for Chinese users a horizontal menu in either English or Chinese is more effective. This makes sense because the writing and reading flow – the intrinsic reading and writing directions of the language – in the Chinese language is mostly vertical, from top to bottom. As a result of the different reading flow native Chinese netizens will scan a screen differently from netizens that have been raised with the Roman system.

The screenshots below show the the basic interface structure of the most prominent Chinese portals Sina and Sohu.

Sina Horizontal Interface

Sina Horizontal Interface

Sohu Horizontal Interface

Sohu Horizontal Interface

The next two screenshots are from AOL and Yahoo, the two biggest North American portals. There is a clear difference in interface design: the two North American portals have a vertical interface structure instead of the Chinese horizontal interfaces.

Vertical Yahoo Interface

Vertical Yahoo Interface

Vertical AOL Interface

Vertical AOL Interface

For more theory on the influence of language on interface design I recommend reading the following rather contradictory reports:

Effectiveness of Menu Orientation in Chinese- Heloisa Martins Shih and Ravindra S. Goonetilleke, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong

Designing menus for the Chinese population: horizontal or vertical? – Jianming Dong and Gavriel Salvendy, IBM Corporation, Austin, TX 78758, USA


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