Our approach to cross-cultural design

We’ve had the pleasure of working with eBay’s Asia Pacific office to write and design their Greater China Exporters’ Index, launched to the media across China. The index is based on internal eBay and PayPal data, and an online survey conducted with eBay sellers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan who are direct-to-consumer cross-border exporters with annual sales of over US$100,000.

Thanks to the skills of our senior designer, Chin Yee Lam, who taught graphic design in China for two years, we were able to produce a publication specifically for eBay’s Greater China audience. Chin Yee had the tricky task of working on the English and Chinese versions simultaneously and managing the challenges associated with designing in two languages. Here he talks about the project.

What must you be aware of when designing for a Chinese audience?

Colours are a very important element in Chinese design. Warm colours like red and yellow represent prosperity, good energy, friendliness and festivity. Red is particularly lucky, which is why you see so much of it at Chinese New Year.

Are there any colours to avoid?

In the West, white reflects purity, but in China it represents mourning. So for a more traditional audience, you’d never use black and white. These are associated with death. But it does depend on your target market. And as Chinese design becomes more influenced by Western design, things are changing.

What other elements do you take into account?

Shapes, particularly in Hong Kong and in the southern parts of China where Feng Shui is practised. Round shapes or forms represent a reunion, coming together, unity and harmony. A triangle or lines with sharp angles would indicate a negative force, even possibly danger. In Chinese, many words and characters have double meanings so you can play around with those in graphic design in a way you can’t in English. For instance, an orange sounds like gold. Many Chinese characters are derived from pictograms, so that also provides scope for interesting concepts.

This is what the word rain looks like:

Other examples: King, jade (which the king used as a seal) and country.

What challenges did you face when you were designing the English and Chinese versions of the Greater China Exporters’ Index?

Colours weren’t a challenge because the eBay logo has red in it, so I was able to pick that up and use it throughout the publication.

But I had to consider spacing, size and leading (the space between lines) because Chinese takes up much less room on the page. I’d say it takes up between 20% and 30% less space.

Typography always presents a challenge when you’re designing in two languages. The font I chose for the English version was DIN, which is a very legible, sans-serif typeface, so I wanted to look for something similar for the Chinese font. I chose Heiti, which, by the way, has 28,000 characters!

I had to make many subtle changes in the two versions, such as the use of the icon on the cover title. In the Chinese version I had to change it because it didn’t work well on the equivalent Chinese character.

Other subtle changes included the treatment of numbers because in many situations there aren’t direct translations.

Take a look at the English – and Chinese versions.



By Derryn Heilbuth