Intercultural Visual Communication (part 2/2)

How is it possible to get a comprehensive framework of intercultural visual communication? Through an understanding of cultural patterns and a research-based investigation of cultural artifacts. Mostly, document analyses are being carried out. Usually you start with the cultural dimensions (already discussed in some recent blogposts) and then you attempt to determine whether or not the documents fit to the categorizations. Studies like these where carried out by Marcus (2005), Singh and Baak (2004), Callahan (2005) and Würtz (2006). All of them were based on websites. 

But also other artifacts were used when doing research. For example, Qiuye (2000) examined graphics about the creation of Dolly, the cloned sheep, used in Chinese and US popular science magazines and instruction manuals for household products. It was taken care of that the visuals should explain similar things in order to be able to compare them. The creation of the sheep Dolly was appropriate for comparison, because the topic received great attention in both countries. Wang found out that there are several differences in the way the Chinese and the Americans use visuals. When a new idea is presented, the Chinese provide more contextual information, whereas the Americans are more direct. There is also a difference in emphasis. The American manuals focus on task performance and the illustrations are detailed, larger in size and marked (bold font, icons). The Chinese manuals however, pay more attention to technical information with tables and a wiring layout. Additionally, the Chinese manuals show no clear link between a graphic and a verbal explanation. In the American manuals, there is a better text-visual integration. The results of this research therefore correspond to the general communication styles of these two distinct cultures. In conclusion, „the findings suggest that when communicating to the Chinese reader, technical communicators should use visuals and text that provide an overview or context. When designing an instruction manual, technical communicators should include information about technical aspects of the product. When communication to the American reader, the technical communicator should be direct and focused. In an instruction manual, the emphasis should be on performing tasks.“ 

Similarly, Wang and Wang (2009) examined technical documents made for Chinese and German mechanics.

It’s always important to be critical when reading research results. The documents for comparison were chosen by geographical borders, rather than cultural borders and there are also many other factors beyond culture that are likely to shape visual communication. Were there broader genre conventions? Were there organizational standards and guidelines? Were there issues of technology or accessibility? There are a lot of factors that would need to be taken into consideration. Additionally, the analyses cannot tell anything about the usability for various audiences. To find out whether the design differences influence the usability, research examining user behaviors and preferences would be needed. Examples for the study of user behaviors are: color associations, viewing patterns and focal points, preferences and performances. Brumberger suggests that more research is needed in all the areas. In her opinion, the most productive research would be user-centered instead of document-centered. The combination of looking at visual communication artifacts and visual communication behavior would beneficial to get a comprehensive framework.

Brumberger, Eva (2014): Toward a framework for intercultural visual communication. A critical review and call for research. Arizona State University.

Qiuye, Wang (2000): A Cross-cultural Comparison of the Use of Graphics in Scientific and Technical Communication.