I had a revelation, of sorts, regarding a bit of psycholinguistics. One of my first culture shocks in Japan was entering a store and feeling visually assaulted with information. The signs were everywhere, hanging off of everything in terrible color contrast, everything striving for attention simultaneously. I saw this same thing repeated over and over in other stores, down streets, in trains, and especially on TV advertisements.
In America, good designers pride themselves on the ability to make an impact with minimal resources (visually speaking). Sometimes in America we see huge billboards that are almost completely blank, and have a small graphic or text logo. These are effective in America because we are drawn to the information surrounded by “negative space”. Negative space is a big fancy design word for area where there isn’t much or any information. This could be the white/empty parts of a webpage, or even the individual spaces between words.
The last point is where I had my realization. In English, our ability to quickly parse meaning out of text and written words is aided by the spaces between words, after punctuation, as well as indentation and line breaks. WhenItypesomethinglikethisitsveryhardforyoutoreadquickly. It’s possible, but its noticeably slower than reading a portion of text that has customary spacing.
Japanese text on the other hand, doesn’t rely on this technique much at all. Instead it is quickly processed by reading of Kanji clusters which contain primary blocks of meaning. These kanji clusters are interspersed with hiragana which are used for phonetic purposes as well as grammaticalizing the kanji as well as representing uncommon words and grammatical bits and pieces. Japanese design doesn’t focus on negative space at all, instead it seems to get as much meaning to you in as little space as possible. To that end it gets crammed into and onto anything and everything where ever space is available, and sometimes where it isn’t readily.
I havn’t done any academic studies on this, but it seems like a pretty direct correlation. My knowledge of visual language processing is limited to one university course of Cognitive Psychology and a linguistics major, but I think it’s intuitively obvious that something’s going on here. I’d be interested to know what you think.