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My title is facetious, but my question is serious:

  • I'm being told by a client's business-analyst team that Germans WANT to read every detail on a website and WANT to read every word in a contract—more so than people from other cultures.
  • Research done in North America shows that there people scan, skim, skip, and stop reading before they have all the information they need.

Is there any research to back up this idea that Germans aren't like other humans? I can't find any; I may not have the right search terms to find it. Help?

—Update—

I used the links that everyone provided. By using the Hofstede data, I produced a radar graph in Excel. I then added callouts with information from the other sources, to supplement each of the six dimensions on the radar plot. I included some census data and added a pie charts to highlight some demographic differences, to support the point that Germany is not homogeneous. All in all, I produced a useful document with your input. I thank you.

I will be producing two more of these, for other countries/cultures, so feel free to keep adding answers. It will help.

Regarding your comments…. Yes, Hofstede's data may be somewhat out of date. For example, I suspect that German culture is now less restrained when it comes to self-indulgence and leisure. The main thrust of the marketing material produced for our project by a German agency for the German market tells a story of self-indulgence and leisure. On the other hand, Hofstede is not completely out of date. Among my colleagues, people from different cultures recognise the Hofstede attributes in the German people they know. Also, I want to repeat that I was seeking research and data. Therefore, I did not incorporate comments about anecdotal experience.

—Update—

It's now been several months working with our colleagues in Germany, and I've found that the Hofstede attributes remain relatively accurate.

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    At least "I've read the terms and conditions" is a running gag here in Germany as well. – Marvin Nov 1 '15 at 20:27
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    A good place to start might be to search for marketing research rather than UX research, since people don't seem to publish much of it, at least relating to customer or user profile anyway. I am sure you'll be able to find some comparison in terms of consumer behavioural that you can infer from. – Michael Lai Nov 1 '15 at 20:48
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    The only thing I can find was statistics on average time spent reading by country. Spoiler: Germans don't read more than Americans. prnewswire.com/news-releases/… – Jung Lee Nov 1 '15 at 21:09
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    Do they have the data to show you that what they are claiming is true?? Have them defend it instead of you trying to argue against that statement. – Igorek Nov 1 '15 at 23:26
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    That is not a facetious title, that is an offensive title and obscures your actual meaning. What you are talking about are cultural differences, and yes, they vary across the world. Any particular attribute of that culture that you might identify — like reading all the details — will exist in multiple cultures. Might be Germans and Swiss and 18 countries in Africa and 22 countries in Asia who like to read all the details. Also, your generalization about North Americans might not apply to French-speaking Canadians or to people in half of the states of Mexico. – Simon White Feb 19 '16 at 12:47
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When it comes to multicultural design Geert Hofstede's studies on cultural dimensions is a must read.

Germans score high on uncertainty avoidance, which could lead to them to read everything and to be absolutely sure about everything before they start. From The Hofstede Centre:

Germany is among the uncertainty avoidant countries (65); the score is on the high end, so there is a slight preference for Uncertainty Avoidance. In line with the philosophical heritage of Kant, Hegel and Fichte there is a strong preference for deductive rather than inductive approaches, be it in thinking, presenting or planning: the systematic overview has to be given in order to proceed. This is also reflected by the law system. Details are equally important to create certainty that a certain topic or project is well-thought-out. In combination with their low Power Distance, where the certainty for own decisions is not covered by the larger responsibility of the boss, Germans prefer to compensate for their higher uncertainty by strongly relying on expertise.

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    Hofstede's is definitely interesting though it should be remembered much of his research was done several decades ago. There are some out there who challenge his conclusions due to the convergence of cultures over recent decades. – the other one Nov 2 '15 at 15:06
  • Is there more recent data? – JeromeR Nov 4 '15 at 11:20
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    @theotherone Do you have any papers (titles) on hand that challenge Hofstede's cultural dimensions, I'd be interested in reading them. – locationunknown Nov 6 '15 at 10:05
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I agree, your title is boarder line facetious but I couldn't help and chuckle, perhaps it's true? Think of the opening scene of the movie the fifth element where the professor asks the alien "are you German?" - this by the way was dubbed as "are you an alien?" In the German translation of the movie. The original version is funny in its own right.

I am a German UX designer working internationally (mostly the US) and can confirm that I perceive the way we as Germans handle things is just "more thorough" as compared to everyone else. I am aware that it drives the world nuts along with all those other cultural quirks like writing an answer in an email in the bottom, instead of the top. Because "Things have to be in order." ;-)

It's because one of our biggest values is time which is why we want to do things right the first time and don't waste cycles on it. We also don't appreciate when people are too lazy to read emails and obviously just scan and skim. This drove me nuts for many years and that was one of my biggest learnings.

I have adapted my communications style to ask one question per email, because I'm afraid recipients are overwhelmed by the way I would do it when communicating with Germans. Also in meetings we are more effective and plan down minute accurate which I know some people feel overdone, others are impressed. Another thing I observed is that not only in emails but also in verbal communication we are able to take in more information than anyone else. I often get asked how I knew this or that, but the truth is I just listen better, and expect the same from others.

Nonetheless if you like to learn more you can head over there http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/germany-country-profile.html and here http://businessculture.org/western-europe/business-culture-in-germany/business-etiquette-in-germany/ and read through the lengthy description.

But really, every culture is different and I wish people would in general just develop more self awareness and appreciation for other cultures' values and strengths. If you open your mind you will learn so much!

If you have specific questions after reading these articles you can pm me. Enjoy!

2

I am doing user research in Germany for years and I can assure you that Germans skim the content just as most studies describe. So the same principles apply to German websites.

What we DID notice is, that as soon as users are confronted with content not written in their native language, they take a lot more effort to read through the copy.

We witnessed this on German websites with a Non-German audience.

According to this article this phenomenon should be weaker on English websites since most folk is quite comfortable with that language: https://uxmag.com/articles/writing-english-for-global-audiences

But telling from my experience there is nothing to support you clients hypothesis unless the user is a lawyer. But for this profession it's a behaviour that is not German only.

Usually all of our German users fly through legal copy and all sorts of content — if at all.

1

I worked with Germans for 2 years and from my experience they scan the website content as much as any other nation. In fact, I found that most of the myths about German people are false. I believe we're moving to an age where nation traits can't be taken for granted any more.

If the Hofsted data was correct in assumptions like these, I guess Slovenians (including myself) should be even more "careful" about websites content than Germans (Slovenia scores 88 on uncertainty avoidance). But we're not.

0

I agree with this entirely as I've been working with quite a bit of german colleagues for the 3+ years. This is a good thing specially for UX designers as in what we do we have to look at every possibility in the user journey. Also they are very process oriented. It might be annoying at 1st but after a while you can really appreciate the beauty of their culture.

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    I disagree entirely. I'm German and hate to read on websites. On a different note: Today I've seen 5 cars, all are red. I'm 100% sure now that all cars in the world are red. – Uwe Keim Nov 2 '15 at 13:12

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