How to Use Localization for Improved UX: Language, Localization and the User Experience
User Experience (UX) as a concept is actually quite subjective. UX is defined as a person’s emotion or attitude towards using a product or platform. And the perception of the user experience is largely reliant on context: the types of devices, the audience’s aesthetic preferences, usability and accessibility requirements, infrastructure limitations and so on. While there are design and communication principles that have been commonplace and therefore deemed as “good practice,” UX designers still have to tweak and refine the user experience to fit the needs and sensibilities of their target audiences.
Therefore, great UX design is a melding of art and science. It requires a keen eye for detail, a systematic and logical approach to creating and implementing a design strategy, as well as a sense of empathy towards the users.
The user experience should also evolve with technology while taking into consideration the changes in trends and user preferences. This is why there is no clear cut recipe for success in UX design. Success can only be achieved through a deep understanding of one’s target audience and implementing this insight while following established design and communication principles.
On globalization and shared experiences
The Internet has done an excellent job in blurring borders and cutting the distance between countries. There is a growing interdependence between countries in terms of commerce, information, technology and culture as people rely more on the Internet for different aspects of life from work to socialization. Thanks to the viral nature of social media, people are exposed to new ideas which have given way to eclectic, shared experiences. The Internet has become a place where people can exchange ideas, share their culture and keep abreast on trends from anywhere around the world.
The globalized and multicultural nature of the web has created a demand for greater inclusion and accessibility. This new level of inclusivity poses a challenge for UX designers as they are no longer restricted to a specific locale, but to a global audience. As products, services and platforms gain traction through the viral trickle down of information in countries hitherto unthought of, brands have an opportunity to reach new audiences and markets.
This means that support for multiple languages is then an integral part of the user experience, particularly in terms of usability. Designing a product’s user interface (UI) for an international audience should ideally be available in the user’s language of choice. Multilingual support is becoming the new standard for user interfaces due to the rapid globalization of the digital ecosystem. Furthermore, a survey conducted by CSA Research found that 60 percent of shoppers rarely or never buy from English-only websites.
However, despite this demand for a multilingual user experience, the Internet is slow to catch up. According to Hootsuite’s latest Digital in 2020 report, 56.8 percent of the world’s top 10 million websites are in English. This is quite a disparity considering that the second language on the list is Russian and only has 7.6 percent while Chinese, a language with more than 1.5 billion speakers in the world, is not even in the top ten of most used languages for website content.
App ecosystems also have a similar problem in terms of supported languages. Despite efforts from Apple and Google to support multiple languages with iOS supporting around 40 languages and Android supporting more than 100, the majority of applications are still written and laid out in English. These apps as well as their accompanying app pages are then translated based on the user’s system language. However, these automated translations are not entirely accurate and the intended meaning may be lost in translation. This is all despite 50 percent of the top 10 countries with most app downloads and revenue are from non-English speaking European and East Asian countries.
UX Localization: Things to remember
Jakob Nielsen, one of the most influential designers and a usability consultant, released in 1994 his 10 usability heuristics which UX designers still use to this day. These were termed “heuristics” because they are only “broad rules of thumb” and not specific guidelines. As mentioned before, there is no clear cut, definitive set of rules to follow in UX design as it requires a deep understanding and empathy for users.
The second usability heuristic on Nielsen’s list is thus: “match between the system and the real world.” This means that systems should use the user’s language, in familiar words, phrases and concepts as opposed to system-oriented terminology. What this addresses is humanity’s seeking of comfort in the familiar. The purpose of usability optimization is to avoid alienating the user.
“Familiar” language largely depends on context: location, age, culture, subculture, work, and so on. For example, if one were to design a website for Organización Médica Colegial de España, or the Spanish Medical Colleges Organization, a regulatory body for the medical profession in Spain, it is important to understand the culture of not only the country but also of this particular subgroup. Medical jargon would be normal to use but perhaps slang might not be as welcome whereas the opposite would be said for the Spanish website of say, Adidas.
This familiar language not only concerns the actual content itself but the design aspect as well. Certain colors, typography, symbols, imagery and layout may have a different connotation in other countries. In some cases these might even be offensive to the user. This is why extensive research must be done to be able to successfully create a user experience that resonates well with the target audience.
In essence, localizing the user experience should retain the intent of the source text (product, website, app or system) while improving clarity for the target audience with shared language and relatable visual cues. A failure to communicate effectively is the greatest obstacle to optimizing the user experience. And for multilingual UIs, this is caused by a lack of complete understanding of the target audience and simply substituting one word for another, and then just copy-pasting the rest of the design.
Utilizing localization testing for a better multilingual UX
Not all UX designers would be fully equipped to handle the full process of localizing the user experience. While the overall creative direction and messaging can easily be handled in-house, not everyone has someone on the team that can speak 10 or 15 languages. So the choice is whether to outsource the localization process to a freelancer or a group of freelancers, or to work with a localization services provider.
Hiring freelancers would be economically more reasonable but communication would not be consistent and requires constant, hands-on supervision. This would be very difficult especially for larger-scale projects. Going with an established localization services provider would certainly be more expensive, but would offer a wider selection of languages, faster turnarounds, in-house project management and better project scaling.
Ofer Tirosh, CEO of Tomedes notes that professional localization companies do their own localization testing to make sure that a website or an app functions properly after implementation. This process considers the user interface as well as the content, making sure that the design and copy aspects have been faithfully laid out and executed.
This is a large advantage compared to hiring freelancers as it does not require designers to do localization testing in-house which would also require testers who can understand the languages that the app or website is being localized to. Localization testing makes sure that an app is in good working condition and the language is accurate before rolling it out. However, it is still advisable to have external UX testers who are also native speakers of the target languages before releasing the software or system to have an initial idea of whether specific locales would receive the localized software well.