Monday Feb 07, 2011

Games Localization: Cultural Points

Great article about localization considerations, this time in the games space. Well worth checking out. It's rare to see such all-encompassing articles about localization considerations aimed at designers. That's a shame. The industry assumes all these things are known, yet the evidence from practice is that they're not and also need constant reinforcement.

We're not quite in the games space in enterprise applications yet, but we're getting there, and gamification is a hot UX topic. In the enterprise apps arena, there may be a role for games in the training space, in CRM through building relationships and contacts, gathering sales and marketing data, answering service requests, and so on. Or in HCM, for talent development or recruitment purposes. No end of possibilities.

Other thoughts can be gleaned from this appslab post Why Gaming is the Future of Everything. Beyond the obvious considerations, check out the cultural aspects of games localization too. For example, Zygna's offerings, which you might have played on Facebook: Zynga, which can lay claim to the two most popular social games on Facebook - FarmVille and CityVille - has recently localized both games for international audiences, and while CityVille has seen only localization for European languages, FarmVille has been localized for China, which involved rebuilding the game from the ground up.

This localization process involved taking into account cultural considerations including changing the color palette to be brighter and increasing the size of the farm plots, to appeal to Chinese aesthetics and cultural experience. All the more reason to conduct research in your target markets, worldwide.

Wednesday Jan 19, 2011

Designing Global Graphics in Enterprise Apps: Points to Consider

Continuing my series on translatability for UX professionals in the enterprise applications space, let's look at graphics.

The essence of designing a global graphic is simple: aim to create an image file that requires no subsequent intervention by developers or translators to make it suitable for any other language versions. Use these guidelines:

  • Design an image file that has no translatable text on it (including single letter such as B for Bold or whatever). The file should be used for every language version's UI without any further work on it.
  • Avoid graphics that might present cultural issues in the translated version. Use generic icons. Be wary of designs that use body parts such as hands or feet, pictures of people, relies or a visual pun. Avoid flags for languages.

    There are lots of possibilities of things to avoid here, usually recommended by people who don't work in the enterprise applications space but on global web sites. If you're using crucifixes and pictures of pigs in an enterprise app UI, you're probably going wrong anyway. Common sense please!

  • Use web-safe colors, but don't worry too much about overblown cultural issues about colors in the enterprise applications space. It's not like anyone will log a bug saying white and not black is the color of mourning in Asia, ignoring the coffin icons you've used for the Exit menu option (who ever does that?). Colors generally are only problematic when associated with objects, and not in their own right.
  • If using arrows or pointer image files in the UI, then make sure you create equivalent files with reversed directions so that they will work with bi-di  language versions of the applications. Although browsers can mirror HTML UIs based on DIR (directional element) or locale preference settings, they cannot flip binary objects such as image files.

    So, create an right-to-left (RTL) equivalent for any left-to-right (LTR) directional image, give it an "rtl" (for right-to-left) filename suffix and work with your developers to implement code to use the RTL image when the detected user's language is Hebrew, Arabic, and so on. And it test to ensure that it works. Here's an example:

LTR version arrow points to search icon (correct)
How LTR version arrow points away from search icon in bi-di language version and towards an data entry field instead (incorrect)
How RTL version arrow points to search icon in bi-di language version (correct)

Use these guidelines for graphics that might require translator intervention (usually these are in user assistance components):

  • If there is translatable text on a graphic, then make sure the image has enough space to allow the text length to expand. Don't use abbreviations or acronyms on the image as a way to save space.
  • Supply image file format, font, color, line weight, and screen resolution information to the translation team so the translated image will have the same rendering and look and feel as they source image.
  • Create the image files in tools that support Unicode fonts so they will work for all languages.
  • For conceptual images, diagrams, and so on in user assistance deliverables, use an editable source file format that can be easily redrawn if necessary during translation, for example Microsoft Visio VSD format.
  • If using Adobe PhotoShop, supply the translation team with the PSD layers along with the final output format for comparison (PNG, JPG, or whatever).
  • If you've sample data shown in a spreadsheet or database table then provide the source files so the data can be localized easily too.
  • Avoid placing screen shots in documents. Use a tool like Oracle's User Productivity Kit  to easily recapture translated screens and to automatically translate UI widget names and actions. 

You might investigate the possibilities offered by SVG and XLIFF in the hope of making savings for graphics translation. Investing effort in transforming files to SVG, XLIFF, or any other XML format is not worth it relative to the cost of doing graphics the old way in my opinion (say where the cost is probably less than 5% of total translation cost). Defining and enforcing translatable elements in SVG is a pain and if a graphic requires redrawing after translation, then SVG is not worth it. Suck it up.

Do you have any other guidelines for designers working in the enterprise applications space? Find the comments.

(Incidentally, after I wrote this, I looked up my article in Multilingual Computing and Technology Volume 9, Issue 5 called Creating Easily Localizable Graphics  published in August, 1998. Still seems quite sensible!)

Saturday Jan 01, 2011

Where Next for Google Translate? And What of Information Quality?

Fascinating article in the UK Guardian newspaper called "Can Google break the computer language barrier?" In the article, Andreas Zollman, who works on Google Translate, comments that the quality of Google Translate's output relative to the amount of data required to create that output is clearly now falling foul of the law of diminishing returns. He says:

"Each doubling of the amount of translated data input led to about a 0.5% improvement in the quality of the output," he suggests, but the doublings are not infinite. "We are now at this limit where there isn't that much more data in the world that we can use," he admits. "So now it is much more important again to add on different approaches and rules-based models."

The Translation Guy has a further discussion on this, called "Google Translate is Finished". He says: 

"And there aren't that many doublings left, if any. I can't say how much text Google has assimilated into their machine translation databases, but it's been reported that they have scanned about 11% of all printed content ever published. So double that, and double it again, and once more, shoveling all that into the translation hopper, and pretty soon you get the sum of all human knowledge, which means a whopping 1.5% improvement in the quality of the engines when everything has been analyzed. That's what we've got to look forward to, at best, since Google spiders regularly surf the Web, which in its vastness dwarfs all previously published content. So to all intents and purposes, the statistical machine translation tools of Google are done. Outstanding job, Googlers. Thanks."

Surprisingly, all this analysis hasn't raised that much comment from the fans of machine translation (MT), or its detractors either for that matter. Perhaps, it's the season of goodwill? What is clear to me, however, of course is that Google Translate isn't really finished (in any sense of the word). I am sure Google will investigate and come up with new rule-based translation models to enhance what they have already and that will also scale effectively where others didn't. So too, will they harness human input and guidance, which really is the way to go in training MT in the right quality direction.

But that aside, what does it say about the quality of the data that is being used for statistical machine translation in the first place? From the Guardian article it's clear that a huge human-translated corpus drove the gains for Google Translate and now what's left is the dregs of badly translated and poorly created source materials that just can't deliver quality translations. There's a message about information quality there, surely.

In the enterprise applications space, where we have some control over content this whole debate reinforces the relationship between information quality at source and translation efficiency, regardless of the technology used to do the translation. But as more automation comes to the fore, that information quality is even more critical if you want anything approaching a scalable solution. This is important for user experience professionals. Issues like user generated content translation, multilingual personalization, and scalable language quality are central to a superior global UX; it's a competitive issue we cannot ignore.


Oracle applications global user experience (UX): Culture, localization, internationalization, language, personalization, more. For globally-savvy UX people, so that it all fits together for Oracle's worldwide customers.

Audience: Enterprise applications translation and localization topics for the user experience professional (designers, engineers, developers, researchers)!

Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @localization



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