Thursday May 12, 2011

English as a Source and Target Language: The UX Dimension

I am often bemused by translation (or localization if you're outside the enterprise apps space) discussions on the interwebs that assume the source material for translation is always English and that the target language is always something else. The reality, of course, is different. There is a user-generated content explosion and much of which needs to be translated into English or other languages for global and community support reasons, multinational enterprises create content in languages other than English that may be relevant across their organization in other countries, and therefore needs translation, and so on.

And then we have the age-old debate about US English versus UK English. Some say it doesn't matter that UK English users receive US English content. Claims are made that UK users can 'figure it out' or are already so familiar with US culture that the differences in terminology or spelling between the two country variants  of English (yes, I know there are other variants) are transparently consumed.

I disagree. I think there is an important user experience (UX) dimension here. Admittedly hard to quantify in tangible terms, the use of the local variant in content is important and has an impact on user perception of the product. It can also have wider implications. Users who see themselves coldly described as  "ID  #" in a screen or help system when they should be called "Employee", "Associate", "Partner", or whatever, are hardly likely to warm to a product with hostile language and it certainly does nothing for corporate culture. In other words, the UX is diminished. Does it always have to be that way? No.

Google has done a very good job in providing US and UK users with versions of the Chrome browser that reflect the differences in terminology and spelling. This is done by allowing the user to select the version they want at download time, and then by language, regional detection (the web-based help using en-GB for UK users for example). Check out the following screens. See how "preferences" becomes "options", "hood" becomes "bonnet", "wrench" becomes "spanner", and "customize" becomes "customise". Did Google do this just because they could? Doubt that very much.

Under the Hood

Preferences and Under the Hood in US version.

Under the Bonnet

Options and Under the Bonnet in UK version.

Hood and Wrench

Wrench and Under the Hood in US version error page.

Bonnet and Spanner

Spanner and Under the Bonnet in UK version help system.

Customize

Customize in US version UI tooltip.

Customise

Customise in UK version UI tooltip.

Nice job.

This is something we need to explore further with enterprise application users. Users should have the language they use in their workplace or at home and not that of another country or region.

If they can't have that, then at least they should be able to change it easily to whatever they do want. That's what user-centered design and UX is all about.


Monday Jan 10, 2011

Translatability Guidelines for Usability Professionals

There's clearly a demand for translatability guidelines aimed at usability professionals working in the enterprise applications space, judging by the analytics reports and the interest generated in the Twitterverse by the previous post on the subject: Translation and Localization Resources for UX Designers.

So let's continue the conversation. I'll expand more on the original points in posts over the coming weeks. Bear in mind that large-scale enterprise translation is a process. It needs to be scalable, repeatable, maintainable, and above meet the requirements of automation. That doesn't mean the user experience needs to suffer, however.

So, stay tuned for some translatability best practices for usability professionals....

About

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)!
Profile

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

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