Text Expansion Awareness for UX Designers: Points to Consider

Awareness of translated text expansion dynamics is important for enterprise applications UX designers (I am assuming all source text for translation is in English, though apps development can takes place in other natural languages too). This consideration goes beyond the standard 'character multiplication' rule and must take into account the avoidance of other layout tricks that a designer might be tempted to try. Follow these guidelines.

  • For general text expansion, remember the simple rule that the shorter the word is in the English, the longer it will need to be in English. See the examples provided by Richard Ishida of the W3C  and you'll get the idea.

    So, forget the 30 percent or one inch (excuse me?) minimum expansion rule of the old Forms days. Unfortunately, remembering convoluted text expansion rules, based as a percentage of the US English character count can be tough going. Try these:

    Up to 10 characters: 100 to 200%
    11 to 20 characters: 80 to 100%
    21 to 30 characters: 60 to 80%
    31 to 50 characters: 40 to 60%
    51 to 70 characters: 31 to 40%
    Over 70 characters: 30%

    (Source: IBM)

    So, it might be easier to remember at the prototyping and design stage a simpler rule that if your English text is less than 5 characters then allow it to double in length (an increase of 100 percent) during translation, if it's more than 20 characters then allow for a 30 percent increase, and if it's in between those two ranges then assume a 75 percent increase. (Bear in mind that ADF can apply truncation rules on some components in English too).

    Note that iIf your text is stored in a database, developers must make sure the table column widths can accommodate the expansion of your text when translated based on byte size for the translated character and not numbers of characters. Use Unicode. One character does not equal one byte in the multilingual enterprise apps world).

  • Rely on a graceful transformation of translated text. Let all pages to resize dynamically so the text wraps and flow naturally. ADF pages supports this already. Think websites.
  • Don't hard-code alignments. Use Start and End properties on components and not Left or Right.
  • Don't force alignments of components on the page by using texts of a certain length as spacers. Use proper label positioning and anchoring in ADF components or other technologies. Remember that an increase in text length means an increase in vertical space too when pages are resized. So don't hard-code vertical heights for any text areas.
  • Don't force wrapping by using tricks such as /n or /t characters or HTML BR tags or forced page breaks. Once the text is translated the alignment will be destroyed. The position of the breaking character or tag would need to be moved anyway, or even removed.

    Don't be tempted to manually create text or printed reports this way either. They cannot be translated successfully, and are very difficult to maintain in English. Use XML, HTML, RTF and so on. Check out what Oracle BI Publisher offers.

  • When creating tables, use table components. Don't use manually created tables that reply on word length to maintain column and row alignment. For example, don't use codeblock elements in HTML; use the proper table elements instead. Once translated, the alignment of manually formatted tabular data is destroyed.
  • Finally, if there is a space restriction, then don't use made-up acronyms, abbreviations or some form of daft text speak to save space. Besides being incomprehensible in English, they may need full translations of the shortened words, even if they can be figured out. Use approved or industry standard acronyms according to the UX style rules, not as a space-saving device.

Restricted Real Estate on Mobile Devices

On mobile devices real estate is limited. Using shortened text is fine once it is comprehensible. Users in the mobile space prefer brevity too, "as they are on the go, performing two to three-minute tasks, with no time to read lengthy texts. Using fragments and lightning up on unnecessary articles and getting straight to the point with imperative forms of verbs makes sense both on real estate and user experience grounds.

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

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