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 in US version UI tooltip.


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.

Saturday May 07, 2011

Notes from the Oracle Usability Advisory Board Globalization Working Group

I am really happy with the outcome of the inaugural globalization (internationalization, localization, and translation) working group sessions at the Oracle Usability Advisory Board Europe in the Oracle office's in Thames Valley Park, near Reading in the UK.

A large number of customers and partners from EMEA were in attendance, and representatives from Oracle Apps-UX and development flew in from the US and Ireland (i.e, me), along with participation from local Oracle teams.

The translation part of the event opened with a great presentation by Bettina Reichart, Director with the Oracle Worldwide Product Translation Group (WPTG). Bettina explained the importance of translatability as part of the product development effort, the WPTG language quality process, about terminology development, and how customers can participate in translated applications assessments.

Customers and partners are always interested to know about internal Oracle processes and how they can interact with them, and I intend offering more of such sessions at future meetings, covering localization, internationalization, and other topics too.

Pseudotranslated Oracle EBS screen (Pseudotranslated environments and testing are central to internationalization in Oracle. We will cover this topic and other Oracle apps processes in more detail at a future OUAB)

The data gathering exercise I designed for board members, asking them to identify their top internationalization, localization and translation issues and how they  impacted usability was a big success too. We discussed the findings and the possible follow ups in a lively, fully attended working group session that seemed to take on a life of its own! We addressed issues such as lack of space for expansion of text, partial translation issues, the importance of localization (in the Oracle enterprise apps space this means support for statutory and reporting requirements for countries and regions - VAT, for example) and questions about terminology and language style. I will follow up with each customer and partner.

But there was more. I was delighted that the board members astutely exposed more complex areas about international versions such as the need to cater for connectivity and bandwidth issues,  and it was so encouraging to hear customers offer insights about the importance of language as a user experience topic, ranging from the more tangible aspects (productivity, and the need for extensibility and customization solutions, for example) to the more intangible aspects about how language it can impact employee loyalty and user perception. I firmly believe that as individual user expectations change we need to explore language aspects more and how we can allowing users to have the language they really want. Vanilla already doesn't cut it.

Finally, it was great to spend some time with my friends in the HCM Localization and information development teams too. And of course, to spend some time in Reading again!

Wednesday Mar 02, 2011

OUAB Europe Globalization Topics

Pleased to announce that the Oracle Usability Advisory Board has added a globalization workgroup (for internationalization, localization, and translation issues) for 2011.

The aims of this workgroup, broadly, are:

  • To understand how our customers use translated versions of applications.
  • To identify key international support, translation and localization-related usability issues in deployed applications.
  • To make recommendations to Oracle usability and development teams about meeting global customer usability requirements in current and future versions of our applications. 
Potential areas include: How international users use applications when working, ethnography opportunities, key cultural impacts on usability; internationalization and multilingual support (MLS) feature usage, localization of forms and reports, language quality, extensibility, translation of user assistance, user-generated and rich-media content like UPK, and international mobile application opportunities. Plus whatever the OUAB members agree should be looked at! More details the organization of the group is available on the website  (scroll down to the "Charter" section).

Oracle Applications Cloud global user experience (UX): Culture, localization, internationalization, language, personalization, more. A globally-savvy UX making it all fit together for Oracle's worldwide partners and customers.

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

Ultan Ó Broin. Senior Director, Oracle Applications User Experience, Oracle EMEA. Twitter: @localization



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