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How does translation impact design?

If you are looking to expand your business into the global market, website localisation is an essential service to invest in to make sure your company’s message is understood in as many languages as possible. However, it isn’t just the text on your website that will need to be translated within the scope of localisation services; there are other visual and structural concerns, such as text expansion, which need to be taken into consideration.

So why isn’t website localisation as simple as translating the copy on your homepage from one language to another, and what else needs to be done to ensure that your brand can be as widely understood as possible?

What is text expansion in translation, and how does it impact design?

In context of translation, text expansion is the varying length of a sentence between languages. When you think about some of the basic phrases we learn in other languages, you can get a clearer picture of this: “what’s your name” translates into French as “comment t’appelles tu?”, whilst saying “I forgot” in German translates as “Ich habe es vergessen”. These additional characters and syllables add up over the course of a paragraph, and will inevitably lead to the text on your website becoming longer in translation.

According to the World Wide Web Consortium, the international organisation in charge of standards for the internet, text expansion needs to be taken into account for anyone working on designing a localised website from one language to another. Consequently, while your website might look ideal in English, you may need to create an entirely different wireframe—the basic visual outline of your page—if you’re localising it for international languages, in order to accommodate longer words and sentences.

Symbols and images may need to be changed too

Regardless of how well established your brand is in your home country, embrace the fact you will be entering a new marketplace with a blank slate. Many companies have had to rebrand altogether for international marketplaces, whether as a result of pronunciation or translation issues with product names or the cultural meaning of their logos or mascots abroad.

One company that does this without you even noticing is Netflix, which conducts A/B image testing on a mass scale to see which thumbnails will get the most clicks and lead to more views. Whilst it personalises these thumbnails for shows depending on what you have previously watched, the streaming giant also localises its images based on the most clicked icons in any given country.

Tips on designing a translation-friendly website

So how do you actually create a localisation-friendly design for your website? The main thing to bear in mind is the imminent arrival of Google’s mobile-first index, which will prioritise how websites appear on mobile devices over desktop computers. As such, you should make sure to do your research on how international users use responsive mobile site designs.

Regarding the content on the site itself, it is advisable to follow Netflix’s lead when it comes to localising your website for other territories. Test different images, design concepts and even colour schemes on your international customers at the market research stage to see which ones they respond best to. In order to make your (and your web designer’s) job easier, avoid embedding text in your images so everything can be translated more easily, and made responsive in the development stage of your website.

You should also make sure that all of your site’s fonts are Unicode so that they will work using characters with accents, or be able to be read in another direction as a language dictates. Indeed, if you are localising your website into a number of languages, start with those which read from right to left as these are more likely to lead to problems in the design and development stage.

Ultimately, while it may seem daunting, localising your business’s website can be a relatively simple process, provided you conduct all of the foundation work in advance, and address the needs of your international client base.

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