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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

We are all the same and we are all different

8:16:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg No comments
With globalization and the offering of products and services to multiple markets comes a need for localization. To reach a global audience, you have to respect their differences. You have to learn about how they expect to be treated and then try your best to treat them in that way. Differences in culture, language, legislation and other things need to be taken into consideration.

In web site and content development, localization should be a key part of any strategy aiming to reach a global audience. Web site localization usually translates into basic things such as talking to an audience in their own language. However, there are many more factors to consider and much more to it than translating text. I find it usable to view the localization challenge in three different dimensions:

1. Information Architecture - how a site is conceptually structured and how the structure and building elements (pages, page components, buttons etc) are labeled

2. Content - text, images, video and so on that need to be translated and in other ways adjusted to local requirements.

3. Templates - The containers of the content must be able to hold and display localized content. You should strive to be able to use the same page design for all markets and the only feasible way to achieve this reuse is to design page templates which can automatically be adjusted to local needs.

Web site localization is a very challenging job, not the least since you have to balance user experience design against the localization needs. The interaction design and visual design will inevitably be compromised for the sake of meeting up with localization needs.

Currently, I am hired as consultant by a global company with a large number of sites in 20+ different languages. I am leading pre-studies for new development and localization is always a key requirement that we need to consider. I am going to share some of my own experiences on localization with you in this and a few following posts, starting with two fundamental things to do in any localization project.

First of all, you need to identify the localization requirements and bring these as input to the design process. You need to identify and analyze ALL possible localization requirements, not just those having to do with languages; currencies, addresses, measurements, use of imagery, reading direction, symbolic meaning of colors, different legal and cultural requirements... For example, in Europe some countries might be changing currency to the Euro, so your design might have to support dual currencies. If you forget to think about this from the start, then you might get into serious problems later on.

Secondly, you need to define how the localization process should work. You should do this before designing the web site. Who should do the translations, where, when and how?

If you start out with these two things and work iteratively on refining the localization requirements and localization process throughout the project, the localization challenges coming ahead will be much easier to manage. I'll tell you more about those challenges in coming posts.


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