NN/g News

Translation and Localization are Still Tough Problems

December 7, 2000

By Kara Pernice

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, December 7, 2000.  Usability issues associated with having international users is an important topic for usability professionals in the United States. When we talked with attendees at the World Tour in Stockholm, we found that many of them are also struggling with these issues.

Photo of Åsa Bäckström, Kreatel
Åsa Bäckström,
Kreatel

Åsa Bäckström, an interaction designer at Kreatel, a telephone and broadband services company in Sweden, is facing international challenges. "We have customers all around Europe and Asia ," she said. "The older products are mostly hardware and a small user manual, so designing [for international customers] is not really a problem. But when it comes to the broadband service options, you have the remote control, the portal, the keyboard and the box itself. One tiny little detail is the text you put on top of the buttons on the remote and keyboard. You want to make them as international as possible."

Bäckström said that designing international products that have with several components can impact schedules significantly. "The challenges we have are both software and hardware," she said. "The lead-time you have when working with hardware is very, very different from working with software. With software, you can duplicate it as easily as pressing two keys on a keyboard. Hardware you have to be really prepared and so much in the process early. A lot of the hardware is produced in Japan."

To internationalize the hardware products, they have chosen to use a combination of acronyms and icons. She said, "Some of the icons we use are very commonly-used icons, like the mute symbol, a loudspeaker that is crossed out. Or volume is like a triangle with a plus. I think those are the only international icons we use. It's really, really difficult. We use acronyms, so for example, we use www to surf the Web, and a TV button to watch TV."

While they do try to make one version of the hardware products, they cannot do this with the software. "The portal itself can't be international. It has to be translated," she said. "Maybe there are also changes for colors, for example what Brenda Laurel said about using yellow and red in different counties."

Fiona Munn, who works on design management for British Airways in London, discussed the unique challenges they face in designing for international customers. "That is one of the major challenges," she said. "It is a global website...We have Web sites in each country, some 91 countries online, that are part of the whole British Airways brand . We have a big global presence. That's one of the big issues, how to communicate to those markets...people traveling from those countries, making sure they get information.

"The practical issue for us is translation," she said. "There are local language sites which are translated." However, there is some information that is not translated, she said. "The core parts of our site, the transactional system, schedule tables, are all in English. Those are areas that have been highlighted that we need to look into... We're investigating the most proper way of doing it. We appreciate the technology is not there to do automatic translation."

Geir B. Hansen, a designer and developer at Funcom.com, a computer games company in Norway, is also facing translation challenges. "We are looking at rebuilding our entire Web site," he said. "We are currently at four languages, something like 400 pages in each language. We're going to do French and German too, so it will be six." They found several challenges while working with so many pages and languages. "We put quite an effort into making it maintainable," he said. "We've had quite a lot of trouble with text being translated as graphics. Web pages put headlines out in graphics rather than plain text. We had trouble with that because it takes quite a lot of work to translate."

After encountering these translation issues, they created some specific methods for making the site easier to manage. Hansen said, "We've made it a policy to keep text as text, and to separate text from presentation so the translators can keep up." In addition to creating policies, they have also created software to help them with this work. "We made an in-house translation tool for audio and text for an adventure game we're making ...took something like a week to develop the tool. Saved, I expect, hundreds of thousands of dollars in translation costs."

In addition to the translation and localization issues, Hansen says his company faces other international issues. "You have ratings in the U.S. and we do too. We created this family-friendly game. PG is for kids with parents and guidance. We got one of those ratings [in the U.S.] for a very family-oriented and non-violent game because of what the American people see as bad language and sexual content. This is different from European. We wanted a G rating because it's a family-oriented game. Violent games in the U.S. get lower ratings than ours because ours has swearing. In the U.S., swearing seems worse than violence ." Hansen said that he's not entirely sure why the game got a PG rating. "The F -word is just the beginning. It fits in the story. It seems natural to us. It would be perfectly normal on TV here. It is a totally non-violent game." He said this is a relatively serious problem for their company because sales in America are important. "Compared to population, we've sold a lot in Norway. All games sell the most in the U.S."