In this digital age, the rest of the world is just a mouse-click away. More people are wanting to appeal to audiences overseas. And why not? With less content on the foreign language internet , it’s easier for sites to climb the heady heights of Google and claim the coveted top slot on international search engines. But what happens when your existing website is tailored for those who only speak English?
There are a number of factors and tweaks you’ll need to make when adapting your design to be accessible for a multilingual audience.
Easy as A-B-C
If your webpage was originally developed with Unicode, then you can breathe a sigh of relief. If it’s not, then you’ve got some work to do. Along with different languages comes the issue of different alphabets, and Unicode really is the best way to support a number of different scripts. UTF-8 can open your website up to over 90 written languages and can tailor for just about any non-English character you could possibly think of, including those characters in the Cyrillic, Farsi and Hebrew alphabets.
Speaking of Hebrew, some languages read from right to left, so you’ll have to change those navigation bars if your new target language demands it. Whether you decide to swap the menus over to the other side or simply put in a horizontal navigation bar depends entirely on your own creative juices.
How much Flash are you using? More to the point, why are you still using Flash?! Unfortunately it’s not easily translated, and may need to be completely redone. It’s also worth remembering that some countries (particularly developing countries) across the world may not have high-speed internet access yet, meaning all your hard work could potentially be wasted if you’re not careful. You can solve this by creating a simple HTML site if necessary. Do your research first!
Content is King
Okay, so while the content may not necessarily impact on the design, it’s a pretty important consideration. Any existing material will need to be translated, preferably by a pro. True, there are free tools out there like Google Translate or Babelfish that can do the job for you, but machine translation generally isn’t up to scratch and could leave you with a site full of garbled text that no design genius could persuade people to love. Human translators can also make sure there are no cultural faux pas, jargon or other linguistic nuances that could leave you looking unprofessional.
As well as a different language, other cultures simply view the world differently. This might sound a bit daunting as a designer, but a little bit of knowledge will go a long way. Anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T. Hall devised a framework that classifies different cultures into low context and high context. Low context cultures like Germany and Scandanavia prefer clear statements with an obvious message, whereas Japan and other Eastern cultures place more emphasis on visual stimulus or other communicative devices.
Source: Understanding Cultural Differences by Hall, E. and Hall, M.
This may mean changing the layout or the way in which you get your point across. For an American website trying to launch in Japan, for example, you should pay more attention to the use of images and the more subtle ways that your message can be conveyed.
Colour me Beautiful
It’s also wise to be aware of the different cultural meanings of colours. In the West, red will conjure up fiery thoughts of passion or love, while over the water in South Africa, red is the colour of mourning, signifying death. Of course you’re never going to please everyone, but going for a neutral light background with dark text will generally put you in good stead for being multi-culturally friendly.
So what are you waiting for? If you do your research right and adapt your website properly for a multilingual audience, the world can soon become your cyber-oyster.