Why is the Translation Industry Terrified of User Experience?
TakeAway for Multilingual Magazine
Who’s Afraid of User Experience Now?
I recently attended a major information development conference in Silicon Valley. Admittedly, I
didn’t attend the entirety of sessions, though what I did hear being expressed left me depressed
enough, so perhaps that’s just was well. During one particular session on content management,
moderated by an industry rock star, it rapidly became apparent that when it came to mobile
computing the preoccupation of the assembled information development industry professionals
was figuring out ways of shoving existing user assistance and content (help, doc, video,
whatever) onto current and emergent mobile platforms.
Now people, listen to Ultan. A rudimentary knowledge of how users behave and use mobile
devices and applications might have offered insights to these professionals about whether any
user assistance at all should even be provided based on a use case, and if so, how it might be
best used (the location, style, grammar, terminology, affordance, and so on).
Mobile usability considerations are different to desktop or web ones, and must take into account
such things as device capability, interruptibility of task, the need to complete tasks rapidly, even
the ‘losability’ of the device itself! If you’re interested in exploring these considerations further,
then search for my Oracle colleague Brent White’s web article Design for the Mobile Experience
or the ACM Digital library (http://dl.acm.org/) for Appropriating and assessing heuristics for
mobile computing by Enrico Bertini, Silvia Gabrielli, and Stephen Kimani. Seemed to me, pretty
much, that the conference attendees seemed either ignorant or terrified of the concept of user
What I had, witnessed at this event was no consideration for context of use, a basic “level 1”
consideration of the Common Industry Specification for Usability – Requirements (CISUR) and
a fundamental of user experience (UX). Another great crossindustry reference for you to
Google, by the way.
I wrote about the need for UX to be a translation industry (including globalization and localization)
concern too in Multilingual in March 2011. Have things changed since then? And how? Are some
translation industry people still utterly terrified of the concept of user experience? Have others
seen the light?
I recently read an article about gamification in Multilingual. Cool, I thought (gamification is a big
research interest of mine), I’ll get some insights into how culture and localization requirements
impact the deployment of game dynamics to increase participation and engagement (that is,
more UX) in different markets. There’s little written about that aspect. But there wasn’t any
mention of this. Hence, this TakeAway.
However, I do think things are changing in the right direction of crossdomain cooperation and
fusion. There was a good discussion about the need for UX to underpin translation
considerations at a recent Localization World, and I know that UX is something that Centre for
Next Generation Localisation (CNGL) in Ireland has thought about a great deal. All good.
However, how much practicality there is behind bringing UX and translation together as a
discipline, best practice, market differentiator, or business requirement, is hard to quantify.
Take the issue of translation cost savings. All too often this kind of preoccupation means
dumbed down content devoid of any context or detail for users to be of any use in problem
solving or task completion because such content facilitates “leveraging” And this, despite the
fact that context always wins over consistency (search for the 37 Signals book Getting Real)
from a design perspective.
Or take use of controlled authoring (or information quality) as a sine qua non to facilitate the
introduction of machine translation (MT). In itself, this is nonsense prerequisite, but it also can
result in source material that is so dismal in terms of content, style and grammar it generates
support calls and does nothing for disaffected users. To heck with the customer experience as
long as there is high fuzzy and perfect matches and easily trained MT engines, eh?
And, don’t start me on the context for translator stuff, where the user experience requirements of
personalization and extensibility are ignored in favor or demands for simple, lame content and
manually written descriptions instead of metadata driven contextual information that is machine
readable providing instruction for tools and translators about content that might actually excite
and delight users of it.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
It behooves me as a UX professional with an interest and track record in technology
globalizationrelated practices and publication to keep pushing for UX and translation to work
together; to highlight such synergies and successes, industry wide.
Let’s turn the ‘talk’ to ‘walk’. Recently for example, the Oracle Worldwide Product Translation
Group cooperated with the Oracle Applications User Experience group, facilitating mobile
ethnography worldwide. The local market and cultural knowledge of the former team combined
with the latter’s UX science and engineering methodology to research mobile context of use in
Europe. The result is that translation teams come to learn how apps work, and to develop
translation glossaries, style and insight for QA in advance of translation, while UX pros gets to
understand cultural and locale requirements for design and implementation of a stunning UX that
is appropriate for the global user. Everyone wins from context of use work! You can read about
the Oracle project on our blog Blogos (www.multilingualblog.com), by the way.
I just know there must be many more examples of UX and translation working together towards
common ends, at all stages of the product, content, or service experience. Send them to me
through Blogos and I will be more than happy to publicize them, or why not propose an article for
inclusion in Multilingual using the contact information?
So come on industry; get with the program! Stop being terrified of UX. Translation, localization,
transcreation, local marketing writing, whatever, are all forms of user experience. An acceptance
of this reality and showing how it works for everyone will make all our lives easier, fun, and
interesting. It will be a better experience for everyone, but especially our users, regardless of
language, country or region.
So, do I think we are moving in the right direction? Yes. But not fast enough. Let’s see if we can
change that. Together.