Design Obstacles For International Domains

By on Web Design

Web design projects are becoming more varied and complex with each year that passes. And one trend which looks set to explode in the next 18 months is global brands rolling out their existing corporate websites to new markets across the World. This globalization mindset is here to stay and as a result web design agencies can expect more website localisation projects and will have to ensure design is catered for an international audience.

The demand for localized content has grown exponentially over the last 5 years as internet users surfing habits continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. Rewind the clock back a few years and the majority of corporate pages on the web were written in English however as we head into 2014 consumers want to be served compelling content, written in their own native language.

With 2.3 billion web users Worldwide, recent stats show you can reach 90% of those users with just 13 languages. These changing conditions are prompting brands to encompass more languages in their web strategies and website localisation is quickly becoming a necessity when entering new markets. Regardless of the country brands are targeting, web design is still paramount and below we will uncover some of the common design problems experienced when localizing entire sites.

Text Expansion

Foreign text has an unforgiving track record for disrupting existing page templates and compromising design features. Without a doubt, it's one of the most common design problems experienced when undertaking a localisation project. The issue lies with the fact that text size often expands or contracts depending on the language. For instance, when compared to English Asian languages are often much more compact whereas French and German phrasing is likely to be significantly elongated.

This can wreak havoc when designing items like page menus or drop down boxes and careful planning is a prerequisite before you begin translating web content. A firm understanding should be gained on how your translated text is likely to change; does the font size need to be increased? Will using a right to left font create UI problems? Or perhaps untidy pockets of white space may surface?

Ultimately when you come to iron out any text expansion problems you shouldn't settle for second best. If you're not happy with the end result, you should work more closely with your development team and translation agency to put together a final series of amends. Shrinking font size and implementing responsive design templates are combative tactics which help however a much better solution is to provide your designated translator with a maximum character count before they begin translating.

Just Add Color

When localizing a website a substantial amount of energy is spent on translating content, re-working templates and making sure brand messaging is coherent. One aspect which can therefore be overlooked is the color of your localized webpages.

From a design perspective color selection can be incredibly useful for improving user acceptance, highlighting cultural traits and framing your brand in the best possible light. Therefore to get the most mileage out of your localized domain you need to be confident your primary color selection doesn't fuel any negative feelings. For example in China red represents feelings of 'luck' and 'celebration' whereas in the United Kingdom red may stimulate feelings of 'danger' and 'caution'.

Painted Hands
[Image Source]

Color selection should be a standalone component of your localisation strategy, in which the cultural tendencies of your target demographic are identified and catered to. It may not be feasible to completely overhaul your existing color scheme for every localisation assignment however it's certainly a sensible strategy to ensure the principal colors used on the homepage are fit for purpose.

Unicode Text

As the World's fastest growing language service provider one piece of advice I distribute on a daily basis is for companies to predominantly work with Unicode text. Not only does this provide a workable level of consistency for your translation agency but it also makes it much easier to upload multilingual content to Content Management Systems like WordPress or Drupal – as they all support Unicode.

There are a variety of Unicode formats available however the one we would recommend for multilingual projects is UTF-8, as it offers a much broader spectrum of available characters. By adopting this format, country specific symbols and expressions can be easily transferred and populated for the web. For example using UTF-8 the German (ß) symbol for 'ss' can easily be included within your webpages along with the German Umlaut vowels ä, ö and ü.

Localizing Images

Image heavy websites are typically the most intricate to localize, as they often require additional work to ensure user interfaces remain flexible. Furthermore some images may not be suitable to automatically transfer from one culture to another. If you have a large cross section of images remember to schedule in plenty of time for sourcing relevant images for each country you are targeting and if your businesses operates in a specific niche you may need to invest in creating professional imagery yourself.

Whilst less informative, images do play an important role within the localisation process. They help convey what your brand is all about and can provide a visual representation for how your product or services work. When localizing images it's crucial that text based images are translated and content is tailored towards the cultural and behavioral traits of the people situated in that country.

If you're looking to expand at a rapid rate and enter multiple markets simultaneously then scaling back the complexity of your localisation project would be a rational decision. This was the case when Google was first growing in the early 2000s; rival companies were offering multilingual content in around 10 languages whereas Google offered users in excess of 60 languages. Their simple interface and lack of images essentially made creating international domains much simpler and was a key reason underpinning their staggering rate of growth.

Closing Thoughts

When contemplating the design for localized web builds it can be a confusing and sometimes disjointed process. Budget constraints and client expectations will shape the entire project however it's important to realize that localized websites are targeting a separate audience and therefore design has to adapt. Understanding how localized content will impact design is the first step to creating a visually striking International domain and if you can make sure the actual content creates a meaningful impact with your audience then the stereotypical barriers to market will crumble.