UX and Localization

It is more by happenstance than by design, but I came across lack of localization as a user experience issue on several occasions recently.1

I don’t think that it is by chance that most of the issues revolved around a lack of empathy for non-angloamerican users. Many of the biggest web services and tools still stem from the US. Being from the US entails that you experience the hegemonic bias2 privilege of being blissfully unaware of your lack of empathy for needs and expectations of non-angloamerican users 3. I do wonder if UX design teams in US based companies really pay enough attention to intercultural communication issues.

Case in point: Several times in the last weeks did a web form refuse to accommodate my non-US data, and in turn I was forced to BS the system go gain access. Surely that’s not the kind of user experience you want your customers from abroad to have?

Moreover, software that is meant to be deployed to a world wide audience often lacks localization features that are critical for the tool to work in other cultural contexts. Mail automatization was but one example where I cursed the Intertubes. Surely the T/V distinction is relevant to a large enough part of your users world wide, what with the European languages (and their colonial offspring) all featuring it? Well, almost all. English being the one sizable exception. How many Spanish, Portuguese and French speakers are you willing to exclude from your service?

There is more to honorifics in other languages, where implementation may be more complicated than introducing a toggle switch. I should know, because the intricacies of Japanese were part of my personal struggles. And yet, would it not be worthwhile to spend resources to overcome the limitations of your tool once you are expanding your target audience?

Apple for example still does not provide me with an easy toggle in my address book to mark if I am on first name terms or still on last name terms with a business contact of mine. That is critical information in many cultural contexts, and it’s not like Apple is struggling to make ends meet. Then again they are notorious for screwing over their non-US customers anyway. USD prices converted into other currencies, like EUR, without doing any actual conversion except for changing the currency sigh are not unheard of.

But most companies cannot rely on zealous customers to overcome their apathy towards foreign users. There is a reason so many well designed tools fail to get any traction outside of the US. It’s because they are not designed for us. So stop wondering, why your marketing does not work for you and start investing in localization expertise for your UX design team. Localization is about much more than translating your interface.


  1. Seeing that I intend to share my experience with you more frequently than in the past year, it is probably a good idea to quit putting things on my radar into an ever overflowing task box: Rather than waiting to post until I can show off my solution (that I may never get around to create) I should think that perhaps smarter minds than I may find it worthwhile to be made aware of those issues. 

  2. $%&, 1504 Google hits. I thought I was more of a sociology hipster. Anyway, more chance for you to read up on your Gramsci about hegemony. It’s not a leftist-liberal conspiracy, it’s about understanding how experiences frame your perception of the world. 

  3. Shall we call them “core removed users”? Peripheral users would be my preferred term here, but unfortunately it is being used with a slightly different meaning in UX design already. I mean users from the periphery (as opposed to core) in the sociological sense. Yes, I want to make sociology a thing in UX circles. There are some pretty well thought out articles out there that deal with the sorts of phenomena where design is still struggling to find a name for. 

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