Designing Content for International User Experience
Global internet penetration is massive and growing, with over 4.66 billion internet users worldwide, which amounts to 60% of the world’s population. To remain competitive in an increasingly international market, companies must find a way to bring design, UX, and localization together into one unified process. Unfortunately, putting aside cultural biases is easier said than done, and many companies treat globalization as an afterthought rather than a core product-development priority.
This guide considers the core principles of international user experience and actionable guidelines to follow when designing content for multinational audiences.
What is UX?
User experience, or UX, refers to the whole interaction a user has with your brand. It encompasses every way a user interacts with and experiences your brand, including the technical and aesthetic elements and how they come together. Good UX emphasizes usability, accessibility, and aesthetic appeal, ensuring that clients come away satisfied at every touchpoint.
Why Is UX Important?
For a prospective customer, UX is your brand. Your intentions are unimportant. User experience will define your brand in their mind. As such, it’s critical to keep the international customer experience at the center of every decision you make, whether it’s about marketing materials or website navigation.
At the same time, it’s essential to realize that each user will have their own experience with your brand, influenced by their traits and cultural expectations. What is excellent UX for an English-speaking American may be unusable for a client from China. That’s where international UX comes in: by considering your audience’s diverse backgrounds throughout the design process, you are better equipped to put aside your intrinsic biases and cultivate a UX that appeals to international audiences.
What is International UX?
Simply, international UX is a version of UX design that elevates multicultural considerations over the preferences of any single market. While the primary considerations are the same, teams, approach them with a broader view to avoid imposing biases on the design.
International User Experience vs. Traditional UX Design
In traditional UX design, professionals optimize print and digital touchpoints to ensure a cohesive, intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing interaction with the brand. This includes visual elements like fonts and colors and technical aspects such as UI for websites and software.
The problem arises when teams filter these considerations through a culturally biased lens. Although typically unintentional and even unconscious, applying cultural biases to UX design can alienate vast swathes of your global audience. For instance, the following missteps are common when teams fail to consider the needs of different users:
- Tone Mismatch: Brands invest a great deal of time and money into developing their unique tone, which carries throughout their products’ textual and visual language. However, audiences perceive tone very differently depending on their cultural background, which can cause international audiences to misinterpret your brand’s vision. In the worst cases, differences can make your polished copy come off as offensive when translated.
- Inappropriate Cultural References: Brands that take more casual tones sometimes overuse culturally-specific references or slang. What may seem obvious to your native-English-speaking team can be highly confusing for an ESL speaker, not to mention challenging to translate.
- Technical Problems: Technical problems are prevalent when localization comes later in the workflow, with severe effects on usability. For instance, an overly media-heavy interface may be unwieldy for users with lower bandwidth, including a substantial portion of specific markets. Other problems can also occur, such as overflowing text when translating content or data validation problems when entering names and dates.
The best way to prevent these kinds of unintended localization problems is to embrace international UX. While many companies relegate these problems to separate teams, addressing them at the very end of the design process, this approach is more expensive in the long run, sometimes often requiring extensive changes at the tail-end of development.
International UX, which we cover in-depth in our International UX and CX webinar, is a design philosophy that acknowledges and adapts to your audience’s distinct cultural realities. International UX is more than simple translation or localization. Instead, it’s an integration of design disciplines in which the technical, visual, and content-rich elements of a brand experience all adapt seamlessly to different cultural needs.
Critical Elements of International User Experience
International UX teams must consider many elements that sit at the intersection of UX and localization. When done well, the result is a truly global experience that different audiences can appreciate equally. Some considerations include:
- Visual Identity: Icons, colors, and imagery all have unique associations, depending on the user’s cultural background. An international user experience alters these visual elements, as appropriate, so that all users both understand and identify with the brand’s visual language.
- Proper Translations: Automated or amateur translations cannot capture the same nuance as professional translation and localization. Copywriting and translation teams play a crucial role in international UX, ensuring that translated copy retains the same meaning, tone, and register.
- Technical Optimization: Technical optimization includes two primary goals: Firstly, to ensure that digital experiences have the technical framework to implement cross-language compatibility, and secondly, to make these platforms fast and responsive for users across the planet. Technical optimization also includes mobile optimization since some markets remain largely mobile-first. These include India, Nigeria, and Kenya, as well as many other Asian and African countries.
International UX does not replace traditional UX design but integrates UX design principles with globalization, localization, and translation. The philosophy makes it easier to reach audiences worldwide without the expense of retrofitting unoptimized websites for different markets.
Designing Content for International Audience
Following the principles of international UX maximizes your brand’s reach, no matter what content you’re developing. From advertisements to blog posts to web applications, the following guidelines help eliminate cultural blind spots so that your product is viable on a global scale.
Consider Localization From Day One
The number one rule of international UX is to start early. While it’s possible to tweak existing UX to suit different markets, it’s more difficult and more expensive to make frameworks global-friendly once they’re in place. Considering how each element will play to different audiences helps prevent costly missteps and ensure products are fully accessible from launch. As part of this, foster collaboration between content writers, localization managers, and UX/UI designers from the beginning of your project. Combining these voices gives designers the best chance of making culturally informed decisions rather than relying on biased intuitions.
Understand Your Target Audiences
Although sound UX design allows companies to localize content for any market, it helps understand your core audience. Developing market personas for each primary market enables you to visualize the global customer journey and optimize each user’s experience with your brand. Doing this from the start can help you prioritize the types of accommodations that are most important for your target audience.
Prioritize Design Flexibility
No global solution is perfect on the first attempt. Taking measures to promote design flexibility help facilitate edits that may become necessary after testing with different international audiences. For instance, allowing extra space in your UI makes it less likely that translation will force you to redesign menus and footers. Similarly, keeping text out of static images makes it easier to translate content down the line. If text is included in embedded images, graphic designers are forced to remake the element for each target country, which is far less efficient than simply translating text. Finally, flexibility is essential at the level of data storage. For instance, databases should be able to accommodate different countries’ conventions for names, addresses, dates, and the characters used in non-Latin writing systems.
Finally, every time you enter a new market, employ sensitivity readers and usability testers to identify potential problems with localization. However skilled your localization teams are, they can not anticipate every cultural difference that might affect your product. For that reason, testing with actual members of your target audience is essential to identify lingering problems. Just as important is to track repeated customer questions. Mining customer support data is invaluable as it tells you exactly where real users are encountering difficulties with your UX.
Vistatec’s Globalization Solutions
Each year, Vistatec produces millions of localized words in over 150 languages, ensuring clients’ messages are optimized for every market. At the same time, we offer comprehensive strategic guidance to help clients compete in the global marketplace. To learn how our leading experts help companies optimize their international UX, contact our team today.
We have been helping some of the world’s most iconic brands to optimize their global commercial potential since 1997. Vistatec is one of the world’s leading global content solutions providers. HQ in Dublin, Ireland, with offices in Mountain View, California, USA.