‘Translation is UX’ Manifesto

User experience is progressively taking the central position it has always deserved. Designers, entrepreneurs and developers attend to their users' every need—that is great news.

UX designers know that creating a user experience implies tackling many different parameters—such as interfaces, copy and graphics—and having an eye for detail. However we regret that one of those parameters, which does have a major impact, is too often neglected: Translation.

Let's localise experiences, give all users equal consideration. Web and translation professionals, let's stick and work together. “Translation is UX!”

Verónica González de la Rosa, translator
Antoine Lefeuvre, UX designer

Translation plays a major role in the user experience. Why should it be neglected?

“Copywriting is Interface Design”</a>. So is translation. Illustration © Perrine Lefeuvre

“Copywriting is Interface Design”. So is translation.

Making copy understandable and appropriate requires a lot of effort. Translating it is just as demanding.

Designers are more and more aware of the critical role copy plays in the user experience. Copywriting is a true creative work: What do we want to say? Who's the target? Where and when? What's the tone?

Copy provides personality to design, helping to humanise our interfaces. Why put so much effort into designing and polishing up this personality if it ends up lost in translation?

Translators know it well: Translating a text means, above all, understanding it and analysing it thoroughly. Thus good translation allows all users—the original version users as well as the others—to value the designer's style.

Would you put a robot in charge of the interface design? Illustration © Perrine Lefeuvre

Would you put a robot in charge of the interface design?

No, it's science fiction, of course. However machines are frequently given the responsibility of the translation.

“Translating is a respectable, valuable, creative and worthwhile use of a human brain”, David Bellos. In other words, translating is not more simple or easier to be automated than designing an interface or creating a logo. No doubt that when machines will be able to translate, few things will stand up to them. It'll be therefore possible to use Google Translate but also Google Design and Google Copywriting.

In the meantime we still need professional translators. They are your best international marketers. They present your product or service in its best light, ready for a foreign language and context.

By working hand in hand with translators and by listening to feedback, you'll do more than translating, you'll localise. Localising the user experience is localising your success.

Community translation is developing. For better or for worse. Illustration © Perrine Lefeuvre

Community translation is developing, for better or for worse.

Open source is fantastic. But it does not necessarily means amateurishness. Let's get the best from community development.

Open source and tools such as GitHub have made development social. It's a great evolution which has helped many projects to see the light of day or be improved.

However developers know it well—open source does not mean amateurishness or anarchy. Most of the members of a development community are generally professionals (employees or freelancers). Additionally every contribution is subjected to control and discussion before being accepted or rejected.

Thus, in order to last, community translation must adopt these principles: Open, professional and subjected to quality controls.

Glossaries are stylesheets. Illustration © Perrine Lefeuvre

Glossaries are stylesheets.

Making sure the same font is used everywhere is good. Making sure “module”, “plugin” or “extension” aren't used to refer to one same concept is a good thing, too.

The stylesheet is one of those documents which links professionals together. It's a technical document created, nevertheless, by the designer. It is a way of exchanging between designers and developers, a guarantee of consistency within the project.

This definition can also be applied to a glossary. It links design and translation together and ensures copy consistency. It takes care of the content while the stylesheet takes care of the form. The glossary is not a translator-only tool, just as CSS is not a developer-only responsibility.

Glossaries must be the team's document: Understood, used and fed by all.

Designers, developers and translators. A wonder team. Illustration © Perrine Lefeuvre

Designers, developers and translators. A wonder team.

Removing barriers between professionals is essential. It's time to enrich your team working arm in arm with translators.

Agile methods have revolutionised the way software and websites are developed. One of agility's core principles is team work. By breaking the V-cycle, each professional has the opportunity to participate at any step of the process.

Translators are also part of the team, if only because they know the end user perfectly well. Why not get them involved in creating personas or in the different user tests? Developers and translators have much to share—when choosing variables for example.

The fact that translators are usually freelancers is not an excuse. Being self-employed has never prevented a developer or a designer from joining a team.

Are you convinced that Translation is UX? Great, this is what you can do.

Web professionals: Translate early, translate often

An excellent way of applying this manifesto's principles is getting translation into your projects the sooner the better. Do not wait till all your work is done to call your translator!

The reckless ones will go for “Foreign First”: Launching a foreign version before the original one. This is the best solution to fight back our natural tendency to favour the original version over the foreign ones.

Translation professionals: Learn programming languages

HTML, CSS, JS, these programming languages are the industry standards, the day-to-day of those making the web. Understanding the code is understanding the people who code.

All the more so as being linguists, you will surely appreciate how rich these languages are: vocabulary, syntax, experts debates or the difference between smart and dirty code

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Stay informed on how the project progresses or on people's feedback via Twitter:

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If this manifesto is important to you, please tell your friends. At the coffee break, during a meet-up or a work meeting.
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