Tip 2: Language
Keep in mind the language of your target audience. When designing for different cultures, there are three key language aspects to consider.
UI copy should be localized with consideration for the nuances of the target language. Recently, I partnered with Jen DiZio, Head of Cross-Product Research at Dropbox, to conduct user research with Dropbox customers in Japan. Our goal was to learn how people from different countries experience our products. Some language-related findings indicated that customers experienced challenges in understanding how to use Smart Sync, a Dropbox branded feature.
Smart Sync is a feature that allows people to save space on their computers. While they can access a file from their Dropbox folder on their computer, the content of that folder is stored in the cloud.
Smart Sync was translated into Japanese. It appeared in the UI as スマートシンク (sumāto shinku), a phonetic translation of the English word.
In our study, the first part of the word スマート (sumāto) performed well because participants understood and used the English word smart.
But when it came to シンク (shinku), they asked, “What could シンク (shinku) possibly mean?”
- シンク (shinku) could mean think, like you’re thinking about your files or maybe thinking about your dinner
- シンク (shinku) could mean sink, like maybe you’re being asked to wash your hands in one
In U.S. English, th and s represent two unique sounds; however, in Japanese, there is only one symbol that represents both sounds. So the Japanese participants experienced challenges in distinguishing these sounds in this context and were often confused.
To the Japanese participants, the terms sync, think, and sink all sound the same. And they happen to be more familiar with the English words think and sink than they are with the English word sync, which is short for synchronize. There is a Japanese word for synchronization, but no common abbreviated version of this word. That word in Japanese is 同期 (dōki, which character for character, literally translates to “same time”).