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Michal Kessel Shitrit
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December 28, 2021

The missing ingredient: Why your translators need to understand UX writing

Do your translators get UX writing? If not, there’s a good chance you’re losing users in your global markets. If you want your product to be perceived as relevant, you need to work with the right team. Here’s why that’s crucial.

Originally published on the UX Collective

We all know good UX can have a considerable impact on product success. Companies investing more in UX saw up to a 75% increase in sales. Andrew Kucheriavy claimed in 2020 that every $1 invested in UX brings, on average, a $100 ROI. Copy is, of course, a core part of any successful user experience. Companies are now beginning to realize this, and the rise in the number of UX writing and content design jobs easily proves that.

UX writing’s poor cousin, localization, receives far less attention from tech and product companies. Often, companies treat localization as a technical task — something that only needs to be done & delivered — but that’s a common misconception. The fact is that good localization is not just changing language — it’s creating new, local user experiences.

When writing your localized copy, translators need to understand how to create the best experience in their target language. Their work is much closer to UX writing than we often think: It requires generating strong emotional connections between users and brands and making complex information easy to understand. Localization experts, just like UX writers, need to capture the personality of a brand and convey that personality to specific audiences in appropriately localized ways.

When good experiences go wrong

If you’re approaching a new market launch, here’s a sad (but real) fact: Even if your product is perfectly designed, incredibly written, and has a flawless marketing strategy — poor localization can still fail you. The best product won’t sell well if people can’t use it. And the fact is, localization issues can be much more than just ‘uncomfortable’; they can lead to anything from users staying away from your product to changing their entire perception of your brand.

Poorly localized interfaces can cause usability issues, confuse the people using them, and make your product harder to use overall. And when your product is harder to use and navigate, it can make your users question your credibility or trustworthiness.

Be smarter when you localize

Whether you’re going into localizing your product soon or already shoulder-deep in the process, you can still save things by collaborating with the right team. It’s critical to find professionals who understand the principles of good UX writing — and that means more than simply translating words.

Remember — UX writers create user experiences by putting themselves in the shoes of their users. They create content that is appropriate for each audience, understanding the needs and expectations of their target users to write copy that meets them. This is what makes experiences memorable and special for the end-user. And you want that to extend to your localization efforts.

The problem: The two rarely collide

Unfortunately, many translation agencies and outsourcers do not understand the importance of UX writing in localization projects. In reality, UX localization can only be done by people who understand how to create a great user experience. And even if translators are native speakers of their language, they’re not necessarily good UX writers.

UX localization experts should have an understanding of cognitive psychology, usability and design principles, information architecture, etc., just like any other designer or writer. It takes more than just being a native speaker to write UX copy that will resonate with your target audience. When the people localizing your copy don’t have that knowledge, they often produce low-quality localizations that don’t meet the needs of your users.

Why does that happen?

The main cause for bad localization is the lack of UX writing understanding — not just among the translators themselves but also among other key people in the industry. From localizers to talent acquisition specialists to project managers, many aren’t aware that there’s a whole discipline behind writing for user interfaces. And since the demand for localization is always on the rise, agencies find it’s almost impossible to find localization experts with UX writing knowledge.

Increasing pressure to lower localization costs — and the ever-growing usage of machine translation in localization — further encourage companies to cut corners. True localization is expensive, and true localization experts — with UX writing knowledge — charge far more for their services. The fact that they’re so rare makes them an even hotter commodity in today’s localization market. Either knowingly or unknowingly, companies settle for low-quality localization done by untrained freelancers.

What can you do?

Whether you’re working with an external localization service or directly with a freelancer, it’s essential to make sure the people who are responsible for your localization have a good grasp of UX principles.

There are great localization and translation companies out there, but it may be hard to find them in the crowd. If you’re hiring a company to do localization for you, make sure they have people on staff who specialize in UX writing. If they don’t, find another company that does. Ask your contact person about their process for localizing content and experience with similar projects. Plus, make sure they provide their linguists with the tools and resources they need to localize your content well.

If you prefer to work with freelance translators directly, ensure they understand UX writing principles before hiring them. Ask to see some examples and have a native speaker review them and give their opinion.

I know it’s a lot to think about — but this understanding is crucial for the success of your localization project. Good localization experts — with the proper knowledge — can grasp the full context and flow of your product, understand your tone of voice, and adapt your brand personality. And you’ll be much more likely to get your local users to use, enjoy, and recommend your product to others around them.


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Michal Kessel Shitrit. All rights reserved.