What Is UI and UX Localization

Chidinma Egwuogu
10 Jul 2023

15 min. read


Picture this: an eager German user downloads your app but finds everything designed with an English audience in mind. Unfamiliar dates, incomprehensible currencies, and words that don't fit on buttons.

Now imagine these UI issues being replicated worldwide.

These are challenges that can be solved with a proper user interface localization.

What is UI and UX localization, anyway? And how can this essential strategy help make your product a natural fit for users around the world?

Pro tip: Tailor your product’s UI/UX to global audiences using a professional localization platform – Centus. Learn more.

What is UI and UX in design?

First, let’s start with the basics.

  • User interface (UI): User interface, or UI, refers to the assortment of elements that users interact with in a digital product. Think buttons, sliders, text fields, colors, and layouts — everything that forms the visual aspect of a website or an app. A classic example of a memorable UI would be Instagram, with its clean, image-focused layout and easily recognizable icons.
  • User experience (UX): User experience, or UX, goes beyond what meets the eye. It’s about how a product works and feels. Does the website load fast enough? Is the checkout process seamless? Does the user feel delighted while interacting with the product? These are all UX concerns.

What is UI and UX localization?

UI and UX localization is the process of adapting the user interface and experience of a digital product to match the languages, cultural nuances, and regional preferences of different user bases. This includes translating UI elements, modifying design layouts, and adjusting workflows to make them feel more native.

Essentially, UX/UI localization allows businesses to create a user experience that feels globally consistent yet locally personalized, enhancing user engagement and retention. What is UI and UX localization?

Why localized user experience is important?

Localization used to be a luxury, an option limited to a handful of tech giants with the resources to expand into different markets. And it was also mostly in English-speaking countries, since English was, in essence, the language of the internet.

Fast forward to today, and the digital landscape has undergone a serious change. Your audience now includes individuals from various cultural backgrounds speaking a plethora of languages. Meaning localization has transitioned from an optional luxury to a necessity for businesses.

Now that we understand the paradigm shift, let's dig deeper into why you need UI/UX localization.

  1. Enhances user experience: UI/UX localization is about crafting a digital environment that feels natural and intuitive to each user, regardless of their location. This is important because the language has a substantial impact on the user experience and purchases.
  2. Extends market reach: Did you know that English-speaking internet users make up only 25.9% of the global internet population? By localizing your digital products, you unlock doors to the remaining 74.1% of the internet users who could otherwise be overlooked.
  3. Increases user engagement: Familiarity breeds engagement. A product that speaks the user's language encourages more interaction and retains user interest for longer.
  4. Boosting conversion rates: Localization affects not just user satisfaction, but also the bottom line. Companies that localize efficiently can expand their revenue in these new markets. Learn more.
  5. Building trust: When a product feels familiar and respects the user's cultural context, it nurtures trust and loyalty. According to Salesforce, a remarkable 95% of customers are more likely to stick with companies they trust.
  6. Complying with local laws and regulations: Beyond cultural and language considerations, localization also ensures that digital products align with local laws and regulations, helping your business dodge potential legal pitfalls.

5 Key stages of user interface localization

Creating a localized digital experience is a journey rather than a destination. It’s a process that goes beyond mere translation and involves a deep understanding of the user's language, culture, and digital norms. Let's unpack the crucial stages in this journey.

1. Planning for localization

Planning in UIUX Localization Source: Canva

Effective UI and UX localization starts right from the drawing board. You don’t just spring up a localization project on your team. Here are the key considerations in this initial stage:

  • Identifying target markets: Where are you localizing for, and why? Understanding the reason for your localization and your target market's digital behaviors enables a design that intuitively resonates with the users.
  • User preferences and cultural considerations: To create a design that feels local, consider cultural interpretations of colors, symbols, images, date formats, and number systems during the planning phase.
  • Conducting user research: Gathering user insights and localization requirements is essential to inform the design process. This could be through surveys, focus groups, or user behavior analysis.
  • Prioritizing usability: Usability determines the ease of user interaction with your product within their cultural and linguistic context. Before localizing, you need to check if your original app (or parts of it) is functional in the new region. This helps you know the extent of your project.

A truly usable design takes into account the following elements:

  • Cultural compatibility: Are symbols, icons, and color schemes culturally appropriate and clear in their meaning?
  • Language clarity: Is the language clear, concise, jargon-free, and suitably translated?
  • Layout flexibility: Is your layout adaptable to differences in script direction, text length, and character size across languages?
  • Intuitive navigation: Does your app's organization of information align with the digital conventions of your target market?
  • Local functionality: Have you included region-specific features or integrations that users in your target market expect? For instance, payment channels, social media, and so on.
  • Performance: Does your product perform well considering the typical internet speeds and device usage in the target market?
  • Accessible design: Is your design usable by people with varying abilities?

In essence, planning for localization essentially involves recognizing and anticipating the requirements of your varied international audience. It's the first and, possibly, most important stage in the UI localization process, setting the tone for succeeding phases.

2. Internationalization

Internationalization is the blueprint for your product’s localization. Internationalization prepares a digital product to be used in other languages, regions, and cultures without requiring significant, resource-consuming modifications.

This approach to design requires a deep understanding of various cultural and linguistic landscapes to create a UI and UX that not only functions seamlessly but also feels intuitively familiar across different cultures.

Consistency is the mantra here – your app should deliver a top-rate user experience, no matter where it is used.

Let's take a closer look at some of the considerations that come into play during the internationalization phase:

  • Visual elements: From the images and icons to the color palette used, every visual aspect of your design requires careful consideration. Take, for instance, color symbolism. In China, the color red symbolizes luck, but in many Western cultures, it's associated with danger or warning. Being cognizant of such cultural differences can prevent any unintended negative implications.
  • Layout adjustments: One size doesn't fit all when it comes to text. Different languages take up varying amounts of space - German words are usually longer than English, while Arabic and Hebrew are read from right to left. Designing layouts with the flexibility to accommodate these language variations helps preserve the aesthetic and functionality of your app across markets.

According to John Saito, a former designer at Dropbox, a great way to predict translation lengths is by using the GoogleTranslate function in Google Spreadsheets. We tried it with a common phrase, “log in”, and we found out that some languages had 2x the character length. comparison table of translation lengths Other specific UI and UX components that require internationalization include:

  • Menus: Plan for the translation of your menus. Keep the literal text externally defined, and provide for text expansion as some translations may take up more space than the original language. Also, consider cultural conventions when presenting dates, times, or numeric fields, and opt for numeric characters (0-9) over English letters (A-Z) as the option fields for selection — they’re usually the same worldwide.
  • Images with text: Avoid designs that embed text in images as they pose significant challenges for translation. You could opt for universal symbols, smudgy text in the visual design, or overlay text using CSS instead.
  • Buttons: A key principle, highlighted by Will Grant in the book 101 UX Principles, is that a button should act like a button — users should be able to activate it by clicking anywhere on it, and not solely on the button’s text.
  • Text considerations: Make your text easily translatable from the source to the native language to simplify the future UI and UX localization process.

Here's how to create easily-translatable text:

  • Use simple phrases and sentences.
  • Maintain consistency in terminology throughout the product. Inconsistent terminology can lead to confusion and waste translators' time.
  • Include notes for translators to ensure the correct use of words.
  • Avoid negative questions, as they can often be misunderstood by users.
  • Avoid abbreviations. Rules for abbreviations vary from language to language and can cause misunderstandings.
  • Stay clear of slang, jargon, and humor, as these don't always translate well across languages.
  • Avoid "corporate speak". Write from a user-centric, not an organization-centric point of view.
  • Be wary of using metaphors as they may have different meanings in other cultures.

Internationalization, when approached with these considerations in mind, creates a strong foundation for an effective localization process and ensures your product is well-prepared to cater to international audiences.

Learn more about internationalization here.

3. Translation and content localization

Translation is a vital part of UIUX localization Source: Canva

Translation and content localization involve identifying and changing your product’s content to match the language and culture of your new users. At this stage, you align every piece of your app to the way your users think and live. The content could be:

  • Textual content: This includes every word that your users will read, from in-app messages, badges, and CTAs, to push notifications. Remember, it's not just about direct translation into their own language, but making sure the message makes sense in their culture. One key area is UX writing localization — that’s the small bits of text on buttons or error messages. It's important to keep the original meaning, tone, and brevity when translating to different languages.
  • Non-textual content: This includes visuals, sounds, images, and other elements. Everything, right down to the color schemes and sounds, should be in tune with what your users find familiar and comfortable. For example, the background music in your fitness app should align with what gets people moving in that region.
  • Marketing materials: Whether it's emails, social media posts, website content, or ads, every piece of your marketing strategy should speak to your users in their language and cater to their cultural norms.
  • Legal and support documents: Documents like privacy policies, terms of service, and support guides should not only be translated but also comply with local laws and regulations.
  • App store content: Even the way you present your app on the app store, from the app's name and description to the screenshots, can be adapted to better appeal to users in different countries.

A major part of this stage is understanding the culture of your users and adapting your app accordingly. This could mean adjusting the tone of your text or swapping out images to ones that resonate more with the users in a particular region.

But the process isn't always smooth sailing. You may run into difficulties due to differences in language structures or cultural references. This is where professional translators and localization teams can help. They have the knowledge and experience to ensure that your app fits naturally into the culture of each target market, without losing its uniformity.

Pro tip: Fast-track content localization and ensure seamless team coordination with a comprehensive translation management system — Centus. Here’s how.

4. Testing

Test your product after UI and Ux localization Source: Canva

Once you've made the necessary tweaks to translate and localize your product, it's time for a crucial checkpoint: testing and evaluation. It’s easy to underestimate this stage, but consider it as the last line of defense before your product reaches a global audience.

Comprehensive testing ensures your localized product is operationally sound. All aspects of your software need to be cross-checked to detect any bugs or glitches that may have crept in during the localization. Additionally, testing helps assess the quality of localization itself.

Carry out several types of testing to ensure that the app works flawlessly and provides a user-friendly experience. They include:

  • Functional testing: Check if all the features, components, and interfaces operate correctly in the localized version. For example, does the app crash when a user clicks on a button? Does the navigation bar direct to the right pages? Can users make purchases without any hiccups? These are all questions that functional testing can answer.
  • Linguistic testing: Here, the focus is on the quality, fluency, and accuracy of translations. You need to ensure that the localized text reads as if it was originally written in the target language. It's not just about grammar and spelling, but also context, idiomatic expressions, and cultural appropriateness.
  • Usability testing: This tests the user-friendliness and accessibility of the app. It examines the app's navigation, load times, design, layout, and general user interface to determine if it is intuitive and straightforward to use. This often involves user testing sessions with target audience members to gather direct user input.
  • Compatibility testing: This ensures that the app works well across different devices, operating systems, screen sizes, and browsers. An app might work perfectly on an iPhone, but what about an Android device or a tablet? This type of testing ensures that all users get the same quality of experience.
  • Performance testing: This determines how well the app performs under various conditions. It checks response times, and how the app handles high traffic or data loads. It can also test how the app performs when the device has a low battery or poor network connection.
  • Security testing: Here you check for any vulnerabilities in the app that could be exploited by hackers. You should also test the app's compliance with data privacy laws, especially when handling sensitive user information.
  • Localization testing: This is specifically focused on ensuring that all localized versions of the app work as well as the original. It examines the language accuracy, cultural appropriateness, and whether all localized elements (like dates, currency, and more) are displayed correctly.

In all these scenarios, A/B testing plays a significant role in localization. A/B testing involves comparing two or more versions of the app to determine which one performs better in terms of user engagement, conversion rates, or other key metrics. By conducting A/B tests with different localized versions, you can gather valuable insights and make data-driven decisions to optimize the user experience for different target markets.

Learn more about localization testing here.

5: Evaluation and iteration

Iteration is constant in UIUX localization Source: Canva

After rigorous testing, it's time to evaluate your efforts. This involves conducting an in-depth analysis of your target audience's response and tracking key performance metrics. User engagement, downloads, and reviews are crucial indicators of the success of your localization efforts.

For instance, according to a Business of Apps report, the average app loses 77% of its daily active users within the first 3 days after installation, showing the critical importance of comprehensive testing, evaluation, and refinement.

Keep in mind, localization isn't a one-time task; it's an iterative cycle that evolves over time. Consistent evaluation post-launch helps ensure your product remains relevant and competitive across all markets.

UX/UI localization best practices

When it comes to effectively localizing your UI and UX, following best practices can make a significant difference in ensuring a seamless user experience across different languages and cultures.

1. Assume your audience knows nothing

To create a user experience that resonates with users from diverse backgrounds, assume that your audience has no prior knowledge of your product. Avoid using jargon, slang, or culturally specific references that may not be universally understood. Keep your language clear, concise, and easily comprehensible.

2. Internationalize during product development

Integrate internationalization into the early stages of your product development process. By considering localization from the start, you can design and build your product in a way that allows for easy adaptation to different languages, cultures, and regions. This proactive approach saves time and resources in the long run.

3. Make more use of icons and emojis

Icons and emojis can serve as powerful visual cues that transcend multiple languages. They are more universally recognizable than words, as images can convey meaning without relying on language. You can enhance your product’s user experience in a language-independent manner through strategic icons.

4. Support special characters

Different languages may require special characters or diacritical marks that are not used in English. Make sure your interface and typography can accommodate these special characters for an accurate representation of localized text.

5. Use a glossary

Develop a comprehensive glossary of terms and phrases specific to your product. This glossary serves as a reference for translators, so you’ll have consistent terminology across all localized versions of your app.

6. Localize your graphics

When localizing your app, consider adapting your graphics to align with the cultural sensitivities of your target audience and provide visual context for the text within your app. Avoid using images that may be culturally specific or insensitive.

7. Use localization tools

With the help of localization tools and localization service providers, simplify the complex process of localization and improve collaboration with your translators.

Use a localization platform to streamline the app localization workflow for UX designers, translators, managers, and localization professionals. A good localization system should allow you to perform these essential tasks:

  • Create teams, projects, and tasks
  • Extract strings from your app's source code
  • Assign translators and reviewers
  • Import the translated strings back into your code
  • Compile localized builds of your app or website
  • Collaborate in a centralized workspace
  • Generate UI screenshots for context
  • Ensure linguistic consistency
  • Automate tasks and workflows for efficiency.

Pro tip: Use Centus’ translation management platform to organize UI/UX localization process and communicate with your teams effectively. Learn more.

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