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June 2007 Contents

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UPA 2007


Localization. It's Big in Japan

By Casey Malcolm

Casey Malcolm is a User Experience Architect at Refinery, Inc. and acting Vice President of the UPA Delaware Valley chapter. Casey can be reached at Casey.Malcolm@refinery.com.

How do you carry out usability research in a country where you don't speak the language and where the customs are very different from you own? How can you perform a study where you need to largely rely on an interpreter for communications between you and your participants? And most importantly, how do you translate research findings into a design that is culturally appropriate and yet in alignment with corporate directives?

The challenges and complexities of implementing a design for a foreign culture would give even the most experienced usability professional second thoughts about taking on a localization project. Not so for Jon Ashley, Director of User Experience at Refinery, Inc., who shared his experiences with members of the Delaware Valley UPA on the evening of April 5th at GSI Commerce in King of Prussia.

Jon Ashley speaking at the Delaware Valley UPA meeting

Jon's first hurdle was to convince his client that a localization project was a better strategy than a straight translation of a career management web site. The web site was to be used by employees from a recently acquired Japanese subsidiary, and therefore, it was important that both language and culture were addressed to ensure usability and adoption. Jon and his team had to execute a design project that would consider the many UI aspects affected by localization including metaphors, mental models, navigation, interaction, and appearance.

presentation slide about why localization is important

Jon started his research by scouring books and web sites to learn about localization and Japanese culture, and worked with a 3rd party to translate the current US-based site into Japanese so that the team had a platform for testing. In his presentation, he highlighted a number of design challenges in translating English to Japanese due to the different heights in Japanese characters, width of words, and the need for using a mix of Japanese writing systems (kanji, katakana, hiragana, and romanji). A content strategist, who had lived and taught in Japan, was invaluable in helping the team understand some of the cultural and language differences.

presentation slide with a short Japanese lesson

Once on site, Jon and his team spent considerable time with each of the translators, going over the test plan and logistics to ensure the success of the research activities which included labeling activities, imagery and visual exploration, and testing of key user tasks. It was critical that the translators understood the purpose and meaning of each of the activities so that none of the nuances would get lost in translation. Even the seating configuration had to be carefully thought out so that both the moderator and translator could view the participants' screen while engaging in real-time interpretation.

Jon Ashley standing next to a presentation slide showing photos of participants

The meticulous preparations paid off, resulting in key learnings regarding the use of culturally appropriate labeling, content and visual design. Though some of team's work was made easier due to cultural norms - a new design was accepted as a mandate from senior management and was viewed as an opportunity to advance one's career without a confrontation with one's employer - there were challenges in translating HR-related concepts such as "Tools", "Resources" and "Job Families" that have little to no meaning much less in English!

Jon concluded his talk by stating that with thorough planning, and a willingness to modify activities and materials if need be, one can successfully perform user research using interpreters.

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