The cultural nuances in app design | Stillman Translations
The cultural nuances in app design

Here’s what you should contemplate when scaling your app into different markets.

To what extent is culture important in something as technical as developing digital platforms?   

Digital products are in the heart of most modern industries. Nowadays, any end to end strategy includes a digital strategy. If not 100% digital. And hence, many times its international, since nothing is really stopping you from entering neighboring markets. But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy peasy copy pasting content and design. It seems like something given and natural to do. But when it comes to software and online platforms, localizing content is a must. And there’s more than meets the eye.   

Here’s what you should contemplate when scaling your app into different markets. 

App localization
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash 

The technical aspect  

When you localize your applications for foreign markets, it’s not just words we’re talking about. Localizing means text, space allocated to text, design elements, legal terms and conditions, currencies, images, audio recordings to re-tape, space.  

For example, let’s turn to the east for some guidance. There are currently more than 2.7 billion mobile users in the Asia-Pacific region, and they were expected to download at least 200 million apps in 2021. 

What is the technical step by step?  

  1. Be prepared to adapt the design. Words in different languages occupy different amounts of space on the screen. Between 10% less or up to 30% more. So contact a language expert previously to create a layout that is ready to be escalated without major inconveniences. And not only because of the number of words, but legibility. For example, Arabic fonts have much wider and shorter characters. Therefore they need to be at least 4 points larger than the Latin type to be legible. Some scripts can’t support bold or italics for the same reason. 
  2. Contemplate right-to-left languages. If regions, where Hebrew or Arabic are spoken, are of interest to you, you must do. It can drastically affect app interface design and great language professionals are required to avoid mumbo jumbo invented words like the ones presented by not Arabic.  
  3. Optimize for the App Store. This means localized versions of metadata, content, and visuals. 
  4. Remember to switch measures, time, and date according to which region you’re targeting. Displaying time can change from culture to culture. The USA makes use of am/pm whilst Europe prefers 24 hours clocks. 
  5. Icons & symbols may vary. They can have different meanings in alternate cultures since they are no more than a metaphor for something in the physical world. Thumbs up tends to be an “OK” or “Well done” metaphor. But in Russia, it’s more similar to a middle finger situation. 
  6. Keyboard usage definitely varies. QWERTY is the most common one, followed by AZERTY and QWERTZ. But In countries like China, keyboard layouts are complemented by characters that are based on pronunciation. 

There is, of course, more. But this is a good start.  

The culturally sensitive aspect  

Let’s pinpoint this aspect with the eBay case. By 1999, eBay had become America’s leading auction site and was expanding into new global markets. Due to its success, it was decided they would give Japan a try. So they translated their web to Japanese and went for it. Three years later they were out of the competition. Forced to exit the market due to local competitors.  

But they didn’t just lose to a well-established brand. The true problem was the only adaptation they made was a literal translation. No cultural adjustment between the US-based website and the new one. No thorough market research. For instance, providing credit card information online was not as common in other countries as it was in the US. So the abandonment rate peaked. 

UX leaders point out that it is no longer enough to simply offer a product translated into ten to twenty different languages. Users also want a product that acknowledges their unique cultural characteristics and business practices. 

So remember to involve experts. Language experts. They can understand context, linguistic nuances, and cultural peculiarities. Design patterns conceived as universal may oddly turn out not to be. For instance, when Mozilla Firefox created localized landing pages, it made the American site minimal and clean. But the Chinese version was filled with banners, news, extras, in all available space. Or, for example, Mozilla’s design strategist, Bram Pitoyo, explained that “typing Chinese takes a long time and finding the precise word isn’t easy. Search sucks, so optimize for browsing.” 

The dialects and copy-pasting effect aspect  

What’s the difference between translation and localization?  

Translation means that language changes depending on the target audience. The only variation between sites is language. 

Localization refers to making the product culturally relevant to the target audience. Content strategy can be totally different. And cultural and language nuances come to play.  

Depending on the context, the same word may have different meanings. Americans say “candy,” the British say “sweets,” and Aussies go for “lollies.” And adapting these terms really makes a difference because the user will feel appealed by something so familiar.  

Also, it will avoid misunderstandings. Take Monthly. It provides short-term accommodation in global markets and, in each part of the world, it uses a unique term for its service: “monthly accommodations” in some. “Furnished apartment,” in others, “temporary housing,” “vacation rental” or “aparthotel”. SEO changes from place to place and terms used to find a precise service do too. And so should you.  

And it’s not only words: H&M’s Chinese and American versions are similar. However, you’ll spot Lunar New Year Sales and used Asian models in the first, and a special collection with local models in the second. 

Just how much work you should put into localizing depends on factors such as: 

  • The heterogeneity level of your target audiences. 
  • How different lifestyles are, national holidays, customs, etc. 
  • The potential value of your target market.
  • The brand image that you want to establish.

The Hofstede aspect 

This is level two of cultural nuances. Hofstede is a famous cultural theorist that suggested a few dimensions to explain the concept of culture. These include power distance, masculinity-femininity, individualism and collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, and short-term and long-term orientations.  

How does this impact digital platform translations and design? Well, dimensions such as the power distance are great for thinking about service provision funnels and wording. How do people relate to power? How assertive, careful, polite, or firm should your copy be? 

Or, why not, Chinese users prefer group chat options and implicit communication. So they tend more to the collectivism dimension, while greater propensity for individualism prefers personalized chats.  

There is a score based on these dimensions where each country is evaluated from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the more the particular dimension is present.  

The numbers involved aspect 

After all, numbers, data, and indicators are necessary for decision-making. According to the Localization Industry Standards Association, the potential return on investment for localization is $25 for every dollar spent. And Net Media Planet reported their clients saw a 20% increase in conversions when website content and paid ads were localized for their international markets. A percentage that leaped all the way to 70% when entire websites were localized.

According to 2021 Statista research, the number of smartphone users worldwide is getting close to four billion and is forecast to further grow by several hundred million in the next few years. China, India, and the United States lead the way with a combined 1.46 billion users. 

Another global survey by CSA revealed smartphone-using shoppers are much more likely to engage with a brand if the app is in their native language, since: 

  • 65% prefer content in their own language.
  • 40% will not buy in other languages.
  • 73% want product reviews in their own language.

Localizing keywords alone to improve an app’s visibility. 

No more aspects involved  

That is all for now. When it comes to product development for a foreign country, hire local support for a fully equipped culturally sensitive translation. Avoid mishaps, increase ROI and create better products.  

If you have any doubts, you can always count on our language experts at Stillman.