Considering Other Languages

As a designer sitting in a San Francisco office, it’s easy to get wrapped up in my own little world of consumption. On my way to work, I’m listening to an audiobook and probably playing a game on my phone; at work, I’m researching, reading, and designing on my laptop; and at home I check Facebook, read for fun, and watch Game of Thrones.

All of this consumption is in English.

As I was walking by myself through Southern Poznan, Poland yesterday, I was struck by this realization. I didn’t have access to the Internet, and everything I was seeing and hearing was in Polish. I’d never been by myself surrounded by such different culture and language, and it changed the way I look at design.

By constantly consuming content, we are forcing ourselves into a niche worldview, one that often doesn’t include the perspectives and languages that our audiences know and live by.

Based on these thoughts, I’ve set up a few guidelines that I will try to keep in mind from this point forward:

  • Use text in addition to icons for important actions and entry points. Translations aren’t always perfect, but by giving context to an icon, it will allow users to sort out action points more easily.
  • Make all containers of flexible width, so that the button saying “edit” also works for “bearbeiten” in German.
  • Avoid all text as images. There is no excuse for this.
  • Test, test, test. Send your mockups out to people outside of your immediate group. Craigslist,, friends and family are all great early on, but before your project goes to production, make sure to test it in different languages, and in different cultures.
  • Visit a few popular websites in other languages to see how they handle the changes: Polish Facebook, Arabic Facebook, Hebrew Wikipedia, Japanese Wikipedia, German Youtube, French Youtube

Globalization continues to become a real, exciting opportunity for us to all expand our knowledge and influence. As long we are open to learning, and changing, things may just work out.

This list is something I’m still working on, so if you have any suggestions or feedback, feel free to reach me: Twitter / Dribbble