The main rule in software localisation says that the product has to be functional. Even if the cultural references, button names or strings with limited characters are localised in a skilful and creative way, the product is useless if it doesn’t work. The same goes for misleading and illegible text. The latter occurs way too often and is usually caused by character restrictions or too literal translation.
Below you can find a practical example. If you are a user of Android, you could see the following translations of the button ‘Next’ on the e-mail composing screen in the version 4.2.1:
And the following Polish translation of the button ‘Done’ on the same screen:
As you can see, the button names have been abbreviated, which is a common strategy. Yet, not all versions are clear, especially for unexperienced users or those used to other operating systems. For example, the Polish abbreviation of “Gotowe” as “Got.” was absolutely unclear to many native speakers, including myself. I knew the function of the button only because I was used to the English version and remembered what happens if I tap the button.
There are many ways to solve this ambiguity, for example by rephrasing the words, using a symbol or simply going back to the basics and redesigning the interface for the sake of accuracy and user friendliness. Thus, in the newer Android version (here 4.4.2) the font size was adopted to display full equivalents of ‘Next’, with the exception of Dutch where a more legible abbreviation was used:
The same strategy was used for the button ‘Done’ in the Polish version, where suddenly the whole name fits correctly within the limited space:
Simply put, the priority was given to transparency, so that the user can read the instructions clearly and decipher the function of every button. On the downside, the font may seem too small, but still it’s a reasonable price to pay in exchange for an understandable text.
This short example proves that striking a good balance between technical requirements and clear content isn’t a mission impossible. All you need for the final success is an effective teamwork between localisation engineers, translators and developers, plus the good will to change certain user interface elements, if the need arises.
Have you seen other examples of unclear abbreviations or button names in applications or software products? Share your experiences below!