What is Unicode? If you have ever tried to incorporate foreign text using a non-Latin script, like Arabic, Chinese or Bengali into your translated documents or web pages, you may well have encountered a few problems. The most likely reason for issues involves text that has been written and stored in something other than Unicode. What’s Unicode you say? Read on to discover a brief history of text’s relationship with computers….
Working with a single language is relatively straightforward so long as you are familiar with its nuances & rules. When dealing with multiple languages though, great care and attention to detail must be employed to ensure that each language is given its due. Every Language has its own unique combination of factors in style, script or reading direction.
Whenever undertaking any kind of multilingual design, a clear understanding of what typesetting a foreign language involves is imperative. If you were to compare Chinese and German to English for example, you would see that German words appear much longer and the Chinese, much, much shorter. Even at this basic level, text length alone can have a dramatic effect on a translated documents’ design.
Text length is just one basic aspect of many which has to be considered while designing a multilingual document. The next thing to take into account is the direction of which a language is read. In Latin based languages, sentences are read from left to right where as other languages like Arabic, Hebrew and Urdu are read from right to left. This variation has a significant impact on a documents layout, which generally needs to be completely flipped. For a multipage document, this can mean the back becomes the front and vice versa.
Another factor that designers need to be aware of is that not all languages use a standard font. For instance, Western European languages generally employ Latin or Roman script whereas Greek, Russian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian languages use completely different character sets. These are just some of the fundamental differences designers need to consider when working with foreign languages…
- Text length
- Word order
- Reading direction
- Character sets
Aside from just the technical implications, designers also need to be sympathetic to several cultural concerns. Colours and images may have significantly different connotations when viewed in different regions, which can range from benign to severe depending on the target audience. Depending on the document, this can require a significant redesign to ensure any potential culture shock is avoided.
Why would you need a multilingual design studio, anyway? As long as the words on your documents are translated correctly, shouldn’t that be good enough?
Well, no. Not always, especially for ads, marketing materials, and other visually intensive content. Earlier this week, we looked at some reasons why multilingual typesetting is harder than it seems. But getting the words to look right on the page is only part of the puzzle. You might think that good design is universal, but what makes a “good” graphic design in the UK won’t necessarily resonate with your audience in Japan.
With that in mind, let’s a took at some of the ways graphic design differs around the world:
Graphic Design in Japan and Asia
In the West, we tend to think of the Japanese as the original minimalists. However, graphic design in modern-day Japan is often anything but minimalist. Japanese consumers tend to favor designs with bright colors and bold brushstrokes. Circles and flowers are common motifs, and cute mascots are a common way for businesses to make themselves more relatable to their customers.
Japanese design is also frequently “information dense.” This tendency is especially notable when it comes to websites. Japanese websites often seem cluttered and “dated” to Western eyes, but as Rich Mirocco explains on the Canva Design school blog,
“(In Japan), details are a welcome aspect of communication and therefore web design too, as a website conveys information and sells the company and its products in place of a live salesperson.”
Many of these traits are also considered desirable in China and South Korea. In China, Website Magazine notes that
Chinese sites tend to be divided into many independent spaces, while on western style sites the layout is arranged around a focal point on a page. This is dictated by cultural norms around displaying and consuming information, with China more used to browsing rather than focusing.
In our previous article we talked about the importance of Unicode encoding and how it provides a standard for use of foreign languages with computer systems. This article discusses foreign language fonts and how they are implemented within translated documents to properly represent the characters and text. Read more
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