User Experience and Translations – A Match Made in Heaven?
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User Experience and Translations – A Match Made in Heaven?

User Experience and Translations – A Match Made in Heaven?
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How can end users of localized content or applications motivate translators, or indeed anyone on the client or LSP side involved in the process of bringing translated products globally?

The direct link is more immediate for those involved in such worthy initiatives as Translators without Borders. But in the commercial space, too, actively seeking feedback from end users, and the experience they have with the localized content, is important. And so is understanding the benefit they derive from having access to the content in their native language. A virtuous circle across the total content lifecycle comes to mind.

In this light, an inspiring article in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review by Adam M. Grant, the management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In his article titled “How Customers Can Rally Your Troops“, Grant talks about the results of his research into how connecting with the ultimate end users can be extremely motivating for employees.

The main message is that end users can energize a workforce far better than managers. Grant talks about leaders outsourcing inspiration to end users, by connecting them to employees, so that they can see for themselves how their work benefits others.

He cites real-life examples such as Medtronic’s annual holiday party, where patients are invited to share their stories about how the company’s medical technology helped them. Or about how Medtronic employees have their “defining moment” in which they meet face-to-face with a patient whose story would touch them deeply.

In a similar vein, he describes how Microsoft’s software developers establish a personal connection with end users, helping them to adopt their user perspective.

Localize with your end users in mind

Coming from the translation and localization industry, this seems very à propos. It is perhaps fair to say that the industry, along with its half-brother user experience (UX), has had a solid track record of trying to understand how users use or perceive the given product or content, localized or not. The typical examples include updating terminology between releases, but a language bug can be a “show-stopper” to releasing a product, just like a functional bug.

Experience shows that the responsibility rests as much on clients as on LSPs. The clients are a critical conduit of market information to LSPs. At the same time, LSPs, with their local presence and ear to the ground, have an important role in collecting information on the local experience and product acceptance.

This trend is certainly accelerated now that so much content is moving online, and users can voice and communicate their experience directly and immediately. Crowdsourcing is arguably one extreme example of this development.

Translators vs. best-selling fiction writers

At the end of the day, translators have a great responsibility for communicating the message of their clients to end users globally. The result of their work may be used on a daily basis by millions of users in their countries (and, in a small way, affecting their quality of life). In some cases, their translations may reach a much wider readership than what even the best-selling fiction writers may aspire to.

User experience departments, where they exist, have risen in importance – and size – in many organizations over the years, and rightly so. Some even predict that management of translations should (is going to?) become part and parcel of user experience departments.

Intuitively, in the long run, this feels natural. In the meantime, the bottom line is that translations do not happen in a vacuum. Understanding the ultimate end users – the information background they are coming from, their expectations and the way they will use the content or product – is critical. The concept of localized user persona falls into this category. Ultimately, there is perhaps no universal global user experience. It is local, too, as user experience differs between cultures.

Translation and user experience professionals alike could draw much inspiration and motivation by collecting and sharing not just how great a “user experience” their users have, but getting hold of the ultimate “human experience” allowed by the access to the products – localized or not.