top of page

וֹIn this chapter, we'll talk about the practice of localizing UX content. We'll discuss the essential information you need to kick off your localization projects, outline the localization process for digital products, and briefly touch on quality assurance for localized UX copy.

Getting started

Imagine this scenario: you wake up, get ready for work, and go through your morning routine. You open your laptop, check your email, and find a new localization request waiting for you.

Regardless of your role in the localization industry, you need to take the next step to ensure you produce excellent localized copy for your client or colleague. So, what information do you need to make this happen?

Knowing your role, understanding good writing practices, voice, and tone, as well as being familiar with the main interface components, are essential. But to put it all together and create a practical framework for approaching localization projects, you need to use the information at your disposal effectively.

Having the necessary information will help you make informed copy choices and write microcopy that serves the needs of the product and users. Remember, information is power! It can make the difference between producing average UX copy and creating something truly exceptional.

In this chapter, we'll discuss the different types of information you should gather from your client before starting a localization project. We'll also touch on how you can maintain communication with the product team to ask questions and get the answers you need.

Keep in mind that the amount and types of background information you need will vary based on the project's complexity. Some projects might require minimal background info, while others will demand more in-depth insights. Stay flexible and adapt to each project's unique requirements.

Gathering the info you need

In a nutshell, your main task isn't just to translate copy. It's also about obtaining the information you need to choose the right copy for localization. You're in charge of asking the product team the right questions and gathering whatever information you feel is necessary, so that you can make informed choices for your localized copy. You need to ask for it as clearly as possible and hope they'll provide you with as much of it as they can.

Throughout this book, we've emphasized that to excel in localization, you need information. Contextual, specific, relevant information is crucial. But in reality, there's a virtually limitless amount of information you can get about a project. Of course, you don't want to receive so much data that it becomes overwhelming and time-consuming to review before you can start localizing even a single word.

That means you have to determine what information you actually need. Ideally, you'd receive a useful localization brief containing the core information necessary for your work. Then, you won't have to deal with an excessive amount of information or read through irrelevant details.

However, product teams rarely strike the perfect balance when sending background information. They might provide too little information, leaving gaps you need to fill, or they could send so much information that you lose sight of the important aspects.

If you receive too much information, you'll have to sift through it yourself. But if you don't get enough information, that can be a significant problem. There are critical details that you can't work without, and you need to know what to ask for or figure out on your own.

There are pieces of information that can make the difference between a mediocre, generic localization job and high-quality localized UX copy. We're not talking about specific details like terminology or character counts, but rather general information that helps you make better localization decisions and produce superior copy.

We usually call this "context," which encompasses a lot of background information essential for localization work. Under this broad term, we can identify four categories:

  • Information about the users: The better you know the people you're writing for, the better your copy will be.

  • Brand voice and personality: Essentially, how the copy should sound. We discussed this in detail in Chapter 4.

  • Information about product and business goals: This includes what the copy will be used for and what the team is trying to achieve with it.

  • Information about the scenario and user flow: This covers where users will see the copy and what they'll see before and after.

By understanding these categories and knowing what information you need, you'll be better equipped to create effective and engaging localized copy.

1. User information

People can be incredibly diverse, which is why it's essential to write in a way that's clear and understandable to your target audience. To do that, you need to know who they are. Just as you'd choose your words carefully when speaking to someone, the same approach should be taken when writing localized content.

Before diving in, let's consider what information you can learn about your users. You might you want to check things like:

  • Age

  • Prior knowledge

  • Level of education

  • Social status

  • Personality

  • Interests

  • Lifestyle.

By considering these factors, you can tailor your words and create copy that resonates with your audience and has the right impact.

Imagine you're trying to explain to someone how to print a photo they took on their phone. The way you phrase your explanation would vary depending on who you're talking to. Let's look at two different scenarios.

Scenario 1: Tech-savvy friend

For this person, you might say something like:

"Airdrop the photo to your laptop, then print."

In this short explanation, you're assuming your friend knows what Airdropping is, how to print, and that their printer is already connected to an Apple laptop. You're using these assumptions to phrase your instructions efficiently.

Scenario 2: 90-year-old grandpa

Your explanation to your grandpa might sound like this:

"Open the photo on your phone. Now click the little box on the bottom left corner with an arrow sticking out of it. Got it? Great. Now choose AirDrop. Now do you see your computer on the list? Click that. Great, now you should see the photo opening up on your computer. Do you see it? Great. Go to your computer now, you can leave the phone aside. Click Command and P together at the same time. Now a window opened up, that's the printer window. Do you see a box that says "destination"? Click the little arrow next to it and choose your printer. It should say Canon Inkjet. Does it say that? Great. Make sure your printer is on - is it on? All right. Now you can press the button that says "Print."

In this case, you're providing a more detailed explanation, walking your grandpa through each step, and ensuring everything is set up correctly. Depending on the audience, your description may vary in length and complexity.

When it comes to localization, understanding your audience is key. The way you communicate with a small child, an adult woman, or a cool Gen-Zer will be different. You'll adjust your language, tone, and style based on who you're talking to, whether it's using simple words, slang, or terms of endearment. The key is to ensure the conversation flows smoothly and no one gets confused. Similarly, you need to get to know your users before translating UX copy, so your content speaks to them effectively.

Let's examine some real product examples to see how language is tailored to different audiences:

Example 1: Tumblr

Here's a screenshot of Tumblr's in-app message about its messaging feature

We know that Tumblr's audience is primarily Gen Z and Millennials, with 40% aged 18-25 and 30% aged 26-40.

For that reason, the language in this message is light, casual, and conversational, with contractions and words like "Yup." It also assumes users understand terms like "threaded." This copy caters to Tumblr's younger audience without alienating older Millennials.

Example 2: The Washington Post

The Washington Post's notification message reads:

Their audience is relatively older, with the largest group aged 25-35, followed by 35-44, and a significant portion aged 45 and up.

For that reason, the language is detailed, straightforward, and serious. It's informative and clear, catering to a more mature audience. The help text also provides guidance for users who may not be as familiar with smartphone notifications.

When working on a localization project, the product team likely conducted user research and should provide you with information about the target audience. If this information isn't readily available, ask for it! The more you know about your users, the better your localized content will be.

Enter user personas

Let's be real, there's a ton of information out there. How do you make sense of it all and create UX copy that speaks to your audience? You use user personas.

User personas are like fictional archetypes that represent a group of users. They're like made-up characters that embody your target audience. These personas include details like age, gender, occupation, behavior patterns, and attitudes, which can help guide your decisions.

For example, let's say you have a user persona named Allie, a 33-year-old graphic designer from Berlin. The persona will tell you about her personality, challenges, needs, and desires, providing you with valuable insights for designing and writing for her.

To create a user persona, a company would gather all the information they have about their users, conduct interviews, and use these insights to make informed decisions and fill in the persona template. Keep in mind that the user persona serves as a general guide; not all users will be exactly like Allie, but you'll be writing for young freelancers in big cities.

Sometimes, a team may create multiple user personas to represent different user groups. That's perfectly fine and quite common.

Now, why are user personas so important? Without them, users can feel like a theoretical, faceless concept. There's just too much information to process. User personas make users feel real and help us keep them in mind when designing and writing for a product.

User personas are crucial in product design, UX writing, and localization because they help you understand who you're writing for. By knowing your audience, you can adapt your tone, choose the right words and expressions, and ensure your copy is engaging and interesting.

Remember, though, that personas are just a starting point. Some users might not fit the persona exactly, and that's normal. You want to write for the majority of your users, but it's nearly impossible to create copy that fits every single person perfectly. Just use the user persona as your guide and make adjustments as needed.

Layer the state of mind

now that we've got a user persona in mind, it's time to dig a little deeper. When it comes to writing or localizing UX copy, we need to think about not only who our users are, but also their state of mind in the moment they encounter our copy.

Picture this: You're writing for a ride-sharing app like Uber, and you're working on the screen where users book a ride. Is that the right place to mention your company's commitment to reducing pollution? Nope, not really. Users at that moment just want to get from point A to point B. So, always think about what your users need at that specific moment when they meet your copy.

What impact does it have?

Considering what we know about our users (their general info and mindset) will impact the copy we write and the choices we make. For instance:

1. Simplicity

Do we keep it simple like Wolt, who explains logging in with a "magic link" as if talking to a six-year-old?

Or do we opt for something more complex like Castbox, using terms like "sync," "data," and "devices"?

2. Humor

How much humor should we use? Will users appreciate Mailchimp's joke about an "evil twin" when they find their desired username is taken?

Or do we go for a warmer, more playful tone like Chipotle, who calls food their users' "happy place"?

Or maybe we don't use humor at all, because our users won't take it well, or because it's a bad fit for their current state of mind?

3. Knowledge level

Do we assume users understand a Venn Diagram like Magnt's 404 page?

or should we go for a simpler concept? Can we use jargon like "dynamic content" as Campaign Monitor does, or do we need to explain it more?

4. Messaging & strategy

Our copy should be phrased in a way that appeals to our audience or engages them. Let's see how this worked out for Oatly – a brand that faced localization challenges in Berlin's U-Bahn network.

Oatly is known for its unique, quirky ad copy that resonates with UK and US audiences. Their ads often go viral, and they're hailed as a shining example of a distinctive brand voice.

However, when Oatly plastered their ads all over Berlin's U-Bahn stations, the response wasn't as favorable. One local, Dominic Ivison, shared on LinkedIn that the ads clashed with Berliners' anti-commercialism attitude and disrupted the U-Bahn's antiquated charm.

To their credit, Oatly acknowledged the issue and suggested customizing ads for different U-Bahn stations, taking into account the preferences and expectations of their users.

This example highlights the importance of understanding your audience and adapting content to their specific needs and context. By considering all these factors, we can tailor the UX copy to users' needs, keeping them happy, providing a great experience, and maintaining their trust. So when you're localizing copy, always remember to think about your users' needs at that specific moment and how you can help them. That's how we put our users first and make sure our copy hits the mark.

2. Voice and tone

To learn about voice and tone, refer back to lesson #4.

3. Product and business goals

but there's another important piece of the puzzle: the goals. Yep, we're talking about both the product and company goals. Understanding what they're trying to achieve with their product will help you create spot-on localized copy.

Now, here's the thing: most of the time, you'll be localizing just a small part of an app. It could be a new feature, a redesigned interface, or even a single field. When you're dealing with these bits and pieces, it can be tricky to see the big picture—why the app exists and how this particular string fits into it.

If you're lucky enough to work with the same company long-term, you'll probably get all the information you need during the onboarding process. But let's be real—sometimes you won't have that luxury. So, why does understanding the big picture matter? Let's see.

Example 1: Expensify

Take a look at this screen from the Expensify app:

Simple, right? But just by looking at it, can you tell who this app is for? It could be for:

  1. Accounting professionals to log and access company expenses more efficiently.

  2. Small business owners who want a convenient way to track their expenses and share them with their accountant.

  3. Everyday folks looking to monitor their spending, control their cash flow, and save money.

Each of these possibilities impacts your copy choices—how formal or informal, simple or complex, friendly or distant your copy should be.

For example, if the app is targeting everyday users, you'd want a more fun, easygoing, and casual tone. You'd also avoid using professional accounting jargon, as it would only confuse your audience.

On the other hand, if the app is for accounting professionals, incorporating some jargon is not only acceptable but also expected. They'll be using the app for work, and the right terminology will help them navigate more efficiently. Plus, it's a professional tool, and it should feel like one.

Example 2: Etsy

Here's a screen from Etsy where they ask users to enable notifications:

Assuming we don't know anything about Etsy, let's try to figure out what this app does based on this copy. We can tell it's related to eCommerce, right? The words "orders", "sellers", and "promotions" give it away. So, what could the app be for? Here are some possibilities:

  1. A tool for sellers to manage their business, track orders, chat with other sellers, and learn about running effective sales and promotions.

  2. A platform for buyers to browse, place orders, chat with sellers, and receive notifications about sales and promotions, like Amazon.

  3. A wholesale app for buyers looking to purchase items in bulk and resell them in their own brick-and-mortar or online shops.

As we saw with the Expensify example, understanding the goals of the product greatly impacts our copy choices.

In some languages, we'll choose translations for "sellers" or "orders" based on the product's goal. We'll pick a fluent localized translation for "don't miss a thing" that matches the right formality and familiarity level, whether it's intended for customers or businesses.

We might adjust "stay in the know" to be friendly and casual for customers or small business owners, or more business-like and professional for B2B buyers.

Ultimately, the only way to make the right choices—picking the right terminology and tone—is by understanding what the product is meant to do. So, when localizing copy for an app or website, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Knowing the product's purpose will help you create copy that resonates with users and contributes to a successful localization.

Getting goal information

Ideally, you should gather this information as part of the localization brief. To do that, you can use guiding questions. The best part? You don't always need to ask the client – sometimes, their website has all the answers.

Here are some guiding questions to help you gather the information you need:

  1. Purpose: What will this product and specific feature be used for?

  2. Need: Why do users need this product and feature?

  3. Value: What do users get from using this product and feature? (Remember, need and value are different!)

  4. Differentiation: How is this product better than the competition? What makes this feature unique or superior?

Let's apply these guiding questions to a real-life example: a screen from the Zalora app.

We'll now answer the guiding questions using our research skills. You can also Google the Zalora website and try to answer the questions yourself.

1. Purpose

Zalora is a fashion eCommerce platform selling trendy clothes and accessories. The visual search feature allows customers to upload an image and find similar items on Zalora.

2. Need

Users need Zalora to find fashionable items from various brands in one place. They need the visual search feature to locate items easily without searching through endless pages and categories.

3. Value

Users gain a trendy image by keeping up with the latest fashion trends. The visual search feature saves time and effort, helping users mimic trendy looks they see on TV or in person.

4. Differentiation

Although it's hard to pinpoint without in-depth competitor analysis, we can assume Zalora might be more affordable, fun to use, or offer a wider product range. The visual search feature could be more effective, faster, or provide more accurate results compared to competitors.

Armed with this information, we can now approach the source copy from a fresh perspective. We know the app is about fashion and trends, and that users want to save time and effort while looking their best. These factors will guide our copy choices, ensuring Zalora's success in new markets.

4. Layout, scenario, and flow

This information helps you choose the right words and maintain consistency, ensuring a tailored experience for users that meets the product's goals.

Let's explore an example with a classic copy from Coinbase: "Reset my password."

Imagine localizing this string without knowing when or where users will see it. Tricky, right? Let's consider four different scenarios:

1. A link at the bottom of the sign-in form

2. A title at the top of the password reset page

3. A CTA on the password reset page

4. A link in the support center to learn how to reset the password

Notice how your localization approach might change based on the context? That's why understanding the scenario and layout matters.

Another example is the copy "Turn on notifications."

Depending on where this text appears – as a title, a button, a switch, or a tooltip – your localization choices may vary. You'd phrase it one way if it's meant to be helpful and instructive and another way if it's meant to drive users to action.

Knowing the flow and layout is essential for maintaining consistency. For instance, when localizing questions for the Fastic app, understanding where a new question fits within the flow ensures it's consistent with the questions that come before and after it.

Lastly, considering space and layout is crucial, especially when working with languages that tend to expand. Look at these examples from Hopper – some CTAs have one word, while others have two or three. Knowing the available space helps you create translations that fit perfectly into the UI.

Understanding the scenario and flow is crucial in localization, and it can't be described in an email – it must be shown. Here are some ways product teams can provide that visual context:

1. Screenshots

Product teams can send over standalone screenshots or attach them to the strings in the localization tool. However, it's best to use both methods to get a macro and micro view of the entire flow and scenario.

2. Mockups and Figma links

A functional mockup, also known as a prototype, lets you navigate through the app.

A Figma link lets you explore all screens laid out.

Both methods help you grasp the flow and understand the user experience.

3. In-context localizing

Seeing your localized copy populate into the interface in real-time provides a clear view of the layout and allows you to focus on the user experience.

4. Kickoff meetings with the product team

These are a great way to understand the scenario and flow. While these meetings aren't always possible, they're especially beneficial for full app localization projects or when working directly with the team.

During a kickoff meeting, the product team shares essential background information, such as product goals, voice and tone, and scenario and flow. All localization participants (translators, editors, QA testers) benefit from this information and the opportunity to ask questions.

Localizing products: A process

Step 1: Get acquainted with the copy

When you receive a localization task, you might be tempted to dive straight into the background info. But hold on a sec! I recommend reading the copy for localization first. It'll help you understand the rest of the content better.

Step 2: Review the info and ask general questions

Next, read the assignment, background info, brief, style guide, and jot down any questions. If you have general questions affecting the whole project, ask the product team now. Examples:

  • Should the copy be gender-neutral?

  • How casual or formal should we be?

  • What's your preferred translation for this recurring term? If you're working with other linguists, encourage them to ask early too.

Save specific questions for later

Hold onto specific questions about certain strings for now. You'll likely have more as you work, and it's better to send them all at once later. The product team will appreciate it!

Step 3: Start localizing

With answers to your general questions, it's time to localize. Whether you're localizing, editing, or managing others, the steps are the same. Implement everything we've learned so far: good writing principles, voice and tone, communication, context info, and asking the right questions.

Step 4: Compile and send specific questions

As you work, log any specific questions that arise. When you're done localizing, send them to the product team. Use their preferred method, as we discussed in the communication lesson.

Step 5: Implement changes and proofread

When you receive answers, implement changes and do another proofread to ensure perfection.

Step 6: Deploy the localized copy

Once you've finished localizing the copy, it's time for the product team to implement it into the product. Depending on the stage they're at, they'll either put the copy back into a design tool like Figma or pull it into their repositories – the app's file library.

Step 7: Review and QA

With the localized copy in place, the product team can create assets for review to ensure everything works and looks as intended. They might create a mockup or prototype that resembles the final app, complete with visual functionalities. It's like a dummy app – not real, but gives you a good idea of the final localized app.

Alternatively, the team may provide a localized app for review in a test environment. This is the same app that users will interact with later, but the section you localized isn't available to the public yet.

Sometimes, the product team will send localized screenshots for review. It's not the ideal option because you can't see how each screen flows into the next, but it's quick and convenient, especially for small features or just a few screens.

The QA process in a nutshell

Let's review Let's dive into what happens during this process and why it's so important.

Part 1: Determining the Scope of QA

The product team decides what needs to be checked – be it a few screens, a mockup, prototype, or test environment. They'll send you an assignment, asking you to perform certain actions, like signing in, writing a review, or browsing through comments.

Part 2: Conduct QA Testing

You or your linguist will follow the instructions, clicking through screens and ensuring everything looks good. Remember, this stage is crucial for catching critical issues, so don't rush or skip it!

What to Look for During QA?

1. Linguistic issues

Check for accurate translations, consistent wording, correct terminology, untranslated content, and proper formatting (e.g., dates, currency).

2. Layout issues

Ensure the copy fits well, lines don't break oddly, strings are in the right context, characters look fine, alignment is correct, and images are localized and appropriate.

3. Functionality issues

Although not your main responsibility, be helpful and point out any functional problems you encounter during the test.

Part 3: Report Issues

The team will usually provide a method for reporting issues, like a spreadsheet or a bug-logging tool. When you find a problem, add a new entry so developers can fix it. Sometimes, you may even have access to the localization tool to fix minor issues yourself.

Step 8: Go live

After addressing any necessary fixes, the app or feature is ready for its new users. And that's it on localizing interfaces!

In our next chapter, we'll discuss various tools and software used in localization.

Localizing interfaces

Chapter 7

bottom of page