Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Pitfalls of Using Gestures

Ultan Ó Broin's blog post Natural User Interface Gestures. Are They Global? brought to mind a conversation I had many years ago with a Turkish-German court interpreter in Austria. He told me how judges in Vienna's court system kept misinterpreting Turkish defendants' body language. The gesture in question is the Turkish "no", which is expressed by jerking the head back, then bringing it forward; a gesture that looks very similar to a German nod of approval. The interpreter said that in one instance the judge had told him that his interpretation was incorrect, since "clearly the defendant is agreeing" with a statement the defendant had just vehemently denied.

Similarly, when I first moved to Mexico, I would walk away when my co-workers were gesturing for me to follow them because their gesture for coming (palm down, moving palm towards wrist) looked to me like I was being shushed away.

Just as gestures don't always mean the same thing in different cultures, so pictures and colors don't necessarily convey the same thing everywhere. In the West red is usually associated with danger, in Chinese culture it's the lucky color, certain body parts are considered rude in some cultures, ...

I understand how companies attempt to save money on instructions for their products by making them image-only. That way, the product -- such as the assembly-required chair I just bought for my home office -- can be sold anywhere in the world with the exact same package contents, including the instructions. All you need to do is slap a different label on the outside of the box and, presto, there is your Spanish, or Hindi, or Swedish, item. Besides, you don't need to have all these instructions translated into 20, or 50, or 100, different languages.

However, since images may have different meanings in other cultures, this approach may well backfire. I wonder how a pet-care company's all-image instructions would fare in an Arab country where dogs are considered unclean. Would the cute dalmatian licking the properly assembled pet-food station elicit the "oohs" it might in the West, or would it cause buyers in Cairo to return the product?

The moral of the story is, if a company decides to go the all-image route for their instructions (as Ikea does), it can't cut localization out altogether. Rather, localization professionals need to be involved in the design process for these instructions, so that potential pitfalls can be caught early on. No words doesn't mean no translation/localization required.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Always On, Even on Vacation

On the subway to the airport for this vacation, I answered a query from a current client regarding a project due a week after my return. By the time my family and I arrived at the airport, I have negotiated the project and received the final files for it. I wrote this post on the plane to New Orleans. While waiting at the gate, I used my husband’s Smartphone to check that I had not only written, but also turned on, my out-of-office outgoing e-mail message.

Modern technology makes such seamless work out of the office possible. A recent article in the New York Times decried the fact that family members are so engrossed in their constantly-on devices and services that they do not talk to each other anymore. That was evident when we were waiting at the gate: my son was listening to music on his iPod, my husband was answering an e-mail on his Smartphone and I was reading posts from e-mail lists to which I subscribe on my Blackberry. A few years back, when we had one plain cell phone for the entire family, we sat at the gate each reading a different book – less technology, but not more communication.

Because the technology exists, many clients also expect us to be constantly available. As self-employed freelancers, we could choose to leave our cell phones and laptops at home, but we may well lose clients if we are unavailable even for 2 weeks – let alone the 4 weeks of vacation common in Europe. On the other hand, without paid vacations, I do enjoy knowing that there is paid work waiting for me when I get back. As long as I can answer e-mails at my leisure, rather than within an hour or two of receipt, I don’t mind much negotiating projects with existing clients during vacation.

I do draw the line, however, at actually translating during that time or acquiring new clients. It takes time to perform due diligence research on new clients, and working on projects would clearly subvert the vacation’s purpose of relaxing with my family and learning about a new city. I will be on vacation until August 18, and may not post anything until after my return to the office. Then again, if I find any interesting tidbits about French (or Spanish) in New Orleans, I may post.

Laissez les bon temps roule (let the good times roll), as they say in New Orleans …