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 appeared on the tech map in the first place. What’s relatively new, though, is UX localization—the art of catering UX across borders.

Giving users the feeling of comfort, familiarity, and ease of use in whichever corner of the globe they may be is what helps the world’s most popular apps such as Facebook or Airbnb stay popular—and profitable. The good news? You can do it too.

UX localization is about much more than just UX design. It’s about crafting cross-cultural products with international UX in mind from the start of the development process. Let’s explore how you can build the impact of localization and internationalization on UX into your app.

Contents

What’s user experience (UX)?

App user experience is all about how a person perceives, thinks about, and interacts with an app, be it web or mobile. It encompasses a variety of elements, from the design and the user interface (UI) to the app’s documentation and how it responds to a user’s behavior.

UX is typically the one thing that makes or breaks the success of your app—if users don’t see value in your app, or have fun using your app, or get something out of it that they appreciate, they won’t use it. Your software will become shelfware. All the days you spent coding and testing will have been for nothing.

It could also be the case that your app is technically perfect, but only for the users in your own country. The moment your app becomes international, a whole new set of challenges arise. That’s when UX localization comes in.

What isn’t user experience?

Before we talk more about international user experience, let’s address a few things that user experience is not. UX isn’t:

  • A marketing or UX specialist’s only responsibility, or a touchy-feely domain involving users “on the other side of the wall.”
  • A vertical slice of the whole product, or something you do after you’ve finished building your app.
  • Visual design or making things look pretty. A visually pleasing product can still have poor UX.
  • A gut feeling that you get while using your own app. UX designers apply user research, data, user testing, and analysis before they make any decisions.
  • Web development. While coding remains the technical foundation of any app, UX is about anticipating how the user will interact with that code and designing the experience accordingly.
  • Just for the users in your own country. UX has international implications, too, as culture and language play a prominent role in shaping how your users think and behave.

UX localization: Adapting user experience to local expectations

It’s common to think of app localization as simply replacing your app’s text strings with words in another language. However, what localization truly means is:

  • Fitting your app’s content to the cultural tastes and usage habits of the target market rather than performing a word-for-word translation
  • Using the correct number conventions and currencies
  • Adapting the user interface to the different space requirements of each language
  • Verifying the cultural appropriateness of graphics, visuals, colors, and icons
  • Adapting your app’s UX to what’s expected locally, i.e., tailoring the experience for international users according to regional norms, expectations, thought processes, and language.

The last point is where UX localization comes into play, and where developing empathy with your users is essential. You need to be able to understand when something can detail the user experience for native speakers—even if it looks like a small detail from a non-native speaker’s point of view.

When all departments—Development, Marketing, Product Management, Design, etc.—work hand-in-hand, they can design and develop outstanding apps. Combining efficiency in coding with excellence in user experience, these apps can boost sales, user adoption, and customer loyalty wherever in the world they are made available.

UX, UI, and usability in app localization

To position things properly for what follows, let’s see why UX, UI, and usability are different. Of the three, only UXencompasses the whole range of impressions, feelings, likes, or dislikes that users have when using your app.

That doesn’t mean the UI and usability aren’t important. The UI must offer access to functionality that’s of value or of interest to the user. The app and its UI must also display good usability by being clear and simple to use, pleasing to the eye, easy to learn, and efficient (as in the minimum necessary number of taps, swipes, or clicks) in taking users where they want to go.

UX groups together the quality of the UI and the level of usability, and then adds further aspects: For app localization, for example, this includes the correct use of colors, symbols, backgrounds, and indications of direction (how to navigate a localized page). In short:

  • Usability: How easy it is to use your app, i.e., how well a user in a particular context can use your app to achieve a specific goal effectively, efficiently, and without frustration. The five principles of usability are learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, and subjective satisfaction.
  • User interface: Everything that the user sees and touches, like the touch-sensitive controls—and their layout on a screen—that allow the user to interact with the app’s content and features. Other UI elements include the navigation, the layout, the use of white space, the visual hierarchy, the buttons, the copy, etc.
  • User experience: The totality of the user’s feelings, perceptions, and many interrelated cognitions (e.g., beliefs, attitudes, intentions, preferences) about the app that result from the level of usability, the quality of the UI, and the appeal of the content and features.

When you localize the UX, you’re ensuring that international users will perceive your app in the same way as your domestic customers.

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Why Is Localization So Hard?

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