One of the greatest challenges in User Experience is to carry out projects for cultures with different customs to our own. Our recent experience in the Arab world is evidence of this. In 2010 we embarked on a venture in Saudi Arabia, undertaking the conceptualization of the online banking for Al Rajhi Bank, one of the largest banks in the country. Three years later our experience in the Arab market has grown rapidly. We have continued to work with Al Rajhi Bank and we have also had the opportunity to work with other customers such as SAIB and Al Jazeera.
What should one take into account when doing User Experience in Arabic?
The main difference with regard to user experience is the direction in which one reads, the famous right-to-left script. This not only affects the conceptualization of the project but also the way it is implemented. The contexts have to be multilingual and this means that languages which read from right to left must co-exist which those which read from left to right.
2. Spacing and the appearance of the text
International text conventions mean that Arabic texts use much smaller script than English. In addition, the same content is rendered with more words in Arabic than in English. This means that texts in Arabic are smaller in size but actually longer in number of words.
3. Difference in spacing
Another factor to take into account is the difference in the way that concepts are expressed in limited spaces, on the buttons on websites for example. Often concepts which are expressed in English in a single word need more words in Arabic, as is the case when translating from English to German. If we combine the fact that script is smaller with the fact that more words are needed, buttons designed for optimal usability can become precisely the opposite.
Lastly, though this may appear obvious, much care must be taken with translations. Not only is the script different in Arab; so are the grammar and syntax. This means that literal or simplified translations can lead to results which are difficult to understand or use by native speakers. Although the challenge is exciting, cultural differences are not so great when it comes to browsing habits. In this respect, globalization plays in our favor. International platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are leading to universal trends and usability rules are becoming more standardized.
With this challenge successfully overcome, what new challenge awaits us in the future? China, Japan…..?
Written by Xavier Pérez