Designing for a Non-English Audience
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Having worked as a digital publishing
specialist at a large corporation at my previous job,
I did not think being in charge of foreign language
typesetting would be too difficult. After all, the
layout and the images are already prepared and I only
need to flow in the text - how hard could that be?
I was sure that a simple Copy and Paste, or text importation,
would do everything. This was my point of view when
I initially began managing DTP projects in different
Was I ever wrong! Through experience, I've discovered
that foreign language typesetting can be very challenging
- even when using the right software and platform,
or having the help of a very experienced foreign typesetter.
Through solving the problems encountered in the process,
I also developed a new appreciation for simple, "internationalized"
designs that are much easier to "localize"
than others. Many problems can be avoided if the graphic
designer keeps in mind that the document may be later
translated into other languages. Sometimes, an attractive
and very professional design in English can be a nightmare
for other languages.
Therefore, it is important for designers, or the
DTP persons who create the original layout, to be
aware and considerate of a few simple guidelines and
rules when designing documents intended for translation.
Keep the design as light as possible. High quality
photos and images add a great deal of visual interest
to a design. But a heavy load of images in one document
can present challenges in the foreign language typesetting
process. Images that are hundreds of MB in size
take time to transfer. Keep in mind that Internet
bandwidth could be significantly lower in some countries,
and you don't want your foreign language typesetter
to spend hours to download only one picture.
Leave plenty of white space. Non-English
languages can, on average, take up 30% more space
than English. If enough space has not been allotted,
the foreign typesetter will be forced to reduce
the font size, or change character and line spacing.
Also, new pages may even need to be added. As the
text will be longer and flow differently, it's possible
that some images will also have to be repositioned
and the entire document will look a little bit different.
Use style sheets. Not only will
this make your work easier and more consistent,
it will also help the foreign typesetter.
Try to use fonts that support foreign
characters. Some of the fancy font families do not
have even the most common French or Spanish accents,
let alone East European languages, or others.
Finalize your design before sending
the files for translation and typesetting. For languages
like Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and many others, the
foreign typesetter will most likely use a localized
version of your software. You'll not be able to
open the returned files to insert changes.
Provide all the source files and
fonts used for creating the document. If you used
layers with text and images to create art effects,
make sure that the foreign typesetter receives all
necessary source files, and not only the ones exported
after merging the layers. Provide all the graphs
and charts in an Illustrator format.
Don't forget about cross-platform
conversion issues. Use OpenType fonts as much as
possible. Most PC fonts do not match Mac fonts.
For some languages, it will be easier to find a
typesetter who is using a PC to do their work. Also,
nearly all of the translators will be using PC fonts,
and the fonts they use may not be available in certain
combinations of applications and platforms.
If you decide to do the typesetting
on your own, try to arrange a proofreader to check
on punctuation, line breaking, and to verify that
the text is placed in its proper places, etc.
Use a minimum number of columns.
In some languages such as German, words may be twice
as long as English. If the columns are too narrow,
you may end up with lines that only have one word
or many hyphens. Documents formatted that way just
aren't as professional looking as they may otherwise
Pictures with callouts may look
great in English, but they often need to be readjusted
after translation text expansion. Leave enough space
for expansion, or use key letters with a legend.
If your computer is set up to use
special colour profiles-collect them along with
your pictures and fonts. Save your source files
to a lower version; it's possible that the foreign
typesetter does not have the same version software.
If you use special techniques,
make sure that the foreign typesetter has the necessary
tools and knowledge to manage the project without
losing the quality or the message.
Pay attention to cultural issues.
If your document is to be translated into a language
spoken in an equatorial or tropical country, try
not to use pictures with Eskimos. This will work
only in the case that your document is actually
about Eskimos. Be careful when choosing colours.
In some traditional cultures, the meaning associated
with colours is very important. Red is the colour
of love and Christmas in Western culture, but it's
also the colour of Communism in East European countries,
and the colour of mourning in South Africa. Green
is the traditional colour of Islam, but in Western
culture, it is the colour for money and ecology.
Felicia Bratu is a
foreign language typesetting with WTB Language Group
WTB is a professional translation service (http://www.wintranslation.com) that provides technical translations in over 140 languages.
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