Re: Internationalization--the next generation

From: Suzanne Topping (
Date: Wed May 26 1999 - 14:18:59 EDT


You are exactly right. And I think the colors and icons are even some of the
easier issues to deal with. In theory, you can find out what mailboxes look
like (generally) in various areas of the world. Also, color associations are
pretty readily accessible, if you want to hunt them down.

Some of the tougher issues are metaphors like using a desktop rather than
drawers and folders, or the way certain cultures move their eye across a
screen. Westerners tend to look at a screen the same way we read a page; top
to bottom, left to right. Other cultures obviously read differently, and
therefore look at a screen differently. Should dialog items therefore be
moved around so that they are more logically located when localizing to a
right-to-left reading culture?

It's a tricky business. None of our internationalization or localization
processes are set up to deal with these issues. (Let alone are our American
corporations willing to pay for the changes!)

>Interesting stuff... I recall a discussion at some meeting I attended about
>significance of certain colors, such as red, blue and green, in different
>cultures. For example, stop signs are red here (hense RED==STOP), but what
>about other countries?
>And some icon that is obviously a mailbox or a phone booth to an American,
>look like a porta-pottie or a cow barn to someone from Europe or Asia. I
>think there has been much work on codifying this aspect of localization.
>* Note that these comments are my own and do not necessarily represent or
>coincide with the opinions or corporate direction of my employer, Sun
>Microsystems, Inc. ... especially the stuff about icons looking like
>porta-potties ... obviously I'm not talk about about any of OUR icons :-) *
>>X-Authentication-Warning: Host
>[] claimed to be
>>From: "Suzanne Topping" <>
>>To: "nelocsig" <>, "i18n" <>,
><>, "Unicode List" <>, "w3c"
>>Subject: Internationalization--the next generation
>>Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 13:43:43 -0400
>>MIME-Version: 1.0
>>Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
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>>Hello all,
>>Last week I attended an internationalization workshop that piqued my
>>interest in a seldom discussed aspect of the topic.
>>The workshop was heavily focused on cultural research and usability, and
>>there were virtually no discussions of "typical" internationalization
>>issues. No mention of text isolation, encoding methods, Unicode, DBCS,
>>tools, or any other subject that one might expect at an
>>The focus instead was on the why's of customizing products for use in
>>That led me to a theory and set of questions about what might be the
>>evolution of internationalization.
>>It seems as if we've mostly mastered the technological aspects for
>>software that can be localized (by addressing the issues I listed above.)
>>The methods for doing these things is becoming widespread knowledge, and
>>tools for ensuring internationalization are even getting pretty darned
>>But the focus of all that work and achievement is really on translation;
>>allowing all text within the UI to be easily changed. Ok, we also make
>>that icons can be changed, but they are a minor factor in the overall
>>picture. Localization tasks are primarily centered around translation of
>>Therefore, are the UI's truly localized?
>>The conference discussed a wide variety of cultural issues like color, use
>>and perception of metaphors, teaching methods, eye movement patterns, etc.
>>All kinds of issues that are typically never changed during the
>>(Now I finally get to my theory and question). Could it be that the next
>>stage of internationalization evolution will be to modularize the
>>development a step further, to allow for changes in metaphors, colors,
>>button locations, etc? Is it possible that localization companies will do
>>more than translate the text and perform engineering tasks required to
>>the translated UI match the source language UI? Is there a way of
>>establishing a base set of rules for various locales and/or cultures, so
>>that localization companies could apply these rules to truly localized the
>>Is anyone out there doing any work or research along these lines?
>>Comments would be welcome.
>>Suzanne Topping
>>Localization Unlimited
>>(Globalization Process Improvement Consulting, and Resource Recruiting)
>>28 Ericsson Street
>>Rochester, New York, 14610-1705
>>Phone: 716-473-0791
>>Fax: 716-231-2013
>>/* the i18n-prog homepage is at: */
>>/* */
>>/* See the page for removal instructions, etc. */
>Steve Swales
>Sun Microsystems, Inc.
>901 San Antonio Road, MS MPK29-203
>Palo Alto, CA 94303-4900
>650 786-0612 Direct
>650 786-0577 Fax

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