Is our industry still cold to user experience?

I recently attended a major information development conference in Silicon Valley. Admittedly, I didn’t attend the entire event, though what I did hear left me depressed enough, so perhaps that’s just as well.

During one session on content management, moderated by an industry rock star, it rapidly became apparent that the preoccupation of the assembled information development industry professionals was figuring out ways of shoving existing user assistance and content onto current and emergent mobile platforms.

Now, people, listen to Ultan. A rudimentary knowledge of how users behave and use mobile devices and applications offers ready insights about whether any user assistance at all should be provided, and if so, how this content is best used — location, style, grammar, terminology and so on.

Mobile usability considerations are different than desktop or web ones, and must take into account such things as device capability and requirements to complete tasks rapidly. Seemed to me, pretty much, that those conference attendees were either blissfully unaware or maybe even terrified of the concept of user experience (UX), which is how users work with and feel about a system.

What I had witnessed was zero consideration for context of use, a basic level 1 consideration of the Common Industry Specification for Usability – Requirements, a fundamental of UX.

I wrote about the need for UX to be a translation (including globalization and localization) industry concern in MultiLingual in March 2011. Have things changed since then? And how? Is our industry still cold to the UX domain? Has anyone warmed to it?

Well, I recently read an article about gamification in the June 2012 issue of MultiLingual. Cool, I thought — gamification is a big research interest of mine — I’ll get some insights into how culture and localization requirements impact the use of game dynamics to increase user participation and engagement in different markets. There’s little written about this, actually. But there wasn’t any mention of it in the article.

I do think things are changing in the right direction of cross-domain cooperation and fusion. There was a solid discussion about the need for UX to underpin translation considerations at a recent Localization World. I know that the opportunities presented by UX is something that Centre for Next Generation Localisation in Ireland has thought about a great deal too. All good. However, how much practicality there is behind bringing UX and translation together as a discipline, best practice, market differentiator or business requirement is hard to quantify.

Take the issue of translation cost savings. Often, this means dumbed-down content too devoid of any context or detail to be of any use in problem solving or task completion. Such content generally facilitates large scale “leveraging,” but it is in direct conflict with a basic of good design, that context always wins over consistency.

Or consider the controlled authoring debate as a sine qua non to facilitate the introduction of machine translation (MT). This can result in source material that is so dismal in terms of content, style and grammar that it generates support calls and does nothing for disaffected users. To heck with customer experience, though, as long as there are high fuzzy and perfect matches, and easily trained MT engines, right?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Recently, for example, the Oracle Worldwide Product Translation Group cooperated with the Oracle Applications User Experience group, facilitating mobile ethnography worldwide. The local market and cultural knowledge of the former team dovetailed with the latter’s UX science and engineering methodology to research mobile context of use in Europe. The result is that translation teams come to learn how apps work, and to develop glossaries, style guidelines and quality assurance strategies in advance of translation, while we UX pros get to understand cultural and locale requirements for the basis of a design and implementation of a stunning UX for global users. Everyone wins!

I just know there must be many more examples of UX and translation working together toward common ends, at all stages of the product, content or service lifecycle. Send them to me through Blogos and I will be more than happy to publicize them. Or why not write an article on the subject for MultiLingual yourself?

So come on, industry, get with the program! Translation, localization, transcreation and whatever are all forms of user experience. An acceptance of this reality will make all our lives easier. Do I think we are moving in the right direction? Yes. But not fast enough. Let’s see if we can change that. Together.