Here at Booking.com, we support over forty different languages, and we've seen the business value in enabling users to read in their own language, and see information presented in a format they are used to. Whether we're optimising the website for right-to-left languages, or formatting numbers, currencies and dates correctly, we're constantly working on improving the localization of our website -- and that awareness extends to the design process as well.
Designing for i18n and L10n
Elements that need to be shifted left or right, such as menus that most people are used to seeing on the left, need to be flipped for right-to-left languages like Arabic and Hebrew. Below you can see screenshots of the My Bookings page in our account area, where the menu appears on the left for English speakers and the right for Arabic speakers:
There is more to designing for different languages than simple RTL switches though. For example, are you allowing for more vertical space for text in Asian logographic languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) as those symbols tend to be taller than Latin letters. Conversely, they also take up less horizontal space; on our search results page, the number of characters needed for the hotels' descriptions is greatly reduced, and we can use the space we save to present more relevant information.
As designers, we need to be aware of differences in localisation when introducing a new feature or improving an existing one. Sometimes even designing a button can pose a challenge. But it’s just a button, right? Well, here is a button in four different languages (from left to right: English, Japanese, Russian and Arabic):
Notice the differences in width and height.
Formatting for the world
When formatting information, the primary aim is that our users understand the information presented. 03/04 for Americans is the 4th of March; but most Europeans would understand the same date as being the 3rd of April. Dates are obviously essential when booking a hotel, so formatting the dates correctly is very important for Booking.com.
The same goes for prices -- and they're even more tricky. It’s more than currency, it’s also a number. Most currency symbols are displayed in front of the number, e.g. $100.00 -- but not all. Russian rubles appear after the number… and Russians will certainly prefer to see amounts that makes sense for them. So converting dollars into rubbles is more than math, it’s also formatting it correctly: 3079 руб.
Some countries use dots to indicate decimals, while others use commas, with dots to mark thousands. Norwegians are among the few who use spaces to separate thousands. There are many ways to write the same number, using the same currency, in different languages. Below we see the same price formatted for the British, the Dutch, the Norwegians and lastly, the Russians with rubles:
Causing your website users to stop and ask themselves what they’re actually reading is unacceptable. The process of finding a good hotel for your next holiday or business trip shouldn’t be made more difficult because you don't understand the dates or the room prices. Don't make users second-guess and double-check constantly. Information must be presented in an easily digestible way, and that means different things for different languages.
There’s been much discussion about the internet moving from English being the lingua franca to now localizing websites and apps by translating text and changing elements on the page in a way that makes sense to your audience’s culture. This is crucial for ecommerce websites like Booking.com, where a sense of familiarity can make or break a transaction. A user that feels comfortable reading in their own language and understands currency and date formats, is far more likely to convert from a visitor into a paying customer.