Who wants what online?

Oban Multilingual released some interesting research yesterday, following their experiment to gauge how different nationalities react to different elements of web design

Tags: Translation
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Who wants what online? (Shutterstock)
By  Mark Sutton Published  January 21, 2009

Oban Multilingual released some interesting research yesterday, following their experiment to gauge how different nationalities react to different elements of web design. By serving up different versions of websites, and tracking the user response to them, the company aims to get a handle on how sites should be designed to get the maximum impact from audiences.

Some of what they've tried seems obvious enough, particularly if you worked in communications in the Middle East. Word-for-word translation, especially in publishing, really doesn't cut it - documents need to be rewritten by a native speaker, who understands the context and can communicate it in a clear fashion to native readers. Oban's results showed exactly that, with German respondents showing a preference for native language text on the test site.

But then the French respondents - and don't forget the French are famously protective of their language, to the extent of officially banning new English/American words and replacing them with phrases like telechargement pour baladeur and bloc-notes* - showed a preference for a mix of translation and native version text.

While its common to find nationalities using a mix of their own language and phrases from other languages, especially in technology and online, creating a de facto web language, knowing when to use it, or when to stick to a native translation, could be very important to an online business that is after a multinational audience.

For the design side, the Oban experiement also showed some marked differences between French and German site visitors for various font sizes and colours. The sample size for the experiment wasn't that big - 2750 or so users - and I'm not sure that changing different elements at random is as important as the overall design aesthetic of a website. However, given more research, its going to be very interesting to see if Oban can nail down any defining national characteristics in terms of response to web design elements, and from there, what the implications are for international audiences and how sites can be tailored to make maximum benefit of that knowledge.

(*podcasting and blog)

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