Mobile App Localisation: Building Apps for Global Audiences.

8 min read - Sonin News

Here at Sonin, we’re not very impressed by a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We find it generally results in an off the shelf solution being mass-produced to fit businesses. Instead, we much prefer bespoke solutions that allow us to create products that are uniquely tailored to fit businesses’ specific outcomes and organisational structure. And fortunately, we’re not alone. With customers and businesses alike seeking more personalised and tailored interactions, a one size fits all approach just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Creating bespoke apps that reach and are used by global audiences is difficult. It requires in-depth analysis and a design team that can work in tandem with developers to align the project with the cultural norms and aesthetics associated with different regions.  

Having recently opened a new office in Paris and taken on a number of international clients, we thought we’d give you our take on an element of our bespoke offering that doesn’t get talked about as much as we’d like.

So, this week we’re looking into localisation, and specifically mobile app localisation. For those of you who aren’t familiar with localisation or didn’t take A-level Geography and found themselves facing a Glocalisation exam question (Global localisation), localisation is the adaptation of products to meet the language, culture and other regional customs of a particular market. This is particularly important for any app looking to launch overseas where the app and app store listing needs to reflect the customers in those regions. But why does it matter?

So why does mobile app localisation matter?

Well for one, you know it’s probably a big deal when Apple and Google both agree it’s important enough to provide in-depth guides on their websites. And it’s not just them, Microsoft, and IBM also have dedicated localisation pages on their websites, but why?

The most successful international business today take a global-local approach. Regionalising products in order to appeal to local markets and adapting their branding to incorporate local sayings has become the minimum requirement for global brands entering international markets today. But are apps any different?

To find out app analytics firm Distimo compared localised apps to non-adapted apps. The result? Localised apps experience on average, an 128% increase in downloads after native language was added. And that was just in the first week! By simply localising an iOS app’s keyword Make App Magazine found that it can yield a 767% increase in downloads. But this raises the question: couldn’t we simply translate our app and app store listing?

What does effective localisation look like?

In a word, no. At least not on its own and certainly not through free translation tools like Google translator. Although translating apps are an important part of the process, mobile app localisation is not a simple translation of the listing and interface. But instead a change in content that caters to the culture. And while we understand that it might be tempting the results are never worth it.

Although translation tools have come on leaps and bounds of the years, they still have room to improve. Instead, in our experience, we’ve found that nothing beats having a local translate your content to include local idioms and references. Although this might seem a bit obvious, you’d be surprised how many businesses cut corners and get it wrong. In fact, the internet is littered with examples of businesses that have messed up their international launch with a wrong translation. But for those who get it right, it really set them apart. As Nelson Mandela famously said.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.

If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Mobile app localisation the two approaches

Mobile app localisation typically centres around two main approaches to best engage audiences.

Deep localisation focuses on choosing a few languages and adapting the app to fit the language, culture, and country.

Minimum Viable Localisation (MVL) on the other hand focuses on testing and understanding a variety of different markets to see what value and potential they could bring your app. This will then give you an insight into the best market for you to invest in. And it’s what we’d recommend, especially as it provides a more sustainable and stable international launch.

Mobile app localisation at Sonin

Since moving into our French office, our Lead Designer Sarah has become accustomed to working with international clients and conducting cross-border discovery workshops. This has led her to uncover some interesting insights into mobile app localisation.

First, start with the MetaData. Treat the App Store a bit like an elevator pitch. You’ve got the time it takes to reach the seventh floor from the first floor to convince customers to download your app. The app name, description, keywords and screenshot all need to be enticing and go beyond simply translating the content into localising it with an understanding of cultural references.

At this stage it’s important to remember that different cultures assign different meaning to symbols and colours. Sarah, as a result, begins her discover phases by immersing herself in the culture and discovering the different cultural significance utility colour plays in different markets. It is always worth remembering the Microsoft localisation guidelines when examining the colour palette and screenshots your using in the app store.

“Images that might be appropriate in your own culture may be offensive or misinterpreted in other cultures. Avoid the use of religious symbols, animals, or colour combinations that are associated with national flags or political movements.”

The use of different characters and texts which are in some languages read from left to right instead of right to left, can have a big impact on the app design. Even small changes like the spacing of German words which tend to be a lot longer than their English equivalent, alter the design and layout of the app UI.

As a Designer, Sarah is always looking into more effective UI designs to better match users hand gestures and navigation patterns. To enhance the UX she designs apps that better fit a circular motion for our thumbs, which is more comfortable for users to perform than inward movements. Changes in word spacing and text layouts dramatically alter the layout and overall feel of the apps.

Another thing to consider as part of your mobile localisation strategy is that users in different markets expect and prioritise different features. As Sarah discovered when researching US users, who were thought initially to be culturally similar to UK users. Instead, her research uncovered that US consumers have become used to receiving more from their app interfaces. In particular US users have come to expect more from app animation than they typically do in the UK. Whereas French users on the other hand typically expect auto-play in-app media.

Localising products aren’t easy, and don’t lend themselves to quick win solutions or corner cutting. Adapting a product for another market takes time and extensive research. Achieving a consistent design between markets can be challenging and requires an experienced design team who know what they’re doing to make the transition seem seamless.

For more information about mobile app localisation or any other subjects that was raised in this article please get in touch. Or consider checking the official Android and Apple localisation guides for more information.