Arnt Gulbrandsen
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2013-10-01

Usability, reliability and translation in applications

Today's subject: Translating a user interface to a language I don't know. I would have to assure myself of the quality of the translation. And I have heard many sad stories of miscommunication involving that particular language. What to do.

In the concrete case that started this train of thought, the application is one that displays and acts on user data. Like most applications. When something goes wrong it has to tell what or why. Also common.

This means that when all is right, 99% of the screen is used for user-provided data, and only the last per cent comes from the code. When something goes wrong, or a digression is required (File→Preferences is a digression), the screen contains mostly text/images/forms from the code.

In other words: An application that recovers from errors automatically instead of presenting them to the user offers less work for the translator. An application that needs little configuration is similarly easier to translate.

This is not a happy accident. There is a deeper truth behind it. All three varieties of better are effects of the same cause: The application offers the user a better view, a wider and more transparent window, onto the user data.