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Guidelines for Designing Documents Intended for Translation

Designing for a Non-English Audience


NOTE: Written from the perspective of a designer working in English, foreign language typesetter refers to the person handling the layout in a language other than English. These guidelines also apply to the original designer handling the layout of the translated text without handing the file off for foreign language typesetting.
  • Keep the design as light as possible. High quality photos and images add a great deal of visual interest to a design. But a heavy load of images in one document can present challenges in the foreign language typesetting process. Images that are hundreds of MB in size take time to transfer. Keep in mind that Internet bandwidth could be significantly lower in some countries, and you don't want your foreign language typesetter to spend hours to download only one picture.

  • Leave plenty of white space. Non-English languages can, on average, take up 30% more space than English. If enough space has not been allotted, the foreign typesetter will be forced to reduce the font size, or change character and line spacing. Also, new pages may even need to be added. As the text will be longer and flow differently, it's possible that some images will also have to be repositioned and the entire document will look a little bit different.

  • Use style sheets. Not only will this make your work easier and more consistent, it will also help the typesetter handling the translated work.

  • Try to use fonts that support special characters. Some of the fancy font families do not have even the most common French or Spanish accents, let alone East European languages, or others.

  • Finalize your design before sending the files for translation and typesetting. For languages like Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and many others, the foreign language typesetter will most likely use a localized version of your software. You'll not be able to open the returned files to insert changes.

  • Provide all the source files and fonts used for creating the document. If you used layers with text and images to create art effects, make sure that the foreign language typesetter receives all necessary source files, and not only the ones exported after merging the layers. Provide all the graphs and charts in an Illustrator format.

  • Don't forget about cross-platform conversion issues. Use OpenType fonts as much as possible. Most PC fonts do not match Mac fonts. For some languages, it will be easier to find a typesetter who is using a PC to do their work. Also, nearly all of the translators will be using PC fonts, and the fonts they use may not be available in certain combinations of applications and platforms.

  • Get a proofreader for the translated text. If you decide to do the typesetting on your own, try to arrange a proofreader proficient in the language to check on punctuation, line breaking, and to verify that the text is placed in its proper places, etc.

  • Use a minimum number of columns. In some languages such as German, words may be twice as long as English. If the columns are too narrow, you may end up with lines that only have one word or many hyphens. Documents formatted that way just aren't as professional looking as they may otherwise be.

  • Plan for captioning. Pictures with callouts may look great in English, but they often need to be readjusted after translation text expansion.Leave enough space for expansion, or use key letters with a legend.

  • Keep all file elements together. If your computer is set up to use special colour profiles-collect them along with your pictures and fonts. Save your source files to a lower version; it's possible that the foreign language typesetter does not have the same version software.

  • Verify software/skills of the foreign language typesetter. If you use special techniques, make sure that the foreign language typesetter has the necessary tools and knowledge to manage the project without losing the quality or the message.

  • Pay attention to cultural issues. If your document is to be translated into a language spoken in an equatorial or tropical country, try not to use pictures with Eskimos. This will work only in the case that your document is actually about Eskimos. Be careful when choosing colours. In some traditional cultures, the meaning associated with colours is very important. Red is the colour of love and Christmas in Western culture, but it's also the colour of Communism in East European countries, and the colour of mourning in South Africa. Green is the traditional colour of Islam, but in Western culture, it is the colour for money and ecology.

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