Considering Design in Translation

By Stacey
Oct 27, 2013 · 3 min

Design in typesetting has undergone a quiet revolution due to the pressures of localisation and translation.

Considering Design in Translation | One Hour Translation

I was recently having a conversation with an old friend about recent films we’d seen, and the concept of the ‘international market’ came up. The American film industry based in Hollywood used to produce films with a distinct American feel to them.

The studios in Hollywood realised they were missing out on many large foreign audiences because their films were simply too American. So, they began thinking in terms of international audiences; films that would do well in the domestic market and the foreign markets with minimal tinkering. As a result, today we have more films that have less dialogue, more special effects, and more international actors instead of 100% American casts. Nothing wrong with that, of course – in fact, it mirrors a movement in typesetting and design that seeks to be more easily ‘international’ when it comes to translation work.

The Format of Translation

Typesetting is an art form. Computers have made much of the work automatic – no one has to calculate the leading and kerning themselves any more – but design must still be a major consideration for any print or even electronic product, and increasingly designs are being made to be more easily translated. In the past, a textbook published in America, for example, would simply be published in English and if someone wanted to translate it they would have to do so completely from scratch. In the digital age, however, many content creators and publishers are seeking to have their texts and other products out in all possible markets at the same time. Translating something that has been designed solely for one language often results in ugly layouts as text wraps differently, and sometimes doesn’t even fit in the allotted space. The result? Some new rules for designers, and layouts that are a bit more generic and able to be adapted into a wide variety of cultures and languages.

New Rules of Design

The new approach to design has a similar philosophy to the movies: keep it simple and leave more room for adaptability:

White Space: White space used to be deprecated as it made pages look empty and bare. Today, however, the thinking is that white space gives translation professionals room to expand text boxes if necessary, to fit the translated text.

Keep Design Elements Light: At one time, many things like textbooks were very, very designed. They would have multiple elements like different text boxes for different types of information. This resulted in beautiful but complicated products that were difficult to translate. The new thinking is KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Avoid Columns: The more columns on a page, the less room you have to work with, especially if your short English word is replaced with a twenty-four letter German term.

These are just a few of the more obvious changes that have swept design in typesetting – there are many, many more and more subtle changes you may never notice.

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