Not long ago, WiFi-enabled devices were consumer gadgets for leisure, entertainment, and social communication.  Since then, connectivity has increased exponentially in the arena of “smart” devices: home security systems, heart monitors, and industrial automation. The heaviest investments in “Internet of Things” (IoT) solutions are no longer in consumer electronics: by far, markets for IoT solutions are centered on manufacturing, logistics, trade, and health care.

Developers of successful IoT solutions invest time and money in usability testing to insure that the end-user’s experience is seamless and efficient.  However, when developing solutions for global markets, we can never assume that what feels intuitive in our culture is equally so in another culture.  If a client is planning to market a process or device overseas, localizing the usability testing process is essential to product development.

To measure how well a device or program performs, overseas users might be surveyed. A survey is a surprisingly tricky thing to translate. For some languages, there are multiple “registers” or levels of formality which are very important to get right. This is particularly important for “agree/disagree” scales, in which the survey presumes to speak for the respondent. Very precise wording must be used, because terms that are technically synonyms carry different connotations. For example, “I am comfortable using this” is not exactly the same as “I am relaxed using this.”  Your language partner will assemble a team to ensure that your survey instrument accurately captures what you need to know.

When localizing surveys for usability studies, the best practice is to engage two separate teams of translators to provide independent translations.  These translations are then independently back-translated into English.  These are reviewed and compared by the client’s subject matter expert. In the final step, a third translator who is also a subject matter expert will adjudicate the differences and render the final translation. At this point, as with any survey, localization testing with native speakers will make absolutely sure there are no misunderstandings.  This type of close linguistic validation is also used in medical translation, the accuracy of which is a matter of life and death.

When usability surveys are to be administered online, the design of the questions and answers must also be localized. Questionnaires that require the respondent to complete sentences or “fill in the blank” might need to be completely rearranged in the localization process, because the syntax of a foreign language will not necessarily match that of English. This is particularly true of Asian languages. You’ll want to prepare your software strings for translation, and be sure your language partner is using best practices in this area as well.  Finally, keep in mind that cultures whose writing reads right to left have different perspectives on Likert scales asking respondents to indicate a choice on a scale, for example, from 1 to 5.

Localization is not always top of mind in research and development for industrial applications, but as the global “internet of things” expands, connecting languages and cultures will be more essential than ever.

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