You’ve created a wonderful design that looks really good for the English version of a brochure or annual report. Now it’s going to be translated. You didn’t really give any thought to this. After all, isn’t it just a matter of getting the content translated and then replacing the English text with the translation? The reality is that the change in language could end up radically changing the look of your wonderful document. The translated text may be significantly longer, changing the position of line and page breaks or simply overflowing the document; the fonts you chose may not support the necessary foreign characters; text in graphics will need to be translated and reincorporated in the graphic. By the time the foreign language typesetting is done, you may not recognize the document. If you know that the document you are designing will or may be translated into other languages, there are steps you can take to avoid many problems when the time comes for translation. In this article we’ll discuss issues having to do with text layout.
Use style sheets and paragraph styles. This is something that designers typically do for documents like newsletters, where the same styles will be applied regularly to new content. It may not seem as important to define styles for a single document. But style sheets make the foreign language typesetter’s job much easier, since modifications can be made once to the style sheet rather than applied separately to different parts of the document.
Leave white space. Use a page layout that will not be disrupted by increasing or decreasing text lengths and leave plenty of white space. Western European languages other than English can, on average, take up 30% more space than English. If not enough space has been allotted, the foreign language typesetter will be forced to reduce the font size, or change character and line spacing. New pages may even need to be added. Since the foreign text may be longer and flow differently, if there is not enough white space it is possible that some images will also have to be repositioned and the entire document will look different. This applies to things like titles, side heads and pull quotes, as well as to body text. One line may become two, or three. Unlink text frames unless there is a good reason to link them and plan adequate space within each frame. This will prevent the translated text from “jumping around,” appearing next to the wrong images and otherwise creating inappropriate positioning. For the same reason, keep the number of columns to a minimum, preferably no more than two.
Use OpenType fonts as much as possible. These fonts accommodate Unicode encoding so that they can support writing scripts, special characters, and even multiple system in the same document. Stick to common font families. The font families that you see every day (Arial, Times, Calibri) will be more likely to support any foreign characters needed. This is particularly important if the document will be translated into a language using another writing system, such as Asian and Middle Eastern languages. Some of the fancy font families do not have even the most common French or Spanish accents, let alone the markings needed by Northern and Eastern European languages. Stay away from font effects, such as italics, color, and shading. If you know that the document will only be translated into common West European languages, such as German, French or Spanish, such effects may be fine. Bolding will also usually be okay. Italics aren’t used in Asian and Middle Eastern languages, so their use may distort text and may even cause problems for some common translation software. Other effects, especially if used for smaller font sizes, may look very different with a different alphabet. These tips are also very relevant for technical documentation whether it is created in Word or a technical authoring content tool. It is not just in professional design programs that things like style sheets exist. We strongly recommend that technical communicators get familiar with how their authoring decisions might affect the translation workflow. Next time we’ll look at the use of graphics in multilingual design. Other Resources:
- Abigail Smith, “Designing for Multilingual Content, ” Notes on Design
- Nancy C. Locke, “Graphic Design with the World in Mind,” Intercom (May 2003)