5 min read

Designing for Non-Native English Speakers

Design is continuously evolving, and so must the design community. With the emergence of the ideas of inclusive design, and designing for a more diverse community has become the norm. Designers must focus on a problem solving approach and how they can create products and services for a broader audience. 98% of the population are not native English speakers, and we cannot exclude them from being able to use and have an enjoyable user experience while interacting with the products we create. 

The language barrier can seem impossible to overcome, since communication is such an important facet of design. However, by understanding the challenges that designers might face when designing for an audience of non-native English speakers, and following some strategies that can help solve for this problem, we will be able to do so quite easily. 

Setting up fully translated and localised sites is a mammoth task, which only certain international organisations will be able to dedicate resources for. However there are some simple steps that designers can take like focussing on clear language, interfaces and prompts to help non-English speaking users navigate your website. These include readability, standardised interface language and support tools. Let us first understand the challenges that designers might face during the design process and how these strategies can help solve for them.

Challenges of Designing for a Non-Native English Speaking Audience

Challenges for non-native English

There are in fact many challenges that may affect the user experience design process when designing for an audience that largely consists of non-native English speakers. They may face one or a combination of challenges which may make this seem like an unsolvable problem. A few of these are;

  • Being able to clearly communicate messages, non-verbal signals, important instructions and feedback who’s first language is not English. 
  • Conducting UX research without any clarity or being able to interpret and analyse user’s feedback accurately. 
  • Having to find solutions or quick-fixes rather than creating complete design solutions
  • Time constraints, because simple tasks take longer to complete and have a lot more extra steps. 

All of these challenges may make designing for an inclusive audience a much more difficult and even a seemingly impossible job to do, however there are a few simple strategies and principles that designers can leverage to make the final products much more accessible to a diverse set of users.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at what some of these strategies are.

Useful Strategies for Designing for a Non-Native English Speaking Audience

These strategies can not only ease and simplify the design process, but also enhance the overall quality of your product or service. It will benefit not only non-native English speakers, but all of your users by making the design much more inclusive and accessible for a broader audience.

1. Use familiar iconography

Familiar iconography

Your users are likely to have used other products and apps in the past, and these designs create a familiarity in their mind with respect to certain icons and language that they have encountered.

Know and understand this common visual language so that you can use it in your designs. Your non-native English speaking audience can benefit from this common visual language and understand what you are trying to convey.

Icons for common functions such as power on and off, like, click here, etc. have become a lot more universal, so a lot of people can understand what they are as soon as they see them. They also give a lot of context to users, which gives them a better understanding of the app or website. 

Ensure that you maintain a balance and not rely solely on icons. Try sticking to those icons that your users will understand.

2. Ensure readability

Readability

There are several tests available online that you can run your UX copy through to understand how complex or easy enough it is to understand. One of these is the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test which measures how difficult a passage in English is to understand and assigns a score or US-reading level. You can do this in two ways, by using the “show readability statistics” tool in Word or by copy and pasting your text into an online tool.

When writing a copy, you hope it will be understood by non-native speakers. It is better to stick to a level of English that is at the 6th-8th grade level. This will ensure that the content is clear and accessible to your users. Edit and run your text through the test again and again until you are satisfied.

3. Use animations during the onboarding experience

Animation for onboarding

Visuals will help bridge the gap in users’ understanding as a result of their lack of proficiency in English. Onboarding is a vital part of the user experience, that it is critical that users understand them. Animations not only help in conveying this vital information but in some cases actually help explain the concept a lot better through the use of visuals. 

Not just in the onboarding process, you can add micro-animations throughout the user interface to support or even replace text. This will ease the burden on non-native English speakers and help them gain a better understanding while interacting with your product design.

4. Rely on translators during the UX research stage

Translator

It is highly critical to communicate clearly with your users during the usability testing stage. Clearly analysing the data will help construct a stronger foundation on which to build your designs and also improve upon it effectively during the iterations. 

If you are unable to communicate with them clearly at the research stage, it is sure to hinder the rest of the design process. Using a translator in these crucial stages, will help you communicate far better with your users and use this data in an effective manner when coming up with the final solution.

Conclusion

It can be difficult and even frustrating to communicate with users with whom you don’t share a common language. However it provides a chance for you as a designer to explore your problem solving skills and find unique solutions. Also ensure that you include a broad range of designers from different backgrounds to include different perspectives and design custom solutions.

Sidharth Kumar