Fresh: ask Dr. Usability

XII.2 March + April 2005
Page: 10
Digital Citation

Greeking and internationalization

Dr. Usability

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Dear Dr. Usability,

I am trying to expand my practice but there is only so much software development done here in Precotia, Idaho. I decided to branch out internationally by posting my services on the Internet and I was contacted by a promising client in Athens, Greece. This is potentially a lot of money, but I see insurmountable problems, like they require I know Greek. What should I do?

—Really Worried in Idaho

Dear Really Worried,

Did they say Greek or Greeking? If the former, I hope you're ready to hire your first employee who actually speaks Greek, since it could take some time before you're fluent. But if it's the latter, you couldn't be luckier than to learn Greeking at an early point in your career. Invented by the famous designer Lorem Ipsum, it's absolutely the best way for you to say a lot and say nothing at the same time. Just be sure you have a good source of Greeked text (Google "Greeking Examples" and you're there) and hope that there are no Latin scholars on your development team.

I am glad you wrote—it gives me the opportunity to espouse the need for international cultural sensitivity. As you know, international interfaces are those interfaces not created by, for, or about, us. An international interface (should you ever truly find one) is exclusively for "them." It doesn't matter which "them," since you can't test it against everyone, and all of "them" don't know your email address and can't complain (at least not in a language you're likely to understand, although emoticons have come a long way...).

Remember that if you want to provide international services you'll have to figure out the cultural sensitivities of your client: what jokes to laugh at, which cheek to offer when they greet you, and how to say "30 days net" with the appropriate inflection.

Now back to the Greeks. Your interface can be just gibberish on the screen (Greeking is Latin, remember, not actually Greek) and they will happily ignore it. The point being that your client can more easily review a design when the text is presented in mumbo jumbo. What you're hoping for is a deep debate about the design, not the information it conveys (I am sorry to report here that Information Architecture just isn't all it's cracked up to be). Lorem Ipsum meant this as a way to present a design without confusing the client with messaging, labels, and instructions. (I am happy to report here that information architects strongly support this, calling it the separation of text and presentation.) This draws attention to the layout and visual elements but doesn't do much to inform your users. And therein lies a lesson: Sometimes the closer you get to a design, the less you know about it.

Doctor Usability

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