What are the Challenges of Mobile App Localization? Part One

 An International Localization Case Study in Four Parts

Smartphone with world map suspended depicting localization

Successful Mobile App Localization Requires User Research

What are the requirements for a mobile app to be successful in multiple languages? Beginning with this post, we address that question as we describe UX research on localization  that TecEd and Cisco worked on together.

Cisco Systems developed a mobile application, SalesConnect, for its internal sales force of tens of thousands, as well as partners across the globe. Before investing in costly localization, the team wanted to learn:

  • What is most important to sales users for a localized app?
  • When and why do these users want materials in English versus in their local language?
  • When do they search using English versus their local language?

This case history, originally presented at the 2016 ACM SIGCHI conference, describes how Jennifer Lee Carlson and a multidisciplinary team at Cisco worked with TecEd on this research project to learn what constituted a good localized application for sales users’ content needs. It describes the methods we used, the challenges we overcame, and what we learned.  We’ll cover those topics in four installments:

Part 1:  Introduction

Part 2:  Project Work Process, What We Did Steps 1-4

Part 3:  Project Work Process, What We Did Steps 5-9

Part 4:  Lessons Learned and Key Takeaways

Part 1:  Introduction

What if your mobile app needs to succeed in multiple languages? Cisco Systems, a multinational technology company, developed a mobile application for its account managers and systems engineers throughout the world to easily access sales collateral and training. The project team needed to collect feedback on preliminary concept designs in several representative countries, before investing in costly localization. Cisco also wanted to learn the needs of their international salespeople, to inform the design of future tools as well. Their questions included:

  • When do salespeople want materials in English, and when in their local language?
  • When do they search using English, and when in their local language?
  • How should multi-language search results be displayed?

Cisco wanted to learn what constitutes a good localized application for their salespeople. Therefore, Cisco and UX consultancy TecEd defined a localization research project to:

  • Gather insights about what makes localization successful for international salespeople
  • Learn what well-localized apps or websites participants like, and
  • Gather use cases about when localization is important
  • Learn salespeople’s experiences, opinions, and preferences about localization—both language and culture
  • Collect their reactions to key localized design concepts

We needed native-language feedback from these busy salespeople, because during the important requirements-gathering phase of design, we didn’t want to miss the subtleties of local context and local language during our participant sessions. But both TecEd and Cisco needed to interpret this feedback in English.  See the next two posts to learn how we worked together to meet these requirements as we cover the 9 Steps of our process:

  1. Designed the research
  2. Engaged bilingual partner researchers in different countries
  3. Coordinated with Cisco cross-functional teams
  4. Created a “translation-ready” research protocol
  5. Designed data-logging templates for consistent reporting
  6. Ran pilot-test sessions in each language
  7. Conducted 22 participant sessions
  8. Translated the session recordings
  9. Analyzed and reported the research results

Next Installment is Part Two: Project Work Process: What We Did Steps 1-4

The case study  “What Makes a Successful Localized Mobile App” that is presented in four separate blog posts was written by Stephanie Rosenbaum, CEO of  TecEd, Inc. and Jennifer Lee Carlson,  User Experience Manager,  Cisco Systems, Inc..  For more information on localization or other user research project needs you may have please Contact Us.


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CHI 2016, May 7 – 12, 2016, San Jose, CA, USA. Copyright is held by the owner/author(s). Publication rights licensed to ACM.)