10 tips on how to design for an Arabic audience
Why should you build an Arabic website or even design an Arabic version of an already existing website? Whilst many businesses forgo a translation or re-design for their Arab customers, we offer a few statistics that may change your mind:
- Arabic, spoken by over 285 million people worldwide is the world’s 5th most common language
- From 2000 to 2012 the number of Arabs online grew 30 fold
- In 2015 5.2% of Internet users were Arabic speakers
- The highest rate of Internet users anywhere in the world is in Saudi Arabia, with 41% using Twitter
- Currently less than 1% of websites are written in Arabic
This is a huge imbalance which could very easily be rectified. So here are 10 tips on how to design websites with an Arabic audience in mind.
1) Make the layout work
Because Arabic is read right-to-left (RTL) it is one of the most difficult languages to design for digitally. The complete web page needs to be flipped in a horizontal fashion because of the complexities of the RLT issue. Whilst this may not be too much of an issue if designing a website purely in Arabic, it does mean that consideration should be given to planning a multilingual site which includes Arabic to ensure that the layout does not have any conflicts when switching from one language to the other (LTR to RTL).
Slick mobile friendly RTL website design is demonstrated by “Mashreq”, one of the leading commercial and retail banks in the United Arab Emirates.
2) Choose the right platform
Not all platforms can successfully cope with the Arabic language, so it is important to choose one which supports both internationalisation and localisation without any modifications. It should also contain .po files, ready-made translation files in respect of most standard strings. Drupal is one such platform; it contains a mechanism allowing the switch from LTR to RTL easily, whilst at the same time keeping any shared content.
3) Choose the right images
Pick different images for the LTR and RTL views. Using the same ones and simply flipping them horizontally will not work and could create some rather unusual pages.
4) HTML Prototypes
Make sure that the first major clickable is a clickable HTML prototype as this will ensure that any changes can be done speedily and without huge costs. If the HTML/CSS is of a sufficiently high quality then it can be used for Alpha, Beta and Production.
PatternLab is a good prototyping tool to consider as it works on the basic principle of creating pages via atoms, molecules, organisms and templates.
As Arabic characters are shorter and wider than Latin characters, careful consideration should be given when designing any webpage that will be translated from one language to the other as this will give a very different visual appearance between the two languages.
6) Know your audience
Culture can vary dramatically from country to country, so it is important to consider the images, iconography, assumptions and content you use. What may be acceptable in one country may be considered inappropriate or even shameful in another. If in doubt check!
If you are working on a dual language website make sure that your translator is capable of doing a good job as incorrectly translated content could unintentionally cause offence.
8) Be mobile friendly
Statistics show that between 30-40% of Middle East Internet users do so via smartphones and tablets, and therefore it is important to ensure that any website design is mobile friendly.
9) Arabic typesetting
Creating a clean and legible site is just as important in Arabic as it is in English, and for a number of reasons this can be somewhat challenging. If the site is to be multilingual, it is important that the Arabic and English typefaces match so that aesthetically the pages look very similar when switching between them. Unfortunately, fonts used on the web for Arabic are limited, so the default fonts Ariel, Verdana and Tahoma are really the only options. Tahoma is the mostly commonly used one due to its legibility.
Clean and clear font use on the Etisalat website. Etisalat is a multinational UAE based telecommunications services provider.
It is also important to remember that whilst Arabic readers can and will put up with English (western) numbers, if the rest of the text has been translated into Arabic don’t forget the numbers as this will give the page a far more uniform appearance.