Internationalization (i18n)

Internationalization is the process of designing a product in a way that allows it to be adapted for international markets. It includes the adjustment and simplification of product design and development, services, and in-house workflows. The process seeks to set up everything to avoid engineering or workflow changes later on.

What factors impact internationalization?

Imagining a universal world, in which date and time formats, currency and decimals, space requirements, and the reading direction are compatible with all spoken languages, is quite tempting. In reality, each locale determines its own standards and practices, leading to many challenges when getting a business prepared for global operations.

Some of these challenges are represented in adjusting the following factors in all of their variations for different locales:

  • writing systems
  • text sorting rules
  • pluralization rules
  • punctuation
  • name and title conventions
  • phone number formats
  • address formats
  • electric standards
  • size standards
  • use of maps
  • integration of weather reports
  • legal compliance with disclaimers
  • legal compliance with exportation rules
  • legal compliance with tax collection
  • local regulatory compliance

The list goes on. Some of the factors will be handled by engineers or designers, but aspects like legal conformity must be dealt with by legal experts in the field. This leads to collaboration between product development and legal departments. The specific rules and standards to follow for each locale or region will be researched and collected. Based on the findings, the internationalization process will take place.

Why is internationalization important in a globally connected world?

Internationalization plays an important role in streamlining internal processes for international markets. It should be an integral part of product development cycles and considered a necessary step before proceeding with translation or localization. Internationalization gives product developers working in global markets a basis for entering those markets, without requiring constant changes for each market.

Scaling, version testing, and bug-fixing become more standardized tasks when internationalization has taken place. The simplification of text is also crucial. The goal is to provide standardized text and interfaces, usable across cultures when translating and localizing. Text expansion and right-to-left languages are common challenges in internationalization, with a language like German, for example, taking up as much as 30% more text space than English. The anticipation of this can save hassles with information design and UI.

Internationalization becomes complex as it takes into consideration structure, format, layout, legal content, and other aspects that need to be considered when being globally active. However, once the product build is internationalized, any requirements that may arise in terms of responsiveness, agility, and flexibility can be handled quickly and consistently. It is a competitive advantage in a globally connected world.

What are the benefits of internationalization?

Implementing internationalization into business operations is an investment enabling easier entry into foreign marketplaces. It anticipates future issues, such as bug fixing, reformatting, and restructuring of layouts, and can identify any legal issues that might become roadblocks to success. It ensures quick updates for risk mitigation and prevents costly interventions arising after localization or launches. It aims to render a locale-neutral result.

Internationalization represents a forward-thinking market entry strategy for a globalization campaign. Although it can require an upfront commitment and investment, this early planning can mean the ability to rapidly expand across global markets at a time when first movers have an enormous advantage.