How to prepare products for global research

December 2, 2021

Twenty years of global research have taught us (sometimes the hard way) that challenges can arise when prepping devices or other products for international research. When not accounted for, these factors can threaten the validity of insights gleaned from the research, or at minimum introduce unnecessary bias to the data that is collected. While translating product packaging and labeling is easy to acknowledge as important, it is more than just translating text. Other equally important aspects of packaging and labeling design should be considered, including the approach to translation, localization of language, and formatting of text—all of which will vary depending on the international markets in which research will be conducted.

Learning when (and what) to translate

We are often asked if it is “acceptable” to conduct research in English despite the fact that English is not the most common / native language spoken in the markets in which the research will be conducted. There are cases when this is appropriate. For example, a product marketed and/or sold in the English language to a region where that is not the language primarily used should still be tested in English. What is more often the case is that we are asked this question about research to be conducted with a product for which the interface, packaging, and labeling will later be translated to the local language of the market. While this may be necessary for any number of reasons, it is not ideal because it does not adequately simulate the environment in which the product will be used. Future research should be planned with fully translated and localized materials in these cases.

The importance of localization

Localization takes into account the way that text will be understood conceptually by a population even after it has been translated into the local language. Even if the translation of every word on a product interface and its packaging is 100% correct, you can still experience issues related to use because that translation has not been properly localized.

A good example of the importance of localization occurred during research for a blood glucose monitor interface, which was being tested prior to release in China. The interface, including packaging and labeling, had been translated to simplified Chinese and had been put through reverse translations several times to ensure a highly accurate translation, but no research had yet been conducted to localize the terminology. While the term “bolus” had been translated literally to Chinese and was technically accurate, we found during research sessions that it didn’t map to how diabetic patients conceptualized the task of administering treatment and was causing confusion. Instead, they used another term which, when translated back into English, was “three meals.” In the context of how this device was used, the link between that term and “bolus” made perfect sense, but it was not something our team would have ever known or discovered through the process of translation; instead, we had to observe the intended user population interacting with the product to understand it.

Accuracy of formatting for text and interfaces

In addition to preparing a localized translation, you should apprehend how information needs to be organized within a screen or page for different populations. This applies to how text appears on labels, instructions, and as a part of the device interface itself. A simple example is awareness of languages that are read right-to-left instead of left-to-right, but this could extend to other aspects of text layout as well. Regions have nuanced formatting preferences which can have a big impact on how critical information is read and understood during use.

Beyond a basic translation

Allocating for time during product development to research how product interfaces, packaging, and labeling should be translated, localized, and formatted for local markets will go a long way in ensuring a product can be used safely, effectively, and as intended. Ask questions of local partners to get a perspective on formatting and localization, and plan to conduct preliminary research in local markets to learn about potential linguistic changes that need to be made—not just on the level of accurate translation, but in a way that will map to the population’s conceptual understanding of the text as well.

Don’t miss the other global research blogs in this series for more great tips!

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