In a recent report published by Internetworldstats.com, Middle East region accounted for 164,037,259 Internet users in Dec 2017, i.e 64.5% of the population. However, we can’t say the same for the number of apps that are Arab script friendly. Not making an Arab-friendly app means missing out on the incredible business potential of the region. Business apps can easily skip this huge loss just by tuning in with local sociological, linguistic, and cultural specificities.
Developing apps for Arab users means the application of UX and usability considerations that are specific to users in the region. More and more businesses today are investing in designing UX that contributes to increased sales and reduces costs. Here is a list of things to keep in mind when building an app in Arabic:
Arab apps follow a largely Right to Left layout as opposed to Left to Right layout followed by westernized apps. Research shows that Arab speaking nations are likely to respond well to progression when displayed from RTL. In apps developed for an Arab audience, the text is aligned towards the right; however, numbers are still left from left to right. This can make the app typography look chaotic in the final result. This problem requires app designers to develop innovative solutions like organize content in a single column. With that said, it is true that Arabs are simultaneous users of both LTR and RTL layouts because not all apps are made specifically cut out for an Arab audience. Some things like symbols and direction of icons remain the same in both kinds of layouts.
Arabic like English isn’t monolithic either. From deserts of the Middle East to terrains in North West Africa, it is spoken in various parts of the world and with significant regional twists. However, there is a standard ‘official’ Arabic taught in schools across regions and is often spoken alongside a dialect of Arabic. A developer who is working on an app for a region needs to use standard Arabic, whereas an app for a particular country must include the local dialect. You can seek help from local moderators to solve these language paradoxes.
Arabic font size is an important visual element to consider when it comes to using Arabic for your interfaces. Okay, we admit! When it comes to Arabic apps, the choice of font is very limited. Being a cursive language, Arabic can be lost easily, if the font size is too small. By nature, Arabic characters tend to be shorter and wider than Latin characters. Arabic characters thus take up more space horizontally while not being particularly readable when using the same text size as an English version. It is a frustrating experience for Arabs to use the browser text zoom on western designed websites to make the words legible. The simplest solution would be to resort to a universal font designed by Google called Noto.
Moreover, most Arabic letters are written together, sometimes they feature dots and even diacritics. To make it a comfortable read for the end user, a bigger font is advisable from that used for the same word in English. At Promatics, we generally add +2 to the point size of body and smaller text. If you are a newbie developer working on an Arabic app take into account the necessary space requirements for your copy when designing the layout of your interface.
It is well established that Arab users favour Arabic applications. However, taking into consideration the search functionality clause in an app, incorporating both Arabic and English becomes a usability necessity. For example, if we talk about e-commerce mobile apps, users are going to search with terms most familiar to them. In most cases, the name of global brands they search for is in English. In the case of B2B searches, specialist terminology or software features English names too. So, it is only fair to conclude that a developer considers providing multilingual search functionality after taking note of the nature of the business when developing an app for the Arab world.
To address this issue at Promatics Technologies we ensure that we offer Multilingual Search Functionality in Arab apps taking in to account the usability principle of allowing a scope for user error in the form of misspelled keywords. Arab apps designed by us suggest alternate search keyword too. This small thing has a huge effect on the end user experience. We have seen better retention rates as higher reviews for such apps.
When it comes to User Experience (UX) design, it is needless to mention that it is the user behaviour and preference that matters the most. Successful design decisions are based on hardcore UX facts and stats, and not an app developer’s preference. A mental model is a hypothetical representation of a person’s perception of how something works. These can be based on incomplete facts, past experiences or can even be intuitive. Key to being successful with UX for a set of the target audience is to match up or excel the mental model they have of it. For example, when a user downloads your app to use it they are guided by their previous app experiences and often expect things like global navigation to be located at the top of the page, links to be in blue and underlined etc.
However, it is important to note that Arab mental model UX is different than the ones developed in the west. The Arab populace doesn’t necessarily look at a UI the way the western world does. This can be rooted in different exposure and availability of technologies; different restrictions or capabilities or simply different motivations and goals.
A prolific UX is the one that passes a user’s expectation with flying colours and is intuitive to them. Designing an app for the Arab world means confusion around the exact set of the target audience which can vary in terms of Arab speaking population spread around geographical boundaries. No matter how experienced or familiar with the region, cultural influences or the language a developer is, it is never going to match up to the insights you’ll get from testing designs with real users. Not only should you design an app keeping this set of audience in mind but also facilitate user testing with testers from the same set. Testing an app with Arab audience is going to help you understand their needs and goals and help you uncover usability problems in app design interface.
At Promatics, we carry out usability testing for our clients with Arab users that belong to different cultures. We believe usability testing with an appropriate set of audiences is an essential part of the app design process.
It’s important to note that word to word translation can never suffice for building an Arab app. Building an app with relevant Arabic content requires time, resources and money. Developers need to realise that Arabic letters take different shapes depending on the position they are assigned in a word. It so happens that often companies try using Arabic script translate text from English to Arabic but, after processing text in a CMS or editor, letters fall apart and cease to form words. Always seek the help of Arabic-speaking proofreader and translator to do copy for the app. Deep understanding of different local cultures and societal practices is a plus.
In totality, there is nothing which can be ascribed as monolithic ‘Arabic UX.’ Developers need to undertake the principles of the user-centred design process and build an app that caters to the needs of the Arab audience. Designing an app for Arab audience requires intricate consideration, attention to minute details, and strategic know-how. If you’re looking for Arabic UX mobile app development for your business/project, we are happy to help!