The Curse of Witty UX Writing

An attempt to be funny by an Apple UX writer gives English users a smile but leaves other users wanting

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There’s no easy answer to how UX writers and content designers should handle writing for an international product.

One approach is to go all in on making the original version feel natural in English (or whatever the original language is). Go ahead and fill an American product with baseball metaphors and slang.

The other approach is to write in a boring global English. No slang, no local feel and no fun. The obvious benefit is that non-native English speakers around the world can use this version more or less easily, and it’s straightforward to translate.

Many of the products that I enjoy using take the first approach. They feel natural. They feel like they’re talking to me.

I get it, though. Using global English is safe. You can skip having separate UK and North American versions. Translations are quick. But, using nobody’s native language is a loss.

That said, I stumbled across a gem in the iPad Shortcuts app. The note explaining how the count function works had a bit of fun with the play of words between the verb and the title.

It’s nice to see a serious, power-user oriented app being slightly ridiculous.

Of course, most languages aren’t going to be able to make the same joke. So I was curious how Apple’s localization team decided to handle it.

The Russian version used the space to also make a light-hearted semi joke. Fair enough.

Uh-oh. The Ukrainian version is a word-for-word translation from English and makes no sense in Ukrainian.

Is a bit of fun in the English interface worth botching part of the Ukrainian interface? I don’t know, but these are the tradeoffs that writers have to make.