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Foreign Language dtp fails

Living in an interconnected world where marketing budgets focus heavily on achieving online objectives, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the need for offline material. You may think that the days of the printed marketing brochure, the business card and the leaflet are well and truly numbered. If this is your belief, I would say to think again as I have found the opposite to be true. In fact year on year we have found an increase in our client requests for translation and typesetting of material that will ultimately end up in hard copy format. From childrens’ books through to business cards and internal policy documents (via financial reports, brochures and product packaging), every year we typeset literally thousands of documents into multiple languages that end up as hard copy print. The requests we receive for typesetting vary in their size and requirements but whenever we are asked to provide this as a service, we always follow a procedure that ensures projects runs smoothly and our clients ultimately get what they require (high quality, within the budget and on time).

Typesetting foreign text can be problematic. Often we’ll get approached by clients to help out with this service because they’re experiencing problems trying to do it themselves. One of the main reasons for this (which I’ve seen happen on numerous occasions) is because it’s often treated as an extension of the overall design process and is carried out by individuals who are experts in the use of the design apps but do not understand the languages they are working with and therefore can’t tell if something looks wrong or if anything has been missed. Conversely I’ve also seen typesetting carried out by individuals who don’t understand the software but do understand the language and this again has resulted in issues with the final file.

To help avoid experiencing difficulties and mishaps with your foreign language text, here are my top tips that make up the nucleus of our typesetting process.

Outsource rather than try and do it yourself.

As mentioned above we often get calls from distressed design companies or marketing departments who, having had their text translated are now having a downright miserable time of it trying to fathom out how to set the text into their design apps. I can completely appreciate the logic behind the approach of wanting to do it yourself. If design and layout is part of what you specialise in why outsource the simple part of it (just copy and paste right?!!) to a third party? What needs to be appreciated is that although the process (in its most simplest form) might be as straightforward as copying from one document and pasting to another, foreign text does not look or act the same as English text and what the 3rd party (i.e. the LSP you’re outsourcing to) can and should do is be able to understand that text and ensure that nothing is misplaced or misaligned in the ‘paste’ part of the process. I’ve had instances where I’ve seen clients try and set non-latin based text themselves, reading off character by character and then getting confused because one character looks the same as the other. Arabic is a good example of a language that often causes problems – mainly because you may need additional software to be able to render the Arabic text correctly – but also because of the particular nuances of the languages (right to left directional and the fact that the words change their meaning depending on where characters are positioned in a word). My advice is to save yourself the time and hassle and get the work done by a third party who is conversant in the applications needed to set the text and also (crucially) can read the text.

However if you do decide to do the work yourself I recommend the following:

Make sure your file is fully proofed and QA checked before it goes to print.

It may seem like a no brainer but again we do receive calls from clients who have set the work themselves (usually its for their client rather than themselves – i.e. our client’s client), have had the materials printed and distributed only to discover they were issues with the typesetting. Unfortunately, these issues only come to light when it’s too late. I recommend that if you’re doing the typesetting yourself then absolutely get a QA check done by a mother tongue reader of that language and even if you’re outsourcing to a third party get their work checked once it’s been set. If you’re working on behalf of an organisation other than your own and that organisation has the resources inhouse (such as a global distribution network) get them to check the file before it’s printed. The cost of having the file checked will be a lot less than having the file printed with errors. From a design perspective I would always recommend printing off your typeset file locally (i.e. on your desk-top printer) before you process a full print run – this way you get a better understanding of what the final product will look like and this is what a good QA check should involve.

Lastly I would always recommend that you:

Let your production teams communicate directly.

Sometimes it feels a little bit like Chinese whispers with some projects. Your client receives a request from their designers who has passed a message on from the printers about what the final file needs to be. In these situations it can seem a little disconnected and sometimes requests get mixed and wires crossed. A far easier approach is to ask for your designers or printer to speak directly to your LSP. I’ve never had a situation where I have felt uncomfortable speaking with clients’ designers or printer. Your printer may need to have a specific file type from your LSP or need to check a query about fonts – rather than act as a go-between it’s much easier to let each of the different teams speak to each other. I appreciate that two-way communication isn’t always easy and you’ll likely find a request for a call met with an email as many language experts prefer to communicate via email rather than verbally but wherever you can, always try and get your various teams to communicate directly – especially if one group or member has requested something specific (and its something you don’t understand). Having a good relationship with your suppliers is a big help here – having suppliers who are happy to make calls to other suppliers on your behalf is a real boon.

Although the points above all seem quite obvious it’s surprising how often we hear tales of woe from clients who have been bitten in the past by foreign language typesetting. Many of our clients are small marketing firms who produce work on behalf of much bigger organisations. They specialise in design or marketing strategy and often localising their campaign material for a new geographic location will be a bit of an afterthought. As with all these things, it’s best to be as prepared as possible. Hopefully by taking into consideration some of the points above your foreign language typesetting project will be less of a headache.

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Posted by Tom Wilson-Copp

Tom Wilson-Copp is a document design and production consultant who specialises in the project management and delivery of B2B services including design, localisation, off-line production and digital marketing.
With over 12 years experience working within the business services industry, Tom has worked for both large multinationals as well as bespoke service agencies.