Is i18n the web-safe minefield of the 2020s?

Enjoying Figma's config conference (ongoing now) and was slightly astonished by the talk just passed "How we internationalized our typography stack". Expecting this to be a fun voyage of internationalisation (i18n) at scale and all the political difficulties of buy-in that can entail. How wrong I was…

Klarna's approach to i18n:
(1) Trade off typography's role in brand equity by concentrating on branding elsewhere (e.g. motion, "like tiktok")
(2) Use system fonts, not even Google Noto.

I appreciate that internationalisation is not the easiest problem to solve, but nor is it overly difficult to overcome with a few clever typography hacks. Am I alone in this?

Comments

  • Florian PircherFlorian Pircher Posts: 146
    I appreciate that internationalisation is not the easiest problem to solve, but nor is it overly difficult to overcome with a few clever typography hacks.
    Once you have user-generated content, you need to deal with all writing systems. No family or superfamily can do that (Noto is the closest, but it’s not the most distinguished branding font). System fonts are a pragmatic tradeoff, especially for apps like Figma, where users are already used to seeing UI elements set in the system UI fonts.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 282
    Florian Pircher said:
    …you need to deal with all writing systems. 
    Businesses limit internationalisation to the markets they interact with. 
    Florian Pircher said:
    System fonts are a pragmatic tradeoff, especially for apps like Figma, where users are already used to seeing UI elements set in the system UI fonts.
    Either your definition of internationalisation supports all languages (including those not yet in Unicode) or it is limited (as per System fonts, that reflect the OS markets).
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 282
    Florian Pircher said:
    …especially for apps like Figma, where users are already used to seeing UI elements set in the system UI fonts.
    We're talking about a substituting a branded text typeface (Klarna text) for system fonts across every script except Latin… and then advising others to do the same. That's the level of problem-solving. 
  • Florian PircherFlorian Pircher Posts: 146
    Florian Pircher said:
    …you need to deal with all writing systems. 
    Businesses limit internationalisation to the markets they interact with. 
    But markets don’t define language usage. For example, a website like Twitter has a certain set of markets in which it officially participates, but users posting on the platform can and do use whatever Unicode has to offer to express themselves. The same is true for UI text in Figma (file names, layer names, user names, …).
  • jeremy tribbyjeremy tribby Posts: 118
    Klarna's approach to i18n:
    (1) Trade off typography's role in brand equity by concentrating on branding elsewhere (e.g. motion, "like tiktok")
    (2) Use system fonts, not even Google Noto.
    I don't think klarna's position presents a minefield for anyone else. brands and their thinking on this stuff changes constantly. give it time, soon enough they'll move away from system fonts.

    salesforce is one of the bigger companies that used to have a system-only font stack; when I visit their site now I see something custom.

    actually when I visit klarna's site I see something custom as well, were they talking about a future change? or do their different touchpoints have different type stacks (their marketing site does one thing, their embedded products do another, etc)?
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 282
    Florian Pircher said:
    Twitter has a certain set of markets in which it officially participates, but users posting on the platform can and do use whatever Unicode…
    Yes, business generated content (official markets), not user generated content. Consider the languages that are available on Twitter's UI. In the same way, Klarna had a limited selection of scripts that they wished to support as part of their internationalisation.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 282
    jeremy tribby said:
    actually when I visit klarna's site I see something custom as well, were they talking about a future change?
    They were talking about internationalisation.
    https://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/i18n
  • jeremy tribbyjeremy tribby Posts: 118
    yes, I am familiar with internationalization. are you implying their strategy is "custom for those languages supported by custom, fall back to system for those that aren't"? 
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 282
    yes, I am familiar with internationalization. are you implying their strategy is "custom for those languages supported by custom, fall back to system for those that aren't"? 
    Yes, meaning that Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Cyrillic, etc are all system fonts.
  • jeremy tribbyjeremy tribby Posts: 118
    edited May 11
    got it! thanks for clarifying. I think I was confused because this is (as far as I'm aware) a common enough approach I'm surprised there was a talk about it.  people do this even implicitly, as the system font will still be the fallback-to-the-fallback

    the last time I collaborated with a brand team to source a font, language coverage of all markets in which the company operates was a requirement (their requirement, not mine!) — so I do think designers have a general sensitivity to this. but then again, that is an easy requirement when a company only operates in markets covered by latin-1 :smile:


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