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Introducing: Designs for the Universal Language Selector

An important goal for the Wikimedia movement is to share knowledge with every human being. Targeting such a broad audience explains why the number of languages supported in Wikimedia projects is really high: Wikipedia is available in 285 languages, and MediaWiki has been translated to about 400 languages.

The Localisation team is providing language-related tools in order to reduce barriers for users when consuming and contributing content. These tools allow users to type text in a language for which their keyboard is not prepared, download appropriate web fonts to display non-Latin scripts properly, and choose the language of their user interface.

The Universal Language Selector is a tool that will allow users to select a language and configure its support in an easy way. When the number of languages becomes closer to 400, ease of use becomes both a need and a challenge. In addition, language selection in Wikimedia projects is used for many different purposes. This makes language selection a big challenge from an Interaction Design perspective.

The design process for the selector started with the analysis of user needs and the definition of representative scenarios to support. Then, we explored different ideas in the form of sketches and wireframes through different iterations. Finally, we have elaborated interactive prototypes to test whether our ideas work with real users, and we want to share them with the community.

The proposed design is based on combining different interaction mechanisms to reduce the complexity of the language list, but doing so in a way that does not distract the user. Many aids for dealing with information have been applied in this design, including searching, filtering, and grouping. By applying smart defaults, minimal user effort is required to take advantage of them.

Call for participation

We are announcing the availability of the Universal Language Selector designs to gather feedback on the proposed solutions, but also to ask to test our prototypes. You can find many more details on the language selector on mediawiki.org. We would like as many community members as possible to look at the prototypes and tell us what works and what not. We welcome ideas for improvement, doubts or criticism on the design feel on the Universal Language Selector’s talk page.

During the upcoming weeks we will perform in-depth usability tests with several members of the community. If you speak Arabic, Dutch, Hebrew or Hindi, please volunteer for participation in the usability tests.

Pau Giner, Interaction Designer for the Wikimedia Foundation (Pginer)

5 Responses to “Introducing: Designs for the Universal Language Selector”

  1. William Overington says:

    Building upon the idea above of “A globe with a question mark?” I thought of the following.

    A globe with a cedilla.

    For example, start with a capital C cedilla from the French alphabet and make a copy of the cedilla and place it under, and attached to, the globe.

    I hope that this might be of interest.

    William Overington

    24 May 2012

  2. Siebrand Mazeland says:

    Hi filceolaire. Thanks for your comments. We have actually had a discussion on this[1], as well as some private discussions before that, and found that it’s pretty hard. We’ve come up with the current design and are open to suggestions for improvement :).

    [1] http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/design/2012-May/000008.html

  3. filceolaire says:

    I’m sorry. This is an interesting project and I like what you are doing with it.

    Sorry I just moaned about what you haven’t done.

  4. filceolaire says:

    It just occurred to me that there is a real need for a universal icon for language selector, licensed so it can be used by every website (pd licensed?) so users only have to learn it once.

    Without this I’m not sure how you find the language selector or how you tell it from a search box, if you don’t understand the web page language.

    The current widely used option – a flag icon for each language – doesn’t scale to more than about a dozen options. The wikipedia list of language names works put takes up space.

    My ideas:
    * a flag with a question mark? (understandable but does imply it’s a country selector)
    * A globe with a question mark? (less clear than the flag but the same problems)
    * Something with a tongue?

    Guess I’m not great at coming up with icons :(

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