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“Drop your trousers here for the best results.”
– Sign at a dry cleaners in Bangkok

We’ve all read or heard things that are so nonsensical sounding that it’s obvious they were poorly translated. If you’ve ever used a software translator to understand a quote or text from a website you know that the results can be confusing, and often the original message is completely lost.

I grew up traveling overseas and have had many opportunities to listen to translators. I’ve also had the chance to learn a few languages well enough to do a little translating of my own, so I know how hard it can actually be. Once in a while you hear a translator so skilled at what they do that you forget they’re not the person speaking. A good translator knows the nuances, idioms and humor of the language they’re translating and is able to translate to the second language seamlessly. They clearly understand what’s being said and instinctively convey not only the words, but the thoughts and emotions of what’s being communicated.

I believe designers are much like translators. To develop a product that engages the audience and creates an emotional connection, we need to understand the nuances of the clients’ desires as well as the features of a technology. This is especially true of interaction design. As an interactive designer, I’m required to not only have the traditional skills of a designer, but a growing knowledge of technologies and how people interact with them.

Understanding human interaction is pivotal. Technology has advanced exponentially in recent history, enabling the kinds of experiences we used to only talk about: multi touch-screen interfaces, flexible displays, etc. These new technologies create a huge learning curve along with a fear of trying something different because, let’s face it, technology is scary for a lot of people. We need to ease these fears by creating products that resonate with users; part of great design is taking cutting edge technology and making it usable. As interaction design matures as a discipline, we need to become the emotional driving force of products that leave users satisfied, not frustrated.

We’re already beginning to see this shift. Successful technology companies are not just making gadgets; they are taking advanced technologies and translating them into comfortable and intuitive products like Apple’s iPod and iPhone. Products like these encourage the audience to develop emotional connections by creating a complete experience spanning hardware, software and services. It’s the product experience, not the logo that makes the brand. For consumers, ‘easy to use’ is no longer enough; ‘pleasing to use’ is becoming the key differentiator in a crowded product space. We’re not designing products for consumers or market segments but for people, and our efforts should take that into consideration.

In the future, I feel that technology will continue to advance, but in different ways then we’ve seen in the past. Technologies will enable relationships, creativity and communication not through the consumption of, but through a natural co-existence with those technologies. As a design community we should aspire to create products that overcome fears, provide emotionally connected experiences and satisfy deep desires. Poorly translated products only create confusion, and designs that don’t provide these kinds of experiences risk becoming poorly translated jokes.

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