Don’t worry if you don’t understand German, the title of this post will make sense if you read on…
We’ve been working for the last few years with De Gruyter to rebuild their delivery platform. This has worked well and we have picked up an award along the way. Part of our approach has been to push out new features and improvements to the site on a weekly basis. Yesterday we did this, deploying a new home page design that has been a month or two in the making. The release went fine, but then we started getting reports that the new home page didn’t look quite right for users on iPhones and iPads. I took a look – it seemed fine on my Android phone and on my daughter’s iPhone. A developer based in India looked on his iPhone with different browsers and everything was as expected. But somehow German users were seeing text that overflowed the edge of the page. So what was going on – how could German Apple devices be so different? Most odd.
It turned out that the problem was not a peculiarity of the German devices, but of the German language. German is famous for its long compound words (like the title of this post) and often uses one big word where English would use a phrase. Our new homepage includes a grid of subjects that are covered in books that De Gruyter publishes. In English these subjects mostly have quite short names, but in German they can be quite long. For smaller screens the subject grid would shift from three to two columns, but even so this was not enough to accommodate the long German words, meaning the page overflowed.
The fix was quite a simple one, for the German version of the page the grid would shift to two columns more readily and then to a single column for a phone screen. But I think the lesson is that there is more to catering for different languages than checking the site looks fine in English and that all the text has been translated. The features of the target language can have unexpected effects and need checking. It’s easy to overlook this when dealing with two languages that are apparently quite similar.
On a similar note, it can be easy to be complacent that your site is easy to use because you understand it or believe it is accessible to those using a screen reader because you have added alt text onto images. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean it works for others and that always needs bearing in mind.
Finally, that title? It translates as something like “Overly wide word display problem” and was suggested by someone at De Gruyter as a German compound word to describe the problem we saw.