My biggest challenge

Matthias H. Risse, web developer/ specialist

 We are used to reading from left to right but in the Arabic-speaking world, people read and write from right to left. So when an organisation wants to internationalise its web presence and provide a right-to-left language version, such as Arabic, Hebrew, or Farsi, everything on the pages has to be flipped. A large Asian electronics company took up the challenge – and web designer Matthias H. Risse was hired to assist the process. Risse creates user interfaces and finds himself in the intersection among functionality, design and user friendliness. His job is to give things a good look and feel – and to advise his team.

The project involved creating a new global website for the client. Several languages were included in the internationalisation, but Arabic was the most difficult to work with. Risse replaced another senior front-end designer three months before the project was due to be released, so he had to fit into an already integrated team. Risse says:

'Arabic conversion is not very common, so it was a challenge to keep the team focused'. Such a project is big and hectic and the Arabic version might be set aside now and then because part of the team is eager to develop a new feature'.

As a front-end developer, Risse's job included getting the team to understand the importance of doing things right from the beginning and giving the Arabic site the right feel, because: 'If it feels wrong, it's bad for the brand'.

The team flipped all the pages for the right-to-left language – all details in the design from the arrow keys to video and image galleries. The job demanded great attention in the implementation so it would also look right – so that Arabic users were given the same good experience as western users. Not only on the internet, but also iPhones and tablets.

'I went back and forth between the designers, business people and text writers to get the site to work. Highly skilled front-end consultants who speak Arabic are hard to find, so no one in the team spoke Arabic – which made the conversion even more challenging and time-consuming', says Risse.

The team invented a translation tool tailor-made for content management, but it wasn't perfect. They still needed an Arabic partner to proofread the converted pages. 

'To top things off, we had a tough deadline. Some days we ended up working for 10 or 11 hours, but project management was good and the conversion turned out just right. That will probably make the next conversion to Hebrew a lot easier'.

The client has extended Risse's contract twice since the Arabic version of the website went live.