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Making design bilingual

 2 November 2012

Cardiff-based design agency Hoffi have a client list which includes Wales's National Museum and National Theatre. Staff described the challenges and benefits of designing in English and Welsh.

Carwyn Jones (Creative Director): "It's an important aspect of our design company. We market ourselves as a bilingual company. We're in Wales, so why not? 

"It's looked at as a specialist thing, even though we're in Wales, which is quite strange. All our personal output from the company is 99 per cent bilingual.

"But that doesn't mean to say that we push bilingualism on our clients, because sometimes it's not right for them. They don't need to be bilingual.

"But we're always looking at different ways of being bilingual as well. We're not just sending English off to translators, getting the text back, and sticking it next to the English.

"We're not just sending English off to translators, getting the text back, and sticking it next to the English."

"More often it's required now that the translator reads the English, puts it to one side, and rewrites the Welsh in a creative style again. It might not be word-for-word, but the two versions sit together nicely. 

"So things are changing a bit. People are asking for more bilingualism as well.

"I think the Welsh Language Act has changed things. Companies now need to include more bilingual stuff."

How bilingualism influences design

Carwyn Jones: "Bilingualism has a massive influence on design. To start with, it doubles the challenge of design.

"Fundamentally it's all about making communication easier for people."

"I think there's some complacency. A lot of people just design in English, and then put the Welsh in. The majority of Welsh will not fit where the English text was, because obviously it's longer. 

 "Sometimes it could be a case of just designing the Welsh first, and then going back to the English – working backwards."

Andrew Thomas (Digital Director): "It's about – just slightly – giving the Welsh audience that bit more. Something a bit more sophisticated, perhaps."

Julian Sykes (Brands Director): "Or just giving them what the English person's got, because the English person gets something that's well-written. The translated Welsh isn't necessarily as well-written."

Creating accessible design

Julian Sykes: "The last thing we want to do is create pieces that look jarring, as though the text has just been chucked in. Often when people read text that's been produced that way, it is just that.

"It's about allowing that person to feel like they're not always struggling to find the bits of information they want to read.

"I think that's fundamentally what it's all about – making communication easier for people."

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