A Very Personal Analogy: Holistic Approach to Coffee
I have a small confession to make: I love drinking coffee. It’s a rare day for me that goes without a cup of a cappuccino or a latte or a “Raf coffee” (a surprisingly good local variety which features cream instead of milk, mixed with espresso and then whipped together). I’ve been to a lot of coffee joints around my city, and always eager to try coffee from a new place every time I go out – as well as during my travels in other parts of the world. My most recently uncovered world coffee treasures happened to be in Greece (where they like their coffee particularly strong and flavorful), as well as in Latvia (where they like adding a healthy dose of Riga Black Balsam, a famous local herbal liqueur, to their cups o’joe).
Of course, I can’t avoid subconsciously comparing every new cup with all the previous cups I’ve had before in my life. They all have strongly shaped my “user experience” as a coffee “user”. Is this new cup good or bad? Is it better or is it worse than the ones before it? Should I ever buy coffee here again, or should I spit in utter disgust and pour it away? However, until recently I’ve never really pondered what is it, exactly, that makes my coffees good or bad? Why do I like some, and dislike the other?
I had, at best, a vague notion that it has something to do with variables such as coffee beans, grinding, roasting, water, milk, temperature, pressure, the espresso machine in use, and the skill of each individual barista. I also have heard that beans are being planted, grown, and harvested by one group of people, transported by another group, ground by yet another party, roasted and brewed separately still. In other words, coffee making depends on a rather long and complicated supply chain with a sophisticated multi-step process (not unlike creating global content, mind you).
But you know what? I’ve realized that I don’t really care that much about WHY my cup of coffee is good, and HOW to make it good – as long as I have an easy way to get the type of coffee that I like for a fair price. As a consumer, I have no intention of becoming a professional barista – heck, I don’t even intend to brew my own coffee at home! So understanding the “why” and “how” of making good coffee is far from the top of my priority list.
For all I know, it might have been prepared for me in a myriad of different ways. Maybe there’s just 1 omnipotent wizard behind my perfect cup, or maybe there’s a small army of a 100 highly specialized workers across interconnected global organizations – it doesn’t matter that much to me at the point of consumption. In other words, I do care only for the holistic experience of drinking an enjoyable cup of coffee and don’t really think about all the work that went into it while I drink it. Maybe it appears somewhat morally misguided, but that’s just how our human brain is wired to deal with the inherent complexity of the universe.
Quality of Global Content is also Holistic
Now, it’s not hard to see that any global content, from an end user’s (reader’s) perspective, is very much like coffee (and, by the way, it doesn’t really matter if your content is, in fact, a mobile app, a website, a marketing newsletter, a complex enterprise software product, a user manual, or a brochure). Your readers usually don’t stop to analyze content as they experience it (contrary to us, industry professionals). Your readers are not able to easily deduce what components, processes, or supply chain elements were put together to deliver that app or that blog article. Especially when your content is available in 15 different languages and your readers are accessing a localized version (which overlays an extra ton of complexity on top of the original process for your source locale). Nor, should I add, would they ever want to deduce this.
What readers and end users do care about, and do perceive, is the overall, holistic user experience they get from using your globalized product and consuming your global content. That, and only that is their true measure of content quality. That, and only that determines whether your products and content will be successful in fulfilling its purpose and contributing to your business goals. They don’t care if you have proofread your content. They don’t care if you have done your localization testing and fixed all the major bugs. They don’t care if your content ever went to an in-country review. They don’t care if your multilingual DTP/layout process was carried out. They don’t care if there are zero accuracy and fluency errors detected in the content by a 3rd party linguistic QA. They don’t even care whether you have engaged translators or transcreators or copywriters.
To sum it up: your readers and end users don’t have ANY use for ANY individual part of your global content delivery process, even if it has been perfectly executed. They simply wouldn’t realize that there’s more than one part to start with. Your readers and users want it all, together, in a nicely wrapped and timely delivered package.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?
If it does, though, could anyone please tell me this: why is the Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, and Translation industry still so obsessed with separately measuring various types of atomic-level quality attributes? Why do entire localization programs (and even entire service providers) run on a myopic notion that ensuring just one aspect of content quality (e.g. linguistic quality, or functional quality, or cosmetic/visual quality) is all it takes to for content to truly succeed globally?
What if your copy’s language is perfect, but a simple layout error makes the entire web page unreadable? What if your language-agnostic Software QA team has reported perfect results on a test run for your localized app, however, the entire text in there is in a different language than intended? What if your layout and visuals are stunning like a gift from the ancient Greek gods to humanity, but the content inside this perfect layout is not culturally relevant and downright offensive to your audience in a particular geography?
How much longer can we afford to focus on just 1 single part of content quality at a time, while ignoring all the others? Maybe it’s time for us to take a holistic view, combine all the aspects and types of quality (not just linguistic) into a single big picture, and make better decisions as a result?
After all, that’s what our readers and users do on a daily basis with our content and our products. Their emotions and their actions are our most important quality evaluation of all. So let’s make sure our content always scores a “PASS” with flying colors.