Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Websites I Liked This Week

No, not for their utility. For the design.

First look at Dragone. I love, love the colours. The blue is otherwordly. The brown, the orange, the purple and the sepia green match it like few things I've seen. The typography is top-notch, although sparing and nothing too fancy (really). I didn't even know you could write blue on blue like that. Yes, you can do things like that with green (more than with any other colour — e.g. look at a dollar bill), brown maybe, but blue I didn't know.

I love the rain (I've seen something similar on one or two other sites recently), and I love the way the slideshow doesn't move. See, slideshows are one of the staple trends in web design these days and have been for a long time. Somewhat recently, with more and more print designers joining the game and client and server bandwidths improving, full-page background pictures have started becoming another. Here, the designer combined both — and removed the most annoying feature of slideshows, i.e. the way they move forward to the next slide. At the same time, he (or she) retained a slideshow's most crucial feature — which is, well, the way they move forward to the next slide.

What else? Look at the 'discover the show' link. Those are called 'ghost buttons'. On the technical side, it simply is a textual link with a border around in, in the appropriate colour. And that's it.

White title text over photos is another popular motif – with or without subtle black shading to make it stand out better (and perhaps blur the edges a little to avoid standing out too hard).

I also like the drodpown menu, the way they managed to make it unobtrusive and elegant, avoiding typical clichés.

Some links retain the old, most classic 'hover' effect (graphical change when you move the mouse cursor over them) — the underline, otherwise switched off. (Yes, by default links are underlined in browsers. Web designers started to play with turning that off the moment it became possible. But it still made for a good navigation effect.)

Look, there is a footer below. The page actually scrolls, in spite of the layout covering all of it. Look what happens at the top. I may be getting paranoid, but I suspect the designer was conscious of how the image would clip if you scrolled to the bottom (at least in the most popular desktop resolution, 1920 * 1080, a.k.a. 'full HD'). Still — text falls on text. The blue gets under the white, or the white gets above the blue. Which is great, because it shows the site was not overdesigned. It doesn't actually look that great when designers assume too much control, it creates a sort of OCD effect.

Individual pages, too, are beautiful. They make use of a certain type noise filter and blur maybe, creating a sort of smoky and a sort of oil-paint-like effect, unique in the scale of teh Interwebz.

Now it's time for LeaderBe — a North Scotland consultancy website made by a South England design studio with a lot of talent.

The design is extra simple, though without crossing the line of austerity or minimalism. If there's any design that's both simple and eloborate, this is it.

I like the retro feel, which is actually a popular motif, even a cliché, but on this site it's only light and certainly isn't overdone.

Part of the reason it just simply looks good (and wonderful even) is how they combined the cool ocean blue in the header pic with the overall peach background. Down at the very bottom there's more of the blue. The red accents (tomato/red brick, if I can tell, though it may be India red) are crucial in avoiding boredom and rounding it all out. The compass contour drawing just simply is pretty.

Now, watch the beautiful contrast between the bold italic off-black font on the testimonial (yup, just one, no overdoing it) against the background.

Another important technique used here is the way this widescreen-fitting site will still look good on narrower screens. This is because only the graphical content extends beyond the limits of a certain fixed width (in this case just shy of 1000 pixels, which is also the width I have used on a vaguely similar design).

Navigation bar uses probably the most standard solution these days on minimalistic classy websites and among designers and creatives: the black bar with white font. Except the black is a grungy off shade, so is the 'white', and the font is Impact — which produces a no-nonsense homely (in the good, BrE sense) feel. This is somewhat similar to what LatAm-themed websites do, which fits the travel-related overall visual theme along with an implicit association with tough, seasoned sea dogs.

And look at the pretty text on text pages. The text is important because it actually gets read. When designing a website you need to make sure that your text is pleasant to read. You can become associated with nice, clean text that reads well and is beautiful or with a site on which the content is a pain to read, and which some of the users probably press the back button on.

On a different note, take a look at their What, Why and How. This is similar to the Golden Circle strategy (the one Marta loves talking about), but it doesn't follow the innovative sequence of why, how and what. Instead, it goes for a blend by retaining a feature basis — it introduces and explains the service briefly before moving on to the ideology etc. Still, the 'What' does actually start from a benefit anyway, the first couple of words.

Since we're already talking about the text, content and message — it's so wonderfully concise. In no way is the website content-poor, but at the same time the quantity is perfectly non-tiring. A reader (visitor) is probably in a better, more positive mood if he's not leaving your website tired. This probably affects the visitor's attitude towards the site owner and ultimately willingness to enter into a transaction or business relationship.

As a bonus, look at the same designers' website made for 11 New Square, a London chamber of tax barristers.

You can probably recognize the navbar, the midsection may ring a bell, and look at how the large eleven stands out out of the footer as a unobtrusive antiboredom device. The design is still somewhat courageous in employing double slashes (//) as separators in the horizontal list of links.

The patterned background removes the glam factor but also relative austerity of solid whitespace. Still, solid colour gets used as background a lot — something probably quite courageous of a professional designer, where the expectation may be to come up with creative textures rather. Colour palette is simple overall, too. Still, the effect is completely professional, you won't mistake it for a quick and wobbly Wordpress job (though I suppose the site uses some form of a content management system).

The source code is very rigorous — XHTML Strict is not a forgiving standard. It's a pain to validate the code sometimes. The coder did a great job under the bonnet.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Becoming More Persuasive?

The essence of persuation is brevity.
 (Some guy somewhere. I forgot.)

Persuasion is a tricky sort of thing. So much hinges on your specific targets but also on your own personality, the way you talk, the way you move, the way you think, the way you are. It's not that something can't be persuasive in general, far from it, but whether it works or not in a specific case is always largely an individual matter.

If you want to appeal to a specific audience, you need to dissect it a bit, get the parameters, then proceed accordingly. Marta Stelmaszak loves to talk about this, but she also brings up the part that's about you, not about them.

Anyway, this lengthy introduction aside (the point of it being that you can't make it more persuasive without doing some persuading), I put my hands today on a short infomercial-style piece of advice intended for lawyers, titled Make Your Marketing More Persuasive (over at Attorney at Work), which made me think about something.

Before me move on, another boring introduction. I believe that translation marketing is mostly ugly, unbecoming and — often — unpersuasive, but persuasion is the least of its problems, actually. A great problem in that area is whom it persuades and what to, what of. (And it certainly doesn't lack pitch.)

In short, translation copywriting brings tears to my eyes. It's all gaudy and empty, the same old stale line about 'our 2000 linguists around the globe' from every single mum-and-pup sole-proprietary translation broker, where 'our network' in client correspondence = 'our database' in translator correspondence. The same plaintive eyes and manifestations of submissiveness from translators ('pick me! pick me!' and pyjama photo). The same 'cutting edge technology' that requires Visual Basic runtimes to work from everybody. And carpet-selling pitch and often errors. We clearly need external sources of inspiration. We need discipline and we need purpose. But I'm rambling.

The main theme of their advice is teams. Translators aren't pack animals (they are packing animals, beasts of burden), but every now and then something like that happens. It is sometimes proffered as an alternative to agencies, or rather to working with them or through them. In this context — yeah, it makes perfect sense to present a team bio, so to say, to offer some sort of team presentation.

Translation agencies should also do that — in lieu of the more common pretence that translators don't exist, which is backfiring, and which was a shot in the foot to begin with. If you don't have translators, you have MT — 'nuff said (anyway, this means that if you don't have highly qualified professionals doing the work for you, or if they are totally replaceable and individually meaningless gears in your machine, then perhaps you should charge cents, not dollars, for your factory output).

Translation agencies already pretend that there are teams. This is because clients like teams. As far as I know, sometimes translators co-ordinate terminology, double-check one another and divide work on the fly in a joint assignment, but 'joining our team' generally means the same as having your e-mail added to their database. I guess teams sell.

Next, show not tell is a marketing/advertising tradition that goes back to the old adage that a picture says more than a thousand words. Translators generally shy away from this because they are led to believe — who by, I wonder, or cui bono? — that their work is uninteresting. That the clients had better not be exposed to it lest their be offended by the smell. Yeah, right. Hogwash.

(It's uninteresting to zombie factory line operators and their clients, and even in their case possibly because nobody has shown them yet. The problem is obviously that the more unremarkable translators are, the less you can get away with paying them. Figure out the rest.)

It shouldn't be taken too literally: you can show something by telling about something else. And in the act of telling you sometimes show your expertise, such as when you tell your client about aspects of your work. You leave the mental connections for the client to figure out.

(This goes against the silly modern notion of spoonfeeding conclusions to your clients and telling them what to think, turning them into brainless but content little consumers. The ideal spenders for... never mind. I gotta watch my rambling today.)

Describe your work. But do it with a picture. Paint that picture with words.

(Probably the fewer the better, but let's not be too literal about this. Verbosity and precision have their uses, and it all has to do with your style. I remember reading about an old famous copywriter who'd describe everything in painful detail... wait, I was gonna watch it. On second thought: it ties in with explaining the process, another idea mentioned later on in the article. People who know what the process will look like and feel like are less scared when the process is taking place.)

Or, well, just use pictures. Many websites do that, and with modern design styles and modern server bandwidth this is not as much of a problem as it used to be.

Marta does a bit of that on her pricing page. She is quite sparing about it and for good reason — if you keep itemizing defining beyond reason and using factory-line sort of jargon, you'll just come out funny or arrogant or both. In any case, it will likely drive your rates into the ground. (Again, the exact outcome depends also on your audience.)

For a larger project you could prepare a more detail and verbose write-up, detailing any hours you're going to spend on something else than actually translating, any analytical steps you're going to take before you actually start, any checks during, anything else like that, any things you do before signoff.

(While at it, knowing translators and LSPs, you're probably going to mention 'client feedback' like a good ISO fanboy or fangirl should. Keep that in check. Clients are important, and what they have to say also is, but for once remember that they aren't experts on your work. They are not your proofreaders or editors. Unless they are. But do you really want a dentist to edit your legalese? Be somewhat mindful of what words you use or you'll end up achieving the standard impression that translators are office gophers who need to have their work supervised and reviewed by more senior professionals from more senior job lines.)

Do be careful with 'affordable', 'responsive' and stuff like that. It all has its legitimate applications, but if you don't do it in somewhat right (where somewhat leads to average results), you'll end up sounding plaintive and half-professional, about the sort of thing that a half-professional translation done by a multilingual may look like to you. This is the danger inherent in DIY marketing. If you don't know what exactly to do, you probably want to keep it simple. Either by making it short and concise or by just making it natural.

But when you're making it natural — which is very difficult to be when you're writing, especially in this type of context — you still need to watch it, to keep it professional. This mostly means no threadbare buzzwords like 'responsive' or 'affordable' unless you really mean them, or unless you just need them for a header under which you're telling things how they are (in a reasonably formal register, not too much and not too little).

Finally, don't think that asking very pretty — pretty please — to be hired is going to work. There are clients who like to be asked to allow you to work for them, but I'm not sure you want that type of clients unless they have some good reason to act like that. Personally, I believe that translators need to stop or reduce the 'pick me, pick me!' behaviour because it harms the prestige of the profession.

Not begging for the jobs is not inconsistent with taking proper care of your clients and appreciating them and their business. And clients — reasonable clients, at least — look for different qualities than obedience, pliability, submissiveness and a general willingness to run errands. Translators who enter into that mode and fail to get out of it will forever be treated like everybody's junior assistants. Translators are probably a cross between professional advisors and designers/writers, but in any case this is not a concierge job*.

(* A professional concierge is different from a submissive guy who's eager to run errands for fear of not getting whatever is his proper work, acting like a cheap and expendable non-professional personal assistant. I'm pretty sure professional concierges actually make more than professional translators, on average, and they have a knack for combining self-denial with personal dignity. Something I don't really see in a qualified and credential translator hiring himself out for oddoffice jobs on a very entry level. This is also the message some translators' online presentation sends right away without need to read into actual business correspondence and negotiation.)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

On Free Tests

I'm hardly being original in bringing up this subject, but it's popped up a lot in recent Facebook discussions I've been part of. In short, everybody's being asked for free samples, and feelings are polarized with a marked tendency towards the negative.

My own position in this matter is complicated, and you could hardly call it consistent. I definitely won't be speaking in favour of free tests here, but I'm going to give you some thoughts to consider in making your decision whether to accept free tests or not.

First, let's perhaps state the obvious by noting that the problem is essentially twofold:

  1. The notion of your work or time going uncompensated (given out or expected to be free of charge).
  2. The notion of getting tested per se.
It seems to me that #1 invokes more emotions, while it feels more natural to me to focus on #2 and maybe from there move on to the added concern of unpaid nature of such tests and the burdens of the testing being imposed on the translator. However, this is clearly a cultural and individual, subjective difference.

Perhaps in both cases the common denominator in feelings evoked by free tests is the underlying humiliation or disrespect.

Because if it were about money alone or just simply the economic balance without any serious feelings involved, then we could redefine free tests as a form of investment rather than cost and get it out of the way. Even where an agency you've worked with for a longer while asks you to complete a test for a new client, it can be that the client requests the agency to provide that test free of charge and the agency looks to you for that as a partner in a joint venture of sorts. I would actually support the notion of establishing and cherishing ties like that, regardless of the outcome of cooler, more balanced analysis. After all, the outcome will always be subjective, no matter what, and you just can't say whose point of view is more correct in some sort of objective sense, if that even matters.

Emotionally, the problem here is that:

  1. Almost everybody and his dog expects to tests professional translators before placing an order.
  2. For some reason almost everybody thinks the testing should be free of charge to the tester.

Let's delve into the why of it and dissect the surrounding circumstances for a while for a better view of the problem.

Generally, nobody tests doctors, lawyers or accountants free of charge before retaining them. I'm pretty sure you'll find a firm or clinic that offers a money-back guarantee with its subscriptions, probably mostly as a risk-elimination-based inducement to drive conversions with, perhaps only available for a short period of time, so there you have it. And I'm pretty sure you'll find exceptions anyway, but the point is that's not normally done.

And there's no such thing as, let's say, going to a car workshop or calling out a plumber and running a free test. See what happens if you try. (It's okay if you stop reading for a couple of minutes here while your belly shakes with laughter. You can resume when it stops. This post will be here.)

Free testing implies some extreme level of buyer focus, a completely client-centric perspective. No matter what marketers keep saying about the importance of adopting and showing such an attitude, it doesn't sit too well with some of us — and rightly so. We all have our limits, and there must be moderation in everything.

An important issue that comes into play here is how unreasonable some of those requests appear. For example:

  1. If they've worked with us for a longer while, how come they can't assess the quality? And how come they can't just take any random piece of work already done, they need a new piece?
  2. Whatever makes them think they can test us better than university professors, state boards (DipTrans, Polish sworn translator exam, German staatsexamen etc.), even existing clients and other referrals?
Re: 1, it's probably not 'they', rather a new client who comes with a lot of red tape, and they're somewhat intimidated to begin with. If it's literally the same company, then maybe some higher-ups have changed or management has decreed some new insightful policy into place. Either way, it probably comes down to red tape — and perhaps ease of use. We'll get back to ease of use later.

Re: 2, it's probably either red tape or ease of use, too. Red tape means someone somewhere has given orders, and the people who work with you are powerless to argue, resist etc. Or they could do it, maybe, but it would cost too much time or energy or risk.

Chances are rather than getting confrontational inside their organization or supply chain, they hope the matter could be resolved by you being reasonable or helpful or understanding or whatever they see it as being. I'd normally have compassion for them because I know what life is like in corporations with management's brilliant ideas and policies versus the real life that goes on in the trenches. Whether you agree with me on this or not, consider that these are the people you work with (not the management), and your relationship with them is important. A helpful question here is whether this counterbalances any points of principle involved in the request.

Points of principle include generally relate to how unreasonable and preposterous the demand is. For example a half-botched test piece being graded by a semi-competent reviewer to assess a well-reputed translator with a proven track record just because a small private buyer has an attitude like that (meaning the very idea is ludicrous). Or because, 'it is not our policy to make exceptions,' (meaning they're playing high and mighty and telling you to love it or leave it).

Ease of use, on the other hand, means the convenience of moving forward with a standard, familiar procedure instead of having to think about something different. For example processing the standard sample they're used to as opposed to evaluating some samples provided by you or making a risk assessment on the basis of your testimonials. This factor may be more prominent in cross-border relationships, where, for example, your sworn translator/traductor jurado/público/vereidigten Übersetzer just doesn't ring a bell, or rings only faintly.

They are usually unreasonable in thinking that their little inhouse procedure can test you better than a respected government exam, but perhaps they're just being overprotective of themselves rather than disrespectful of you and your credentials.

In some cases you'll have to stand up for your credentials and demand that they be respected, pretty much because of being a member of some respected association or narrower professional circle you have an obligation to uphold the dignity of that smaller profession-within-profession.

A fuller range of emotions concepts or needs involved will look like this:

  • Safety
  • Convenience
  • Compliance (regulatory requirements)
  • Inaertia
  • Distrust
  • Fear of the boss/client
  • Corporate ego, or a small company's attempt at looking serious
  • Device intended to soften translators
  • Simple cheapskating with no ego involved
  • Entitlement
  • Knowing no other way

Your tolerance levels may differ for each of these.

Your contact's willingness or ability to drop the idea of a free test will also differ. For example, if it's a regulatory requirement, they probably can't do a thing. In many companies, the frontline PM in the trenches probably just doesn't have the authority to waive it or the contacts to go higher up the ladder. This is diametrical different when you talk to the owner of a small agency who writes the rules. With a young intern or someone in a temp position or the average secretary this will be a coin flip.

It will be pretty much the same whether the proposition is that they waive the test altogether or keep it but pay for it — there is always red tape and the need for approval unless you're talking to a proper decisionmaker, which is probably true only in a minority of cases.

From a humanitarian point of view, it might be less than advisable to force a scared but pliable person to abandon a safety device and make a leap of faith. The person may cave in this time but remember the painful experience and go elsewhere when you're no longer desperately needed. On the other hand, if you give in too easily more and more unreasonable requests may follow that such a person makes in order to feel safer.

As far as convenience goes, I sometimes make friends with PMs and secretaries while not having or desiring much contact with their boss, and it works out fine. Besides, simple favours between translators and PMs, translators and agencies, translators and the small people in big organizations, do work.

What else? Sometimes people are just counting their pennies without seriously meaning to make you work without getting paid — they just don't stop to think about it. Likewise, those suffering from egos too large for their suits don't always mean to snub you, Lazy or passive ones are not always hopeless cases when more serious things are concerned that a free test that takes half an hour to do but multiple hours to waive or get a budget approved for.

Finally, this may be a cultural thing, but it doesn't immediately occur to everybody that any sample or test during the negotiation phase before a transaction should be remunerable. Or that any test whatsoever should be remunerable — because it's a test. I'm not really convinced myself, for example. It can be seen as a sort of investment in negotiation leading to a potential deal, basically, or an extension of your application. Just like with all negotiation time and expense, the gain is uncertain here, and it's rather the chance of receiving gainful employment that serves as consideration (remuneration, compensation, payment etc.) for your efforts rather than any direct form of payment. From a different perspective, perhaps, in human terms, you could say it's just a client that needs more convincing, largely in accordance with the Show, don't tell principle. (Telling is speculative. People in business are more likely to have a practical, hands-on mind instead.)

Okay, one more thing (okay, more than one; this post will drag on for a while yet): A sample of good work is probably the best advertising ever made. It even beats word of mouth — again, Show, don't tell at play. And it's a better show when the sample is something the prospect can relate to more easily. And what could the prospect relate to more easily than whatever text he himself chose, took from you, saw, analysed and compared? Plus, it's cheaper than any sort of advertising ever, because it takes no more than you doing your own job for a short amount of time. No copywriter or agency is going to charge you as little as the bill for ~300 words of your translation. Getting a leaflet or a piece of website copy for some 30 dollars/euros/pounds (if)? Keep dreaming. It may be even cheaper than word of mouth, in the sense that it requires less effort. And you can always do a sample while you don't always have available or applicable word of mouth.

I'm a little pickier about free samples these days, largely due to having passed a rigorous and reputable examination that agencies' little tests can't light a candle to — and I don't feel like reinforcing them in that misimpression or allowing them to engage themselves and me in a pointless exercise or run a show for the benefit of their corporate ego at the expense of the sworn translator's traditional prestige — but some years ago I'd have planted them wherever I could.

Those free samples I did happily whenever asked were what got me jobs and the best rates agencies in Poland would pay despite the fact I'd had zero experience in translation. But those samples sufficed to put me on a level above people who had more experience, more relevant degrees, more or better referrals, but did not translate as well as I did. In so doing, the samples were an egalitarian device that levelled the playing field. If they took a sample from me before even negotiating the rates, then all the better because having had a bite and a sniff they knew what they'd be missing. They'd also know who to come to when a looming screw-up made the budget more flexible. I'm not sure I'm not making things up right now, but it's possible I'd even avoid talking about rates before getting the chance to land a sample.

If you're a young or new translator, I wholeheartedly recommend that you make use of this. Beat the competition (your colleagues to wit) where you can as opposed to playing their game on their own terms, where you can't beat them. But I mean genuine free tests here, not proper freebies with economic value.

Here's another idea:

  • If you know they're going to request it anyway, volunteer it. This will allow you to do it on your own terms, and you can choose a presentation method that will do the least damage to your profile or the entire profession's profile, or even raise it a bit. To avoid looking desperate or producing some other undesirable impression, you can offer a non-obvious alternative, e.g. indicate your readiness to accept the first one or two pages out of twenty as a separate small order without a minimum fee or for a minimum fee creditable against the price of the entire job if they confirm it after analysing the first small portion.
  • Knowing what emotions and needs are at play here, you can use your copy to wrap that free sample as something to show to your boss, a proof of your thrift for your CFO (when the first 1-2 pages are ordered and analysed separately before the whole job is confirmed), a limited guarantee of safety or satisfaction, a convenient 'solution' and more.

Just to be clear: I'm not making a sleazy suggestion that you should do free tests for opportunistic reasons and effectively lie about your true motivation in your copy; that would be wrong.

On the other hand, as you progress in age, years of experience, degrees and diplomas, accreditations and memberships, the need to test you in advance of giving you an assignment should diminish, especially the need to do so without paying you for your time. Still, you may want to consider the pros and cons of enabling or not enabling a short free sample using a text of the client's own choosing. It becomes important to ask who should be able to test you, for what reasons and purposes, and on what terms. And to look for alternative solutions, such as preemptively displaying your credentials, testimonials and existing samples for prospective clients to see and stop asking silly questions and making silly proposals.

You can also include test translation as an explicit position in your rate sheet, which will make it more difficult for at least some people to ask for it, or even 'require' it, free of charge.

Or you can refuse any tests altogether and have a canned response prepared for the occasion, for example to the effect that there is enough evidence available to prove your track record, that there already are samples available to get a hands-on feel of it (just not on a text of one's own choosing), and that you don't need to resort to providing free samples in order to find work, so they are of no benefit to you. No discussions, no follow-ups, just ending the conversation politely there and then.

Okay, one last point: A free sample of your translation for them is a free sample of their QA/QC process, communication style and efficiency and overall competence for you. And that is some really valuable business intelligence that you'd never get for the nominal price of 200-500 words of your translation. Another factor for you to consider in your decision.

If You're Overworked, Up Your Rates! (to Up Your Game)

One of the complaints we sometimes hear — and sometimes envy — on freelancers' social media is too much work and having to decline. Th...