5 Challenges to Right-to-Left Website Development

Right-to-Left website development
In this video, we'll go through some of the biggest problems with RTL language localization, along with solutions.

Since these languages read from right to left, you'll need to realign your website design instead of focusing just on the content.

In addition, not every element will have the same orientation.

Symmetrical illustrations and icons, for instance, are typically read from left to right. You must consider how variations in word length and font size affect the layout since language transitions are not always one-to-one.

Any photographs may need to be modified, or possibly changed entirely, depending on how these adjustments affect how visible they are.

RTL changes might be challenging, but this video can help. Enjoy!

5 Challenges to Right-to-Left Website Development - Video

Did you know that there are over 350 million right-to-left language speakers worldwide? Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian are the most widespread RTL writing systems in modern times.

So it’s unsurprising that support for RTL websites is constantly increasing, which affects global brands that want to localise their websites.

You might ask, what’s the challenge here? You just translate the website and flip the content. Be careful. You also need to localise the user experience.

At Reffine, we build websites for global brands. I’d like to share 5 top challenges we encounter when dealing with right-to-left websites.

Challenge #1 Flip your content

Let’s start with the most obvious thing. In RTL languages, writing and reading are done from right to left.

But it’s not only about the text. The translation is just the beginning.

You need to adjust the whole design to a right-to-left orientation. Think about your logo placement, menu, scrollbars, breadcrumbs, form fields, table columns, buttons, and more.

Challenge #2 Not everything is right to left

Not everything has to be flipped around when you localise a website for RTL countries.

Many icons that typically appear in browsers and search pages work fine for RTL language speakers. Symmetrical graphics and icons like a camera or user profile, for example, do not need to be flipped.

However, icons that indicate a direction or motion need to be mirrored. The same goes for a list of icons that displays a specific sequence. This should start from the right side on an RTL website.

There are a lot of exceptions, so you should have an eye for detail.

Challenge #3 Numbers have their own rules

This brings us to the unique case of numbers.

Surprisingly, even in languages that are written from right to left, numbers are still read from left to right.

If you’re writing the year 2023 in Arabic, it wouldn’t be flipped to 3202. However, if you are translating the phrase, “from the year 2010 – 2015,” in Arabic, it will appear the other way around.

Pay extra attention to things like date and time formats so that your numbers are in line with the RTL script.

Challenge #4 Make sure the text is readable

Your job doesn’t end with switching the font.

The font and typography offer potential traps. In Arabic, for example, many words are shorter than in English, which can impact the design of your website. Also keep in mind that there are no capital letters and italics are rarely used.

And Arabic typefaces tend to render text smaller, so the font size may need to be increased to improve readability.

Challenge #5 Adjust photos

Last but not least, you’ll need to adjust your photos.

If you localise the website in an RTL language, make sure to review the images. When you flip the content, it might turn out that your photos are no longer as visible. In that case, you’ll need to find images that are more suitable to the new format while taking cultural differences into account.

Are you looking for a way to reach a wider audience with your website? Reffine can help you localise and build a website that is accessible to right-to-left language speakers. Reach out to us and let’s talk.

Are you planning to launch RTL website?