What is Desktop Publishing (DTP) and Why is it So Important?

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What is Desktop Publishing? Often abbreviated as DTP, Desktop Publishing is the process that ensures the formatting and layout of your document are just right.

This is particularly important when you’ve just had your content translated. Because your freshly translated brochure, website, book, presentation, or leaflet might suddenly have overflowing text, strangely-sized images, or a font that’s wildly unsuitable for the language in question.

From managing text expansion and contraction during translation to optimising the final look of your materials, Desktop Publishing – especially its international sibling multilingual DTP – is something that plays a vitally important role in almost any translation project.

Today’s most successful brands recognise this. No matter what document or materials they are having translated, they know that Desktop Publishing is a critical part of the process if they want to maintain the standards their brand is known for.

What is DTP (Desktop Publishing)?

Desktop Publishing is the process of laying out a document, website, brochure, newsletter, PDF document, or any other kind of physical or digital written material. Commonly referred to as DTP, it is an important part of any graphic designer’s work as well as being a vital part of any company’s communications strategy.

This is especially true when the communications are intended for an international audience. It’s very unlikely that you can simply “unplug” the text from a design, translate it, and then plug it back in without causing some problems in its final appearance.

Plus, most true localisation – translating content so that it is fully adapted to the norms and expectations of a local audience – extends to more than just the text you read. Images, font choice, icons, graphics, colour schemes, and more may also need to be adapted to better suit your local audience. Implementing this is often the work of Desktop Publishing experts.

The precise tasks carried out by DTP specialists can include everything from confirming that localised files are stylistically suitable for your target market to checking for sentence cut-offs to moving text hidden behind images or vice versa, plus a dozen other actions required if your translated documents are going to be right for the task at hand.

Why is Desktop Publishing important?

Most translation services should include Desktop Publishing and final proofreading as a matter of course. For example, Kwintessential has its own team of DTP specialists in-house. It’s simply that important a part of the localisation services we provide.

Skilled Desktop Publishing work is vital if you want to achieve the best results with a translated piece, including correctly adapting:

1) Colours and imagery

For true localisation, the colours and images you use in your designs will often need to be carefully adapted.

For example, in certain cultures – especially in South-East Asia – colour symbolism has a mainstream role. This means the wrong choice of colour can quickly sink your advertising campaign or presentation. Green, for instance, is sometimes associated with cuckoldry in certain parts of China.

In other parts of the world, gestures that seem innocent or positive by one culture are seen as rude or disrespectful in others. Patting a child on the head in Thailand is considered in very poor taste, for instance. While a “thumbs up” is equivalent to the “middle finger” in some parts of Africa.

2) Font selection

Some fonts either don’t support certain characters or simply look awkward or difficult to read when used for certain languages. Different regions and readers of different languages often have their own standards and preferences when it comes to fonts. These always need to be borne in mind.

Equally, things like bold and italics are completely unsuitable for some languages or simply never used in others.

3) Formatting

Languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are read from right to left. Adapting your designs to accommodate this usually requires much more than simply flipping the design around. Often, certain elements of the design needed to be mirrored, while some do not – depending on local norms and preferences.

Other languages and cultures require different adjustments. In Japanese and Chinese, there don’t have to be spaces between words. This means line breaks can happen at any point – even in the middle of words!

There are rules and norms which govern things like this. But they need to be understood and used correctly if you want your localised designs to look natural to a native eye.

4) Use of space

It’s a general rule of thumb in many English-speaking countries that a website, for instance, can have large areas of blank space. In fact, the use of white space between words and images is vital. Otherwise, most of your audience in places like the UK or US will find the page too “busy”.

On the other hand, people in some Asian cultures, such as China, often actively prefer the maximum amount of space to be utilised. This may be linked to the fact that in much of Asia, there is a preference for being presented with as much information as possible so that a decision can be based on all possible data.

In the UK, US, or Europe, on the other hand, this may lead to “analysis paralysis”. Here, the preference is often for a limited number of clear choices.

This is an important consideration when you bear in mind that text can expand or contract when translated, taking up less or – more often – more space than it previously did.

What is multilingual DTP? How does it work?

Multilingual DTP specifically refers to Desktop Publishing done to adapt existing designs and formatting ready for publication in other languages. The process usually includes:

  1. Translation – of the existing content, often including localisation of all elements well beyond just the text.
  2. Graphic design and typesetting – this is where DTP fits into the process. It can include the typesetting of the localised text, changing fonts, modifying style sheets or templates, editing graphics, adapting the layout to allow for text expansion or contraction, sorting any indexes so they follow the target language, editing tables or graphs, and more.
  3. Proofreading – this vital step ensures that your translated, typeset, adapted designs are ready for digital or print publication.

Popular Desktop Publishing software and files

There are numerous pieces of Desktop Publishing software out there. They range from the simple, everyday options that most people have at least some knowledge of or basic experience with right through to those that require extensive training and experience but which can deliver correspondingly more complex requirements and outcomes.

Some of the most common examples of DTP software include:

1) Microsoft Word

The humble Microsoft Word produces documents that some people might question even need attention from a DTP specialist at all.

But if you have ever seen a document in English that’s poorly spaced or formatted or clearly written by someone who doesn’t quite understand how a document in English is supposed to look, you will know that even Word documents can normally use at least a quick review from a DTP specialist.

2) Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint files often call for careful attention from a DTP expert after translation as they struggle to accommodate the text expansion and contraction that commonly happens during the translation process.

For example, text translated from English into German tends to take up around 30% more space. Needless to say, that’s quite a lot if you haven’t planned for it!

PowerPoint files also present challenges when it comes to images. The same is true of Word files. But PowerPoint files will contain embedded text or text that is an image much more frequently. This makes them difficult for non-experts to deal with, whereas an expert can extract the text from the image, have the translation team work their magic, and then place them back in the image file correcting the final appearance as required.

As a good rule of best practice, if you are planning to have any files – including PowerPoint files – translated later, it is always a good move to keep your images and text separate wherever possible.

3) Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign has become the industry standard for most publishing projects. From physical materials such as brochures, posters, and documents to digital materials designed to be viewed online or on-screen, a huge proportion of the graphics, web documents, and printed materials we see and interact with every day are created using InDesign or another part of the Adobe Creative Suite.

However, problems often arise when InDesign files need to be translated. Much like text embedded in images (sometimes this is what InDesign files amount to), the text needs to be extracted, translated, and then reinserted into the image.

This needs careful expert attention if the final result is going to be of a high quality. All of the above issues relating to font, colours and imagery, use of space, text contraction and expansion, and so on all need to be considered and addressed.

Why use a professional for your DTP?

There is a wide range of reasons why successful companies choose to use multilingual DTP specialists instead of handling the process in-house:

1) Understanding of technically complex linguistic issues

Having the expertise required to use Desktop Publishing software – even the free varieties available online – is one thing.  But also having the knowledge relating to what will make your final design look natural and appealing to someone from your target culture is quite another.

For instance, symbols in Asian languages can be double-byte, many characters can be BiDi (BiDirectional), and words in some languages – such as German and Russian – can become very long indeed. Other languages may require specific software or the use of specific fonts in order to work at all.

This is all to say that extensive knowledge of the technical aspects of language and software is a must in the multilingual DTP process.

2) Cultural expertise to guide layout and appearance decisions

In the old days, many companies would make the mistake of assuming that because they had had their content translated by a professional, they could handle multilingual DTP by themselves. The results were usually difficult to understand or humorous at best. Or offensive at worst.

Your available Desktop Publishing expertise has a massive effect on the final look and “feel” of your translated materials. High-quality output is only possible if the people handling your multilingual DTP have just as extensive knowledge of what local norms and expectations are as your translation team does.

Typographical errors. A jumbled layout. Compliance failures. Formatting that makes critical information difficult to read. All of these mistakes and more can only be avoided if your DTP team have in-depth knowledge of your target language and culture.

3) Coverage of all files and formats

Language Service Providers (LSPs) who handle your DTP for you will tend to cover most files or formats. Kwintessential, for instance, covers all of them.

Most LSPs work in multiple file formats and use different software to edit and publish different scripts and languages, including those that aren’t always covered by standard versions of even well-known DTP software.

4) Resource, time, and cost-effectiveness

Another advantage of using the same company that’s handling the translation of your materials to manage the Desktop Publishing aspects too is that most LSPs have global teams who may be able to work on your project 24 hours a day. That’s great if you’re facing short deadlines.

Plus, time is saved because there is no need for your DTP team to constantly consult language experts as to whether your final design is even legible to someone in your target audience.

The rounds of back-and-forth revisions that often become necessary if your DTP experts don’t understand the language they’re working in are a huge time and resource sink.

5) A proofread final result

Proofreading should be the final step of almost any translation project – especially if the process has included multilingual DTP. Language Service Providers like Kwintessential will include full professional proofreading in every project.

The more complex the file, the more important it is to have a final review with options to send it back to the DTP team for revisions.

Desktop Publishing’s importance to high-quality output

Publishing your translated content without professional multilingual DTP is always a bad idea.

From basic mistakes that make your content look unprofessional to errors that make documents fail to meet legal requirements to serious slips that make your materials difficult to read or nonsensical, Desktop Publishing skills are vital if you want to avoid the common pitfalls of poorly adapted work.

But with professional multilingual Desktop Publishing expertise on your side, you can ensure that this vital part of the translation process happens smoothly and cost-effectively while simultaneously guaranteeing results that are completely natural and compelling to someone from your target audience.

Need to learn more about making your latest multilingual project perfect for your audience?

Talk to us today. Kwintessential regularly handles the DTP for our clients’ files.

And with clients including Marks & Spencer, American Express, the BBC, and others, we’re used to meeting the demands of organisations in every industry and every part of the world.

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