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Our February 2023 Event: Visual Design for Language Professionals. A Talk by Chris Thompson

For this month’s Language Professionals Networking Event, we were joined by guest speaker Chris Thompson, for a talk on ‘Visual Design for Language Professionals’. This talk focused on Chris’ career as a Multilingual Desktop Publishing (DTP) expert and gave some pointers on how to make your written documents look good and read well as a language professional.

Multilingual DTP involves altering the design and format of documents, in order to make a visual design work with text from a different language.

To put it in the words of our guest speaker:

“When people ask me what I do, I have to tell them what I’m not: I’m not a graphic designer and I’m not a translator. I take a design from the first of those and some words from the second, then mash them together until everyone’s happy.”

Chris Thompson

The World of Multilingual DTP

The event started with a warm welcome from our host Gabriella Ferenczi and an introduction to our speaker, Chris Thompson.

Chris started by introducing the topic of Multilingual DTP and giving some examples of documents that needed editing after being translated. This showed how DTP professionals edit translated documents and the considerations that are often needed. For example, English tends to be a ‘short language’ in terms of the space it takes up on a page, which often leads to overset text once translated. However, there are various ways of fixing this issue, such as reducing the line spacing (leading), line height, or font size.

This led into the next section on font selection, as Chris pointed out that it is common for fonts to not include certain characters in their repertoire, such as the Welsh character ‘Ŵ’. In these instances, the font must be substituted with an alternative that still matches the original design as closely as possible.

Chris then spoke about how multilingual DTP works with scripts that read from right to left (RTL), such as Arabic. This will often require a design to have the layout reversed, in order for it to work in these languages. There are also instances where more than just the text needs changing. An apocryphal example that Chris gave was an advert for washing powder, showing dirty laundry on the left, the washing powder in the middle, and clean laundry on the right. You can see how this wouldn’t tell the intended story if you read it from right to left.

Design Advice for Language Professionals

The final section of the talk was then dedicated to giving some design advice, as well as showing what not to do …

For example, Chris showed a sign that was supposed to read ‘Welcome to London’ but ended up as the Arabic equivalent of reading ‘N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W’, as a result of the people designing the banner not having the software to properly display Arabic.

Chris then explained how having two columns can sometimes make documents easier to read, than just one long column of text.

This is especially the case when text is otherwise quite cramped. (Although we don’t think that’s necessarily helpful in this instance.)

Some more advice from Chris was to make sure to use white space to make documents easier to read, and to be careful of colour selection.

For example, yellow text can be quite difficult to read on a white background.

Finally, Chris showed an image of a restaurant menu which had various design flaws. Although, as Chris pointed out, you wouldn’t expect Chefs to make great designs.


Visual design is a fundamental aspect of communication in all areas of business, but this is especially the case in the language professions where, as Chris demonstrated, communication across languages can often go wrong.

Therefore, we would like to thank Chris for being this month’s speaker and showing how these communication issues can be navigated properly, and for giving us all some valuable insight into the world of visual design and Multilingual DTP.

Thank you, as well, to all of our attendees for their active participation and great comments as a part of this discussion.

About the Speaker

Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson is a freelance multilingual desktop publishing expert based in Yorkshire, whose main activity is the localisation of printed publications in many languages. He has a particular fascination with non-European scripts.

After graduating in French, German and Italian, he had a zig-zag career in languages, initially producing summary articles from the international business press, then working in database localisation and database publishing, followed by a stint “wearing too many hats” as a project manager in a translation company. He went freelance in 2008. He is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and occasionally gives language-related talks on a variety of subjects.

Feel free to connect with Chris on LinkedIn

Any questions or comments on visual design or Multilingual DTP? Leave a comment below and let’s continue the conversation there.

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