Canadianization companies put the ‘u’ back in flavour

Behind the scenes of software developers, Web designers and countless other business segments is Canadianization – an industry whose main claim to fame is that you shouldn’t notice it’s there.

The Canadianization industry spans a broad range of disciplines, like editing and

translation, Web architecture, software development and graphic design. Whether the elements of Canadianization are done by one company or by several working together, the result should be a product that looks and feels like it belongs in Canada.

Though the process of Canadianization often involves adapting the existing content and structure of a business product, it can also begin at the beginning of a project. Peter Deak, an information architect who has worked on numerous interactive projects requiring Canadianization, said to him the process is just an intuitively integrated part of the job.

“If your users are Canadians or a mix of Canadians and Americans, you start to design strategically from that perspective. That’s the way you should be doing the project, so it’s kind of organic, that kind of thinking and design,” said Deak.

But for those who must adapt extant material for a new Canadian market segment, the considerations may be surprising.

“Localization is the act of translating and adapting software, the documentation, the online help, the collateral, the box – everything like that needs to be translated or adapted so that the ultimate product looks to a user in that target market as though it were created in and for that market,” explained Richard Sikes, a globalization consultant based in Toronto.

“Now, there are decisions and degrees of implementation all the way along, depending on how much money you’ve got,” he added.

A company can Canadianize its product with the basics – converting to Canadian tax forms and adding information on RRSPs to financial software, for example – or it can go full-throttle and try to deliver genuinely Canadian spelling, vernacular and cultural content.

Of course it is often hard to pinpoint exactly what is “Canadian,” editor Greg Ioannou of Toronto-based Colborne Communications said. And it goes far beyond just sticking in a few extra “u”s.

“Canadian spelling is weird,” said Ioannou. “There is no specific Canadian spelling – it’s partway between British spelling and U.S. spelling. But something that’s purely U.S. or purely British will feel wrong.” Ioannou also noted that the principle carries over even to measurement.

“We do a lot of automotive stuff, and that drives you crazy. A lot of the parts are in metric, but the wheels are 17 inches,” said Ioannou. And then there is the matter of French.

Truly Canadianizing a product or Web page requires a company to make it available both English and French – and if it is software that the Canadian government might purchase, there’s no getting around the requirement.

French-language considerations can add considerable hours to a timeline and bulk to a project – in every aspect from translation time to physical real estate in design.

Deak estimates the design overage from English to French to be about 15 per cent, simply because French words and phrases take up more space than their English equivalents. Web pages and software elements need to be designed to appear consistent in both languages.

And while many Canadian localization specialists acknowledge that Quebecois French has significant differences from the French spoken in France, few have the money to fund a Quebec-specific localization, often finding their France-French localizations “will do” in the Quebec market.

“A term that is acceptable in France may not be acceptable in Canada, and you do have to be aware of those nuances and be aware of the decisions you’re making when you’re selecting terminology,” said a localization specialist at a large Canadian software developer who preferred not to be named.

The specialist admitted that even her own company does not release a Quebecois-localized version of their software in French Canada. “We know we’re not going to lose a deal if the French in our product is not as Quebec-oriented as our Quebec customers want it to be. And because we know we can do that, we’re not going to spend the money on it.”

Yet while some Quebeckers may be willing to tolerate less-desirable terms that are acceptable in France (where “e-mail” is okay and “courriel” is a Quebecois novelty), even the smallest amount of due Canadian diligence can pay off tremendously for a company. Automaker General Motors had to rename its new 2005 Buick LaCrosse in Canada when it was discovered the name is Quebecois slang for “masturbation.”

For those who enlist the services of Canadian localizers, the issue of whether or not to invest in the process is a no-brainer.

“It’s very important for me in the Web channel to recognize that we are speaking to different customer segments,” said Mark Godfrey, a director of interactive at Direct Energy Canada, whose company recently launched a complete Web site redesign for both its U.S. and Canadian markets.


“It’s not just the geographical split; it’s the cultural split. It’s general marketing sense to understand your customers, understand the segments of those customers, and communicate to them appropriately,” said Godfrey.

“We wouldn’t want to communicate to our customers in Ontario in the same way as we would to our customers in Texas.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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