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I have been given a task of researching usability of Middle Eastern websites so the considerations can help shape the functional specification and wire-frame diagrams.

What is noticeable from the number of Middle Eastern websites I have visited so far is the right-justified structure and text that supports their right to left reading preference. This approach appears to differ across the internet because while some right-justify the whole website, for example Dubai newspaper Emarat Al Youm, others justify solely the text, for example Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and choose to follow the conventional Western approach of locating key content on the left.

I am interested in the best solution for Middle Eastern users so should the whole website be right-justified or would justifying only the text be sufficient?

Also, are there any usability pitfalls that only effect Arabic websites?

And are there any Middle Eastern websites that discuss usability research findings?

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Fantastic question, hope someone with relevant experience can give you some answers. Will be most interested to read. –  Ali May 24 '10 at 16:00
    
Somehow I think this will get alot of votes, but not alot of answers. Personally, I have never made a RTL site. –  Glen Lipka May 24 '10 at 18:28

4 Answers 4

As an Arab I can say that Arabic websites tend to right-justify even the elements of the page. So the logo of the site will be on the top right instead of the top left. Everything else naturally follows.

I use both English and Arabic sites, and I don't see them in the same way in terms of where I look first. I think it has to do with the direction of text the person is used to. Same thing applies to other Arabs. I've seen this in usability tests I've moderated, too.

Also, are there any usability pitfalls that only effect Arabic websites?

Haven't seen nor known anything like that yet (besides the right-to-left issue). You could run into problems if you use informal Arabic for your website, since we have a lot of words that could mean something else in a different dialect (and we do have tons of dialects), but you'd be safe sticking to formal Arabic.

And are there any Middle Eastern websites that discuss usability research findings?

As far as I know, my usability blog is the only Arabic resource I know of that's specialized in usability (it even shows up as the first result in Google when searching for "usability" in Arabic). However, its purpose is to educate Arabs about usability in general, so I don't tend to discuss usability research findings often there.

The concept of web usability is still very new to the Arab world (unfortunately), so you'll probably have a hard time finding helpful Arabic resources.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions and I'll do my best to answer them. :)

EDIT: here's a relevant usability study that you might find useful: Understanding Usability Issues of Bidirectional Bilingual Websites

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Very useful, thank you. :-) –  Gavin Harris May 25 '10 at 9:45

Check this website, it is Pakistani Website (using Right-to-Left writing approach, using Urdu text).

http://wasifkhayal.com/

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This is a really good question, and I would also be interested in any findings.

Although more Israeli than Arabic, SmashingMagazine did a feature on Israeli and Arabic web design which, although not providing much in the way of usability advice, is a good resource for inspiration.

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/02/23/shalom-showcase-of-web-design-in-israel/

There is also the site for (Usability Professionals Association) UPA Israel http://www.upaisrael.org/ although I cannot comment on the actual content as it is not my language.

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Haaretz is right-justified as well, it just doesn't seem that way. RTL websites should be right-justified, there's no question about it. Occasionally you find left-justified RTL websites, who do this for one of two reasons: either they were built by people who have no idea what they're doing, or they are based on a fixed LTR platform (or their primary version is in an LTR language and they don't want to change the layout).

This is a how RTL and LTR workflows look for an RTL language: in RTL you begin on the right and always keep going in the same direction until you're done. In a left-justified website, you still begin on the right, but the first thing you do is go across the page to the leftmost element. You finish working with it when you're on its left side, and to proceed you backtrack to the right side of the middle element, where you go left again, etc.

It can get extremely annoying to your users, although most of the time they won't realize what it is that interferes with their experience.

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As to Middle-Eastern UX websites, and I can speak only for Israel, I can recommend UXI.org.il (full disclosure: I'm one of its founders). The UPA Israel website is undergoing some changes, so it's offline right now, and the one that you mentioned is just the conference website of the last World Usability Day. But these are all in Hebrew in any case.

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