Most interfaces, gestures and UI patterns are based on reading from left to right (sinistrodextral).

Swiping to the right to go back is based on making the same motion with your finger if you want to go to the previous page of a book.

The back button is facing left, because it represents the direction (in books and sentences) we already read.

And these things work exactly the opposite in Arab countries.

I know that Arab browsers have a back button that points to the right. But when it comes to Android, iOS and Smartwatches, a lot of apps don't take right-to-left reading into account.

My question:

What features and options should we as UX Designers keep in mind when designing an app that needs to be both left-to-right and right-to-left-friendly?

Bonus question: are gestures (like swiping) also inverted on Android / iOS for RTL-users?

  • +1 thanks for introducing me to the word sinistrodextral! what's the word for right to left? – Michael Lai May 19 '16 at 22:37
  • @MichaelLai No problem! RTL = Dextrosinistral :-) – Max de Mooij May 19 '16 at 22:43
  • Not related, but I am guessing sinistro is from the same latin root that gave us "sinister", and means left. On topic however, as UX designers I think we generally should not try to over ride the UX of the OS unless it really, really makes sense. – Austin French May 19 '16 at 22:45
  • @AustinFrench I think your guess is pretty close to the mark (English Language StackExchange can confirm), and it is interesting how the meaning of the word has changed over the years. On your point about overriding the OS standards, I am guessing that it was something that they never really took into account when they first came up with the standards, so perhaps that's a good reason in itself to try and change - might as well follow the 'inclusive design' bandwagon :D – Michael Lai May 19 '16 at 22:51
  • Did you have any additional questions that we haven't addressed in our answers? – maxathousand May 26 '16 at 18:11

One thing these cultures have in common is a top-down organization of writing. When a line breaks, both cultures continue writing below what was just written. You could lean on this in your designs.

The Flipboard app uses "pages" that flip up and down rather than left and right. I'd start with something along those lines.

  • Maybe new screens slide up from the bottom as if they are a continuation of the current page?
  • Maybe you could help a user to understand that to "move up" a page really means "back"?

(Heck, it actually sounds like an exciting challenge! You might come up with something new.)

  • 1
    Well noticed about the up and down part, that could indeed be a new universal version of back and forward! – Max de Mooij May 19 '16 at 22:45
  • @MaxdeMooij the Star Wars intro of letter moving backwards but people having to read both forwards and backwards creates an 'interesting' experience... perhaps you are onto something here! – Michael Lai May 19 '16 at 22:52
  • @MichaelLai Haha, adding a z-axis ;-) But that might make it a little complicated for user interfaces, don't you think? – Max de Mooij May 19 '16 at 23:03
  • @MaxdeMooij it would be a good way to bump up the sales of those tri-axial mouse though :D – Michael Lai May 19 '16 at 23:06
  • @MichaelLai Hahaha! Well, VR is just around the corner. But then we don't need any navigation gestures / symbols. – Max de Mooij May 19 '16 at 23:12

Generally, all ltr interactions, layouts etc. should be be mirrored in the rtl counterpart - anything that gets its position based on eye-flow should be reversed to accommodate a rtl pattern.

On the other hand swipe gestures for complete/delete etc. should follow device norms - although they have a direction associated with them, it's not necessarily connected to reading direction.

One additional point to remember is that to a large extent rtl users will have far more exposure to ltr sites and apps than a ltr user to rtl. This means that you can probably be less rigid about enforcing the mirrored version for rtl if there's a compelling reason to do so.

I don't have any sources for any of this other than my own observations, having grown-up in a ltr environment, and now living in a rtl one.

  • The exposure of RTL users to LTR interfaces was something I've been thinking about. Still I wonder how confusing it is for the users to break their conventions. – Max de Mooij May 19 '16 at 22:56
  • So having grown-up in a ltr environment and now living in a rtl one, have you really had to make a lot of adjustments to the 'rtl world'? – Michael Lai May 19 '16 at 23:07
  • @Max de Mooiij well, I'd say it's less of a different convention, rather a secondary convention. In places where English is common as a 2nd or even 3ed language, there's a certain amount of familiarity with ltr even for non-speakers. – shahar May 22 '16 at 4:48
  • @Michael Lai, yes and no, I live in Israel, where there's still a lot of English around and, but yes for a lot of things, the rtl was an adjustment. – shahar May 22 '16 at 4:49

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.