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From 2 to 50 Million Users in Localisation: Canva’s Journey ft. Michael Levot

From 2 to 50 Million Users in Localisation: Canva’s Journey ft. Michael Levot

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Our Guest
Michael Levot
Michael Levot

Head of localization, Canva

Our Host
host image
Alpi Mantry

Chief Human, Translate By Humans

“Localisation Can Be Challenging But Lucrative If Done Right” says our most recent guest Michael Levot, Head of Localisation at Canva in our recent Tales of Localisation talk with our CEO, Alpi Mantry. You must know, Canva is an online design and publishing tool that empowers everyone to design anything and publish anywhere.

Michael Levot’s success story about Canva’s localisation journey is truly inspiring. With their dedication and hard work, they were able to grow their user base from 2 to 50 million. It’s amazing to see how a company can reach such heights by constantly striving to improve their product and expand their reach. Congratulations to Canva and their team for achieving such an incredible accomplishment.

Key Takeaways:

Key Insights:

Welcome to the show Michael. Let's talk about your journey so far in localisation.

From the academic world to the exciting realm of language technology, my journey into localisation began. I started as an academic language working in universities teaching in universities, and trying to get papers published was an interesting way to start a journey as when you start very detail oriented; you need to un-train yourself from those details. I started doing that in the next step of my career. I started working at Appen, an LSP in Sydney, where I live, and they are very focused on training AI systems.

At Appen, I learned transcription and translation from incredible colleagues. Pursuing a Master’s in AI ethics further enriched my understanding of this dynamic field.
Canva welcomed me next, introducing me to software products and customer-centric thinking. As a team lead for marketing localisation, I embraced the challenge of adapting non-text elements creatively. I even ventured into managing infrastructure engineers, a whole new world of communication.

As the Head of Localisation at Canva, I lead product and marketing localisation, operations, quality, and market research teams. I aim to unite these diverse elements to provide the best experience for our customers. The journey continues, and I’m eager to meet new challenges head-on!

Wow, that's an incredible journey indeed!
As the head of localisation at Canva, how do you determine which specific language to choose and which regions or markets to target for localisation?

At Canva, we embarked on an exciting journey, starting with an impressive 150 languages on the platform. However, we soon realised the importance of focusing on the quality of our offerings rather than sheer quantity. After thoughtful consideration, we narrowed it to 100 languages, ensuring a better user experience for our diverse community.

Our approach to localisation is customer-centric. We aim to make our product accessible and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of their location. It’s not just about translating the content; it’s about creating a seamless journey from discovery to payment. This way, users worldwide can discover, use, and even pay for our product, fostering business growth across different regions.

Choosing the right markets for investment is a strategic decision. We analyse factors like addressable market and GDP per capita, but we also value the insights of our dedicated teams in specific regions. Take the Philippines, for example, where we have a passionate and knowledgeable team that has been with Canva from the beginning. Thanks to their expertise, the Philippines has become one of our top-priority markets for localisation investment.

At Canva, we believe that successful localisation goes beyond language; it's about building strong connections with our global users and tailoring our product to meet their unique needs and cultural preferences.

That's fascinating!
What specific exercises do you undertake to ensure that you stay updated with market trends and adapt your strategy accordingly?

At Canva, our teams are like early testers and late adopters of new technology and platforms, always watching the latest language model revolution. We love learning about these innovations, testing them in production, and seeing how they fit into our operations. However, we approach adoption cautiously due to our large scale of operation, dealing with millions of words in hundreds of languages. Rigorous selection methods help us make informed decisions.

Based in Sydney, we rely heavily on our localisation network, sharing insights with a software company and exchanging tool reviews. This ensures that any investment we make is for the long term.

Constant research and staying updated are critical to our approach. LinkedIn surprises us with a fantastic localisation community that shares valuable insights and expertise. This way, we stay close to the cutting edge of the industry.

How do you prioritise which content to translate?

Imagine our company as a journey, starting small and growing bigger. Initially, we translated every piece of content into all languages, but as we expanded, it became overwhelming. So now, we prioritise what to translate based on three factors: content volume, sensitivity, and value.

For instance, we have many blog posts with niche topics and a small audience. While they’re not low-value in themselves, their impact on the business is relatively low. These can be placed at the bottom of the priority list.

On the other hand, critical content like the user interface must be accurately translated since it directly impacts the user experience.
Everything in between becomes more complex and needs a deeper understanding. We work closely with content strategists to determine the purpose of each product or channel. By measuring the impact of localisation, like how many users can find solutions without support, we can calculate the return on investment for translation.

In some cases, we can clearly show the cost-saving benefits of translation, but for others, it’s more challenging to predict the value. To succeed, localisation managers need to become product managers in the areas they translate, understanding the audience and potential impact.

Localisation decisions vary in complexity. Some are straightforward, while others require a deep understanding of the product and its audience. By focusing on content volume, sensitivity, and value, we can prioritise effectively and make the best localisation choices for our company's growth and success.

That's a good one! Next, Michael, as you briefly touched on technology, please expand on how you use technology to improve your processes for localisation.

There are a lot of different ways to approach the question. The obvious one in the current environment is to think about these cutting-edge technologies with large language models. We are usually early testers and late adaptors; this is an example where we are bucking that trend and adopting this technology relatively early. We’re exploring new avenues to enhance our localisation process, from innovative language models to translation management systems.

Gone are the days of exhaustive manual reviews; automation now assists us in identifying potential errors, saving time and effort. Yet, our biggest challenge lies in explaining these tech wonders to developers, designers, and content writers who may need to become more familiar with the intricacies of localisation.

At Canva, we've invested in an internationalisation team with brilliant engineers, streamlining localisation for developers. The focus is on reducing friction and making the process seamless. One-click translations, contextual comments, and automated systems simplify their involvement, fostering a strong belief in the value of localisation.

The localisation journey is exciting, full of unique cases and thrilling discoveries. From cutting-edge technologies to streamlined processes, we’re always looking for ways to stay ahead and ensure global success for Canva.

Absolutely! It's like orchestrating a symphony of developers and internationalisation experts, all working harmoniously to conquer new markets and connect with customers. Great to see a perfect melody of collaboration before embarking on technological ventures by bringing everyone together and aligning their efforts.
Before choosing a TMS system, what are the key factors you consider to ensure it's the perfect match for your needs?

At Canva, our Translation Management System (TMS) has undergone various phases to cater to stakeholders. For us, the TMS primarily refers to the powerful and well-documented API, which is extensively used by our internationalisation team. Although they may log in infrequently, they rely on the API daily for their work.
Translators play a vital role, and we prefer human translation, whether agency teams, freelancers, or in-house members. However, we also acknowledge the need to accommodate machine translation engines for broader use cases.

Ensuring seamless integration with various technologies is crucial. We once faced a challenge when we wanted to use a new machine translation technology, but it required TMS integration. This made us rethink our approach to leverage all desired technologies effectively.

Our team, though small, is essential for fine-tuning the TMS to cater to unique use cases across Canva. Whether adjusting translation memory or editing glossary items across numerous languages, we strive for efficiency.
One critical aspect is a user-friendly UI that allows swift navigation, especially when dealing with multiple languages. We want to avoid cumbersome processes and unnecessary clicks that might slow our workflow.

While the localisation team is significant, we understand that other users, like our internationalisation team, rely heavily on the TMS API. By considering the needs of all stakeholders, we aim to optimise our TMS for diverse use cases at Canva.

Which areas do you prioritise for machine translations, and in which cases do you exclusively opt for human translations?

Let’s start by focusing on the value of human translation and what makes it effective. Human translation becomes worthwhile when we invest in essential elements, such as maintaining the right tone of voice for our business, using appropriate terminologies and glossaries, and considering the context of each string to be translated.

However, there are cases where human translation may not be feasible due to the scale of the task or the volume of words or strings that need to be translated. In such situations, deciding whether to opt for machine translation or not becomes essential.

To make this decision, we can create a matrix that considers the volume or cost of translation and the sensitivity of the content. High volume and low sensitivity cases are suitable for machine translation, while low volume and high sensitivity content may require human translation.

For instance, content related to payments and money is highly sensitive, and we need to be extra cautious when communicating with users about spending money on our product. This kind of content can be treated differently and translated by humans.
Additionally, we need to consider our audience size and the distribution of users across different languages. For example, if most of our users are in Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries, we might prioritise separate treatments for these markets based on cultural insights.

The key is to strike a balance between human and machine translation, focusing on the sensitivity of the content, the audience size, and the specific needs of different markets to deliver the best possible translations for our users.

That's a brilliant piece of advice!
Before we wrap up, a quick piece of advice you would like to give your younger self or someone starting fresh in the localisation industry.

That’s an excellent question. In the early stages of your career, you focus on learning the nitty-gritty and technical aspects. As you progress, you become more experienced and gain expertise in your field. This allows you to handle deeper, strategic issues later in your career.

As Alpi and Michael’s tale concludes, we learn that effective localisation can be challenging and rewarding for any global business. Michael’s leadership played a crucial role in Canva’s impressive international expansion. We gathered valuable insights to enhance our localisation strategies from this remarkable tale. This tale was surely encouraging! What pointers did you take from here?

At Translate By Humans, we firmly believe that allocating a budget for translation and localisation services is a smart investment. Our team of experts can provide you with valuable guidance regarding the global impact of localisation and tailor our solutions to suit your specific needs.

Reach out to us now to start the conversation about your localisation project. Let’s make your content truly global! Book a free complimentary call!

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