99designs to open source multi-language responsive design

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99designs to open source multi-language responsive design

Building for every device and region.

Australian startup 99designs plans to open source a new framework it has built to allow responsive design to work with multiple foreign languages.

Responsive design is a way of coding websites that allows them to work seamlessly on multiple devices.

99designs, which has seen mobile users roughly doubling every year, has rolled out in six new languages in the past 12 months.

“Everyone is thinking about responsive design in the context of devices. Where it got interesting for us was responsive design in the context of devices and languages,” 99designs chief technology officer Lachlan Donald told iTnews.

“One of the real difficulties of internationalisation for us has been getting the one code base and application effectively to adapt into all of the local regions that we’re wanting to target,” Donald said.

“You have languages like German which have text which in English is a six letter word, which in German is three 10 character words.”

Donald said while there were lot of great examples of open source front end frameworks doing responsive design, not many supported the wide variance in language strings that 99designs required.

“Our engineers are working on a framework which we’re planning on open sourcing which allows you to build layouts which adapt to device and also to different sized language strings.”

Donald said his discussions with other international companies like accommodation marketplace Airbnb and handmade design community Etsy revealed the issue was becoming a more pressing one over time.

“There’s going to be a lot of development in the tech industry to support that sort of flexibility over the next year or two.”

Global collaboration

Donald also detailed the collaboration and infrastructure challenges 99designs has faced as it has expanded into new international offices.

“Keeping our whole company communicating and informed is still one of the biggest challenges. What we’re trying to do is just bake that remote communication into our DNA.”

Donald said 99designs uses Atlassian collaboration tool HipChat to bring people together and keep them informed.

“All of our different product groups and divisions each have chat rooms.

“We have a lot of our technical systems talking directly to those chat rooms, we call them bots, that live in those rooms and are informing the company on everything from when we make a sale to when a new release of the software has gone out to when a high-priority customer query comes in. So it ends up being a really unifying source, communications wise.”

Donald said the company also uses Trello, a lightweight card tool, to make keeping up with projects as simple as possible.

“Of course we’re rapidly learning no matter how good communications tools are there’s no substitute for face to face.

“We have a program where at any point in time we have a couple of Australian engineers in the San Fran office and then we try and bring people from San Fran over here so we have a constant rotation.”

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