Localization of keyboard shortcuts

25 Nov 2008 - 1:04pm
7 years ago
3 replies
4947 reads
Rob Goris

Do you think it is good to localize (or allow customization of) keyboard
shortcuts? I am referring to the context of an application, not a web site.

For instance, in Spain, to save, the Ctrl + G (Guardar) key combination is
used pervasively instead of Ctrl + S (Save). However, across the board there
is little consistency as for example the Spanish Ubuntu operating system
uses Ctrl + S and Spanish Microsoft Windows uses Ctrl + P for printing
whereas printing is "imprimir" in Spanish. I have been trying to find some
logic but it seems all a bit arbitrary.

My initial take was that standards should prevail, but isn´t that similar to
all of us being forced to speak English?

Maybe you can point me to best practices, data on user preferences or plain
good advice?


Rob Goris


1 Dec 2008 - 9:55am

Hi Rob,

The best practise regarding shortcut keys is to follow the standard of the OS on which your application operates, because that set of shortcuts will be what the user learns, whether or not it is localised.

Incidentally, while it may be convenient in English that certain of the major shortcuts have the same initial letter as their function names (Save, Print), this is neither necessary nor consistent: X for Cut, V for Paste, Z for Undo, etc. Having designed shortcut and mnemonic schemes for software many times, I can tell you that it is completely impossible to come up with a full set of shortcuts where even a majority of them use the first letter of their function name. Using the first letter certainly helps the user remember the key, but there are far too few available keys. The guidelines, in order of desirability, are: first letter of the function name, any letter in the first word (except i, f, l, or t for mnemonics), the first letter of the second word (if there is one), any letter in the second word (except i, f, l, or t for mnemonics), and finally, for shortcuts, any letter at all. There are more guidelines here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms971323.aspx

For localisation purposes, using the "English" scheme may seem similar to forcing people to speak English, but the more important thing for the user is that the shortcuts are consistent between apps on the OS. The worst experience is when the user hits Ctrl+C in your app, then Ctrl+V in mine, but mine wants Ctrl+P for paste, and I've decided Ctrl+V will rearrange the workspace instead (Yuck! And I've seen it happen!). Our apps are localised into several languages, and our shortcuts do not change. I have never heard of this causing an issue for users. And who knows - maybe we'll luck out and Cut will start with an X in Swahili*.


User Experience Designer
Techsmith Corp.

(* Apparently, Cut in Swahili is actually Kata, so no X there...)

2 Dec 2008 - 9:56am
Rob Goris


Thanks for the detailed reply. I agree with you that consistency
between the OS and applications is more important then applying
strict localized schemes. I have checked a number of applications in
different languages and noticed that many just stick with the English
shortcut scheme. And what about supporting both the international and
localized shortcuts if possible? So CTRL A and CTRL E (Spanish)
for select all, CTRL F and CTRL B (Spanish) for find? Things get
complicated using an application through a browser (in our case) as
now shortcuts may be taken already. In that case consistency can be
both good (consistency) and bad (user expects a browser find using
CTRL F, not a find function in the application that runs in the

Can I post your reply to our community forum?



User Experience Architect
Openbravo, S.L.

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Posted from the new ixda.org

2 Dec 2008 - 4:54pm

Hi Rob,

I don't see anything inherently wrong with having multiple localised shortcuts for a function (Ctrl+A *and* Ctrl+E for Select All, etc.), if the point is to support the localisation. Depending on the number of shortcuts you may need, however, you might find yourself lacking available shortcuts in the future. If you don't anticipate scalability issues, then that sounds like a good alternative.

I didn't realise that your app was running in a browser - in that case, you'll want to be wary of not only reserved OS shortcuts (perhaps on all OSs; see previous link, and also the Human Interface Guidelines for Apple and any other OS you support), but also the browser shortcuts for all browsers on which your app will run. This complicates things a little, and you may find yourself pigeonholed by all of these reserved shortcuts into a very limited available set anyhow. Hijacking reserved shortcuts, whether OS or browser, is typically not good form, so there may be only a smallish list available to you.

Good luck - it sounds like you have a fun logic puzzle ahead! :)

Happy Holidays,

User Experience Designer
Techsmith Corp.

(p.s., yes, feel free to post on your community forum.)

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