Bot encounters of the human kind

There’s been a lot of talk about how bots will take over. Dystopian theories aside, there’s a fair argument to be made that many of the tasks we currently do on a day to day basis will eventually be done much more efficiently by bots. Some day, maybe even more effectively as well.

That’s an easy train of thought to not only get swept up in, but feel pretty discouraged by as well. But if there’s one thing that we (as humans) have proven to be pretty efficient at, it’s our ability to adapt. It’s something that we’re terrified by because most of us dislike change, but at the same time, we embrace because it happens so frequently.

I’m sure that many of us who work on a piece(s) of the internet can recall a recent experience of dealing with some sort of bot. Maybe it’s one you were aware of and hated. Maybe it was one that worked behind the scenes and did a good job without you even knowing. Heck, maybe is was one you built yourself and became creeped out by how efficient it is becoming.

I’ve had a recent experience myself in dealing with a few bots and weirdly enough, it actually helped a project communicate better with humans.

A trip to India

This whole process began with a few colleagues that we’re planning a trip to India. We (team VIP) don’t have a ton of personnel from that part of the world and recruiting some will help us out a ton. So, they started making preparations for the trip.

They planned to visit more than a few events across the country and one thing that they realized would be useful was a simple flyer. It was supposed to be something they could hand out easily with some relevant info, but also something they could pack easily in their luggage.

It was at this point, they reached out.

Hey! We’re going on this recruiting trip soon to India and while attending all these events (we’ll be traveling quite a bit), we thought it might be nice to hand out something that would help get people that were interested to apply.

I’ve taken an initial swing at it, what do you think?

hiring_cards-original@2x

A business card

What my colleague showed me was a small white business card with our logo and a few key pieces of information on it. “Well, hey that’s a pretty good start.” I thought to myself. “Hadn’t thought of using a business card size, but that totally makes sense, especially for carry on luggage.”

Upon looking over the initial pass however, there seemed to be something missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Finally it revealed itself; context. The card acted very much like a traditional business card in that if there was a conversation ahead of it, it had all the info you would need. But, on it’s own, it would be difficult to understand why you should look into applying.

Once we realized that, we got to work brainstorming ways to add context to a recruiting card that a person may or may not have had a conversation about before viewing.

At this point we had about day and a half before the whole team needed to fly to our yearly “Grand Meetup” (Automattic gets together company wide once a year). They would then leave on the trip immediately after. So without a ton of time to spend, we settled on focusing around some of the benefits we offer at Automattic as they’re the best in the business no matter where you’re located.

hiring_cards-english@2x

Adding context

With the focus on benefits in mind, we mocked up a new version of the recruiting card; this time double sided to highlight a few different benefits. A notable one being the completely remote aspect of the job.

Initially this was mocked up using English to get an overall feel for the updated design, but at same time we really wanted to make a Hindi version as well because it felt inclusive of the target audience. Note that we were hoping to re-use these in the future, so having multiple versions printed was helpful to keep in mind.


Enter the bots

Not speaking the language ourselves, we ran the translation through everyone’s favorite (and accurate 🙂 – we like sarcasm) translation bot Google Translate. We never really intended this particular bot to give a accurate translation per se, but it did give us something to work with. This also allowed us to test our newly chosen brand typeface: Noto. One of the primary reasons we choose this typeface was for it’s language support, so this was a perfect opportunity to give it a shot.

hiring_cards-hindi@2x

Overall the typeface looked like it handled the characters fairly well, but that was using my untrained eye. Upon closer examination, it became noticeable that certain ligatures were either missing or using the incorrect versions. This is where the second bot came into play, the good old Google search engine.

Playing nicely with tools

A few queries later, a fix presented itself. If you also happen to ever be in this situation (needing to support different languages in Illustrator), here are a few key tweaks to make in order to get the character support you need.

1. Download the relevant font file(s)

noto_Hindi@2x

In our case, we needed the Noto Devanagari files.

2. Update Illustrator type options

type_options@2x

Enable the “Show Indic Options” under Preferences > Type.

3. Select appropriate paragraph composer

paragraph_composer@2x

After highlighting a particular text, open the options panel for the paragraph window and select the appropriate “Middle Eastern and South Asian Composer” setting.

A traffic director

Once we figured out the tooling and language support aspects, I found myself in odd spot. “How can I get this translated appropriately so that not only the message, but also the sentiment comes out on point?” – I thought.

Luckily enough we have an entire team at Automattic that specializes in translations, but in a rather unique way. It’s a fairly small team, so while sometimes they can perform the translations themselves, other times they act a bit like traffic directors and move requests where they need to go.

slackbot_polyglots@2x

Enter a new player. This time another bot; one that hooks into Slack. Upon request for help with this translation, the team let me know that there’s actually a bot that was built precisely to help with this type of situation. It’s purpose is to help find people within the company that actually speak particular languages.

This was the first time I had heard about and wow did it help. We used it, found a few people that spoke Hindi and like most everyone at Automattic, they were super helpful. Even when boarding planes to fly for 20+ hours.


Message between the lines

Not only did they all help translating aspects of the message, they found further meanings in the translation. And while different word for word, the meanings came out in beautiful ways.

My personal favorite was how they chose to describe remote work, which if you happen to translate from their Hindi meaning, roughly says the following in English:

When you find internet, you’ve found your office.

Speaking of which, we’re hiring! Come check out some of the positions yourself.

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