Why use Right to Left (RTL) for your website?

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Article by Quinn Frankel

There are over 6,500 languages used in the world today. Having a website that can adapt to a particular language and location is essential for engaging new audiences. One way to cater to these users is to use a Right-to-Left (RTL) design for languages that read right-to-left. There are over a dozen languages that read from right-to-left and are spoken by over 1.7 billion people. With such a massive, underserved audience, it is no wonder RTL websites are becoming more popular. 

What’s RTL?

RTL website design is for people who read right-to-left.  It’s more than just the text on the site, as the graphics, buttons, and overall user interface (UI) are all impacted by RTL. In order for the RTL layout to be useful, all the features and functions of the site need to make sense and work well for users that read right to left. Text icons are displayed on the opposite side of the screen, navigation buttons are displayed in reverse order, icons that communicate directions read from right to left, and text (if it’s being translated to an RTL language) is aligned to the right. Items that don’t see any change when using RTL are icons that don’t communicate direction like a camera, numbers (on a clock for example), phone numbers, charts, and graphs.  

KnockMedia’s RTL Project

In partnership with TED, KnockMedia created a new custom site (www.tedinarabic.com) that serves as the central destination for TED’s newest initiative TEDinArabic, that is aimed to deliver TED’s content and uncover innovative ideas from Arabic speaking communities.  


In the top right-hand corner, you’ll notice two buttons. The left button brings you to the LTR interface and the button to the right brings you to the RTL interface.

Notice on the RTL website design, all the images, buttons, and text shift to the opposite side compared to where they are in the LTR interface.

As you’ll see, this is consistent with the entire interface. Both the LTR and RTL interfaces have the same content, images, and text but everything “flipped” horizontally to the other side of the screen.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, check out the site here

How do you build a website with RTL 

In order to create an RTL website design, you will need to have the right resources for your project that have an expertise in the culture that extends beyond just having translation skills. With many languages, there is not a one size fits all approach to translating from English to another and many words don’t directly translate, so you need someone (versus a computer program) who knows the nuances of the languages and the culture.

It may be tempting to work on only one interface at a time, in the language that you are more comfortable with. To be successful with your RTL website design project, we recommend designing both versions of the website simultaneously.  

Do you have complex language requirements for your next website project?  Contact us here if you would like our help with your next RTL website design project.


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