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Best Practices for Image Localization

Visual stimulus has become central to the consumption of digital information and is inherently social media-friendly, helping attract users to what matters to them most. Localizing visuals is especially relevant to apps and content on mobile where designers have to make optimal use of space and a visual can often convey an entire concept in a device-confined area.

Localizing your visuals is an important part of any content marketing strategy. It’s not only the photographs you use alongside articles, but the use of color, graphics, icons and symbols.

A website that appeals to one culture may not appeal to another, or worse, could be offensive. In fact, the effects of these often ‘non-functional’ elements are so great that they demand the entire technical framework of a globalized website to be designed differently.

Important Visuals to Localize, and Why

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  • hand symbols, gestures and body parts
  • religious symbols that are not globally recognized
  • animal symbols, especially for conveying emotions
  • flags as icons to indicate language-specific content
  • graphical elements with text or a single letter


  • images of nature
  • abstract illustrations, sketches and geometric shapes
  • inanimate objects
  • globally recognized symbols like professions, modes of transportation, equipment, devices and consumer goods
  • standardized traffic and warning symbols
  • other standardized images, like scientific symbols

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Generally speaking, red signifies energy and aggression and green the environment and health, but colors have different significance in different cultures.

For instance, red in China symbolizes luck and for Hindus in India passion, love and lust. Green has negative connotations in China, and represents the underworld and exorcism in Tibet.

It shows how careful marketers should be when choosing the colors of their digital properties in other countries. For more tips take a look at the Culture-specific meaning of colors.

Kendra Schaefer, a Chinese user interface consultant, has additionally found that apps with brighter colors do better in China than in the West.


Using country flags to denote language is outdated as it seldom reflects a language in its entirety. It is also likely to offend users in countries that have a number of official and unofficial languages.

Using flags to show the user which country they are in, for example on an ecommerce gateway, is fine but consider that this may take up valuable space and could be unreadable on mobile devices, especially if you accommodate a dozen or so countries.

Using International Standards

A really useful tool is the ISO (the International Organization for Standardization), a worldwide federation of national standards institutes that develops standards for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, mechanical engineering, manufacturing and distribution, medical devices, the environment, safety, information and communication technologies.

Their standardized graphical symbols, signs, shapes and colors have been developed and tested by at least 300 participants from different cultural backgrounds to ensure the final symbol would convey the same message across the world.

Standardized pictographs and ideograms convey a complete idea or concept such as checkout, home, download, verified, etc., transcend human language and are a great place to start for graphics that would be understood across the world and don’t require localization.


Usability is key to successful website design and marketing. By acknowledging the diverse cultural interpretation of visuals in these processes, you are in the best position to create authentic local websites for your global business.