Last week, we talked about some web localization mistakes that should be avoided in multilingual websites, with special emphasis on translation as well as cultural and linguistic adaptation of content.
As stated in the definition provided by the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), translation is just one of the several steps in the process of localization. For this reason, we will examine other equally important elements that are usually overlooked when localizing a website to different cultures. These elements include date format, flags, icons, images and colors, among others. Let’s take a closer look at the most frequent mistakes and the recommended best practices to avoid them.
Although it may seem a minor detail at first sight, potential usability and readability difficulties arise when a date is written exclusively in a numeric format.
Let’s analyze the following example: 02/04/03 What does it mean?
Essentially, the answer will depend on which country we live in, since the translation of a date is not closely related to the target language, but to the target country.
The format D/M/Y (day, month, year) is the most commonly used in the world. It is used in South America, Central America (except for Belize), Mexico, Africa, Oceania and most European and Asian countries.
The format M/D/Y (month, day, year) is used almost exclusively in the U.S. It is also the main date format in Belize and Micronesia, and an alternative to D/M/Y in Philippines and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the format Y/M/D (year, month, day) is used in Japan, China, South and North Korea, Taiwan, Hungary, Lithuania and Iran, and it is also secondarily used in a few other European and Asian countries. This last format has also been approved by the ISO 8601 standard and, thus, it has a worldwide acceptance now.
So, which is the right format?
There is no ideal solution for this matter. We should consider the pros and cons and choose the most suitable option based on users’ preferences and context. If the date information turns out to be ambiguous, it is advisable to write the month in words and use four-digit numbers for years in the Gregorian date format. Alternatively, we should specify how dates should be read in our webpage.
The use of flag icons as language selectors is a common practice across websites, but it is not advisable. The main reason for this is that flags representing countries do not necessarily refer to a single language.
Many countries have several official languages, and websites would likely need to address their users in different languages. Some examples are Belgium, Luxembourg, Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, India and Switzerland.
A potential solution is using a language selector consisting of both an icon and any relevant textual support to help the user identify the element.
The use of icons is strongly linked to the target culture. For instance, American web developers were shocked when they realized that the house icon, which points to the home page of a website, is not universally understood and that, in many countries, a pair of shoes is used for signaling the landing page.
Emojis are also a good example of standardized design whose meaning greatly vary across cultures, especially those related to hand gestures. While for most Western cultures a thumbs-up conveys approval, in Islamic and Asian countries this hand gesture is considered rude and offensive. Interestingly, in Australia, a thumbs-up also conveys approval, but if you move your hand up and down while performing this gesture, it will be considered insulting. A thumbs-down stands obviously for the opposite meaning. But in some countries, they are also interpreted as a rude and arrogant gesture.
In short, this is yet another key aspect to consider when it comes to selecting the appropriate iconography for each specific context.
“A picture is worth a thousand words” is not a mere saying. Some experiments have shown that people can remember over 2,500 images with an accuracy rate of at least 90% many days after having seen it, even if they had only looked at each image for 10 seconds.
This data proves that it is fundamental to pay close attention to the localization of images, since their nonlinguistic significance is certainly complex. In this sense, it is essential to verify that the intended images are not considered offensive by the target culture. Likewise, they should appeal to the specific peculiarities of the potential clients and should have appropriate color features.
For example, if we were to choose images for a makeup-selling website, we should define what is the most suitable photography type and style to address this specific customer.
This may be one of the most overlooked issues in web localization, yet one of the most relevant ones, since color and shades have a decisive influence on the impact that websites have on users.
In the Western world, most people would claim that white is a neutral color, since it may be perceived as a symbol of purity and innocence. However, for several Oriental countries, this color is associated with death. On the other hand, red is one of the most positive colors for China, while for Westerners this color is frequently associated with danger, love and passion.
Color choice is especially relevant from the marketing standpoint. Blue, for instance, is one of the most widely used colors in websites and apps, since it is associated with authenticity, trust, safety and loyalty. Unlike warm colors like red, orange and yellow, blue is related to awareness and intellect.
His brief overview about errors in web localization highlights the importance of analyzing all elements involved in the communication with leads belonging to different cultures, to expand products or services into global markets.