Localising visual content – some practical advice

Localising visual content – some practical advice

When translating materials, it’s not always enough to just localise the text content – visual content may also need to be localised. Here are some practical tips for dealing with text that relates to images and checking that image materials are culturally appropriate.

Published 10/26/2015


We sometimes talk about ‘culturalisation’ when adapting illustrations and design for a specific culture. The aim is that those who come into contact with the material or the product should feel a sense of familiarity and be able to relate to the product or the material. If you manage to succeed with cultural localisation, the reader will engage with what you want to say in a completely different way, and your message will come across better. It pays to get the target group to understand and recognise your message.

When it comes to translation projects, the localisation of visual content involves looking at illustrations, reading direction and how tables and text flow can best be designed for your material and your target groups. Here are some quick useful tips.

Avoid text in images

Avoid text that needs to be translated in the actual images, since:

  • it takes longer to translate, and will therefore be more expensive
  • there will be more files to keep track of (the total number multiplied by the number of languages)
  • not all software can deal with all languages and all alphabets
  • the way of writing differs from language to language.


Not even digits are safe – they, too, can have a different appearance in different languages, as shown below.


Instead, add text relating to images as follows

The solution is to place the text outside the actual image material. It is often easiest to number the parts of the image and then refer to these in various ways. It’s also important that any caption is inserted outside the actual image file. Below are some examples.




Dogs consist of four parts:

  • head (1)
  • body (2)
  • tail (3)
  • legs (4).


Dogs consist of four parts: head (1), body (2), tail (3) and legs (4).



1. Head

2. Body

3. Tail

4. Legs

Remember to check that image materials are culturally appropriate

Do the images really speak to all your target audiences regardless of who they are and where they are? Are their associations equally natural everywhere? Here are a few examples of things that are important to think about and that can vary from culture to culture:

  • hands and gestures
  • target groups – men, women, girls, boys, family groups, groups of friends, colleagues, managers or employees?
  • clothing
  • surroundings and background
  • colours
  • symbols and icons.

If the illustration shows a sequence of events, you should divide it up into the individual stages as it will then be easier to adapt according to the direction of reading for different languages. There is a classic example of a pharmaceutical company that wanted to show how healthy users would feel after taking their medicine. But the images implied the opposite in languages with a reversed direction of reading.



This sequence of images takes a turn for the worse when read from right to left.

Further reading

I’ve already written about internationalisationlocalisation and globalisation. We have also published posts on colours that can have different associations in different languages.

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