Translating your website? Don’t forget the pictures. Just because photos, icons, and other images aren’t in a written language doesn’t mean they’re without meaning. Images aren’t filler; they’re an integral part of design that helps you connect with your audience. And when that audience changes, images should change too. Here are four reasons why:
1. Pictures Can Have Different Meaning.
In the United States, it’s not a big deal for kids to help their mom cook. That’s why the picture on Nestle’s American website (below) is perfect. The company sells food after all, with mothers as a target market. What parent wouldn’t want that adorable child handing her peppers?
One in China, that’s who. While the practice isn’t as popular as it used to be, it’s not uncommon for Chinese children go potty in public. Respectful parents bag the feces then throw it away. That’s why they don’t do finger food there. Unfortunately, Nestle didn’t get the message: Their Chinese site uses the same picture.
2. They Sometimes Lose Meaning.
Maybe you’ve seen the commercial: Actor Jim Parsons from “The Big Bang Theory” plays the Ghost of Christmas Future and wants you to buy an Intel computer. So on the company’s American website, Parsons hovers over a surprised customer, laptop in hand.
You could translate every word on Intel’s site, but in a country where people don’t watch “The Big Bang Theory” or read A Christmas Carol—or even in one where Intel’s commercial isn’t playing, your message isn’t just lost: It’s creepy. So instead of Parsons, Intel’s European sites all show two girls dancing.
3. Sometimes Images are Understable, but Just Don’t Make Sense.
There’s no snow in Barbados. In winter, the weather runs 79-81 degrees, a temp where a woman in love—like the one on Ralph Lauren’s Barbadian site—would be perfectly comfortable in a sleeveless dress. On the American site, though, a gif shows snow falling over firelogs and holly, promoting Ralph Lauren’s holiday sale.
This is a case where the original image is understandable in other countries—it’s just not relatable. You don’t have to live somewhere with snow to know what it is. But on an island nation with eternal summer, snow’s not your best way to market.
4. Images Have Direction.
Images are the first thing on a website that people look at. If you’ve ever done any eye tracking, you’ve seen the evidence: In the Baby.com shot below, for example, people look at the baby first. Then, theory of mind says users will direct attention to where the baby is looking.
If you speak English, the child’s gaze is great. English reads from left to right, and the baby’s looking right—and right at the text! But if you speak Arabic, Hebrew, or another language reading from right to left, the baby and the copy will form a hard stop in the middle of the user’s screen. So when localizing websites for left-to-right languages, flip the baby—not just where on the site the picture is, but where the baby herself is looking.
Note also that Chinese, Japanese, and Korean can read top to bottom, depending on audience and topic. Fortunately, this baby’s looking up, so for those languages, the picture still works. For another example, check out GoPro.com (below). The site isn’t localized into any right-to-left languages, but it is in 10 left-to-right and top-to-bottom ones. In order to use the same image everywhere, site designers chose a woman who’s swimming right and creating a line that moves top-down.