Translation is the process of changing the words of one language into another. Localisation, on the other hand, involves a broader range of activities to more accurately translate content:

It aims to retain all the concepts and message of the source document. But, crucially, it aims to do so while meeting the preferences and tastes of the target consumer in relation to their cultural background.

Whether you’re targeting an audience with a different cultural background domestically in Singapore, elsewhere in Asia or somewhere on the far side of the world, your visual content is at least as important as the words you use.

This is where image localisation comes in.

Why image localisation matters

Customers from your local market may find the visual content on your website informative.

Consumers from a different country – with a different social or cultural background – might find it confusing or useless at best. At worst, they might find it offensive.

It’s not as simple as finding a “local version” of the same image:

In the same way that language which is directly translated might not appeal to a reader from a different culture, proper image localisation is necessary to provide the right visual information to the specific target consumer.

This can mean making sure that images with textual content are addressed, of course. But it also means what is depicted in the images themselves, including gestures, symbols and more.

It is therefore vital to consider localising images as a part of the overall localisation process.

Cultural and functional factors

Image localisation ensures that your visual content is correctly adapted to the expectations and norms of your audience in a certain region.

It can be categorised into cultural and functional content:

  1. Cultural content: Different cultures across the world have varying meanings for the same gestures, signs or analogies. As such, some adverts might be offensive or unacceptable in certain countries, while being completely okay in others.
  2. Functional content: Functional content specific to a region might include formats of date and time, spelling and linguistic structures, weights, currencies, phone and contact information and so on.

When either of these aspects is not well-researched relative to the target region, the results of any project might not be as effective as intended…

An example of poorly localised images

A few years ago, the South African Chamber of Mines wanted to fix certain Health & Safety issues experienced by their employees.

They had an issue where the rail tracks had to be constantly cleared of debris in order to avoid service interruptions. Since most of their employees could not read, they created signage in three parts where a person was shown:

  1. Carrying an empty trolley
  2. Picking up the debris
  3. Moving forward with the trolley filled

A few days later, the rail tracks were filled with even more debris. The management found out later on that the workers read from right to left, and not left to right as they had assumed.

This goes to show how, even in text-free communication, it can be advisable to have the location and formatting of non-text elements carefully reviewed by experts to make sure they are correctly aligned.

Localising gestures and symbols

Appropriate use of localised symbols and signs is another point to be considered.

These can include visual elements specific to the local language, including:

  • Currency symbols
  • Icons
  • Graphics

A certain sign understood by the inhabitants of one country might not indicate the same thing in another.

They can also sometimes be used in offensive contexts – particularly hand signals and gestures. For example, a “thumbs up” hand gesture would mean a positive emotion in the United States. In Russia, Greece and many other Middle Eastern countries, it can be offensive.

In these cases, internationally-accepted signs are to be preferred and locally-identified ones avoided.

The importance of colour symbolism

Images containing certain objects or animals might have attached meanings to the inhabitants of a certain country. People from another region might see nothing in them.

In the same way, colours can reflect different meanings for people from different countries. While the colour red might indicate good luck and happiness in China, in Japan it means danger or anger.

Know your target culture to succeed in image localisation

A good example of this might be the fact that many Arabic countries have strict norms and cultural laws, especially relating to alcohol, pork and women.

For images including food and beverages, the use of pork and alcohol should be avoided if you’re targeting such a market since they will be seen as unacceptable by most.

Even images with women without their traditional attire may not be acceptable in certain parts of their world. Here it may become necessary to replace or recreate the images in question with others which might be more culturally acceptable

A necessity in any region

At first glance, image localisation might not seem like a huge necessity.

But whether you’re trying to succeed locally in Singapore or you’re trying to go global with your business, thorough localisation is highly recommended for your pictures as well as the words you use.

Do you need to know more about image localisation best practices?

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