Colors, Symbols, Gestures and the Localization of Visual Content

Content Marketing and Images: All about the Aesthetics

In today’s day and age, visuals are key. Nobody wants to read paragraph after paragraph of writing. We don’t have time for that. We are constantly bombarded with content of all kinds. The world’s knowledge is more accessible than ever, so we need our information to be efficient.

As humans, we are naturally drawn to images, but this tendency is heightened by digital culture, which demands a focus on the aesthetics, palette options, interesting visuals and more dynamic ways to share what we know. However, when it comes to the values and perceptions related to this visual content, there are many variations depending on the country or the culture. Visual content needs to be localized together with any text, and yet, localization of images is often forgotten. Without the localization of visual content, what you are sharing might not produce the same effect, or it might even produce a negative one!


Image Localization: Never Take Visuals for Granted

When we are immersed within a particular culture, it is easy to take things for granted. That’s precisely why localization needs to be in the hands of cultural experts who can spot the ways in which visual content can evoke completely different feelings and trigger a variety of associations based on the set of values and the history of any given group. So what can be done about these differences when localizing your content?


Resort to Universals

There is no universal language, and that goes both for written words and for images. However, there are certain concepts that can be drawn on rather safely. Images of nature, abstract art, inanimate objects, and certain symbols are often used for international campaigns which will have a very broad reach.

Another option is relying on standards. The International Organization for Standardization offers a variety of symbols and graphics which are understood across cultures. They are safe to use because they have been tested over and over across many different groups, which assigned them the same meanings.

Whatever you do, steer clear of body parts. If you think a thumbs up signal will always elicit a positive response, you’ve been misinformed. The sign has a pejorative meaning in various different countries in West Africa and the Middle East. What about pointing? Do you find yourself thinking that, surely, everybody points the same way? Well, not quite. For some cultures, it is taboo to point with your left hand, and many others point with their lips.


Modify as per the Target Culture

When specific content needs to be localized to suit particular markets or audiences instead of making it as broad as possible, the whole target culture needs to be studied before the appropriate changes can be made. For starters, if any of the images have text on it, that text needs to be translated. If the text is embedded, the image needs to be converted into an editable format. This can be achieved through OCR software. OCR stands for “optical character recognition”, as the software scans the image, automatically recognizes the words and converts them into plain text or a Microsoft Word file. Translators can then take over from that.

There are other less obvious changes that might be needed. The key is in details such as the palette of your choice. Have you considered the fact that the colors you chose might need to be changed to appeal to a different group? If you are localizing a website, marketing campaign or any other material for the Chinese market, it would be safe to use red as a symbol of joy. However, to transfer that same content to the Japanese market, you will need to change your palette, as red is associated with anger in Japan. Changing colors as part of your localization strategy can elevate any marketing campaign if done correctly. I mean, have you heard about the millennial pink drinks that Starbucks released in Japan? Colors can certainly attract attention if you make sure to pick the right ones and you avoid any negative cultural associations.

Pictures, icons, and visual design make content more accessible, but only if it is localized to suit those who are accessing that content.

Looking for a translation partner to help you localize visual content for other markets?

Learn more about On Global’s desktop publishing services here.

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