ULG's Language Services Blog

Five Tips For Localizing Images


You’ve probably heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is especially true when an organization expands its operations or product offerings into new countries and must communicate effectively with diverse populations and cultures.

For most language projects, translation alone is rarely enough to prepare documents and media for a new regional audience. Localizing images matters, too.

Localization is the process of adapting textual and visual content to fit into a new regional context, taking into account factors like the local culture, language, population, and geography. Even if the translation is perfect, the organization will miss an opportunity to connect with the target audience if the images aren’t suited for the new region.

Whether you are working on a newly translated website, a marketing campaign, or other visually-driven content, here are five tips to keep in mind when localizing images.


1 . Start with the universal before moving to the granular

Before starting the localization process, determine if all visuals in a project need to be localized or if localization efforts only need to be focused on a few images. It may turn out that some images or diagrams would be universally understood because they use standardized symbols. Some of these include geometric shapes, objects, and symbols related to professions or transportation.


2 . Understand the different meanings behind symbols and gestures

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush infamously flashed a “peace sign” (holding up the index and middle finger in a “V-shape”) while visiting Canberra, not realizing that this hand gesture was an insult to Australians. Don’t make the same mistake! Before using an image with people using hand gestures, check with a localization expert for that region to ensure that the meaning is appropriate. Similarly, some symbols might have different meanings in different places, such as types of flowers or animals. The smallest details can have the biggest impact.


3 . Understand the different meaning behind colors

Colors can also have different connotations, depending on where you are in the world. In Korea, for example, writing someone’s name in red means that you wish death upon that person. In China, however, the color red is a symbol of good luck. In different cultures, the color white can stand for purity, mourning, life, death, peace, bad luck, and a multitude of other things. Stay attuned to your palette when localizing images.


4 . Use images with people who are representative of the country’s population

Part of the appeal of using images in business, marketing, or other professional materials is to connect with the audience beyond the text. It’s much easier for an audience to connect with materials featuring people who look like them. Countries known for their multiculturalism would be best served with localized images of a diverse group of people, while more homogenous countries like Japan would expect to see images of their own population (in this case, Japanese people).


5 . Use images of culture and geography from the target region

If a localized marketing campaign for an international clothing company used the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame in its advertising, which country would be the target audience? How about if the campaign used the running of the bulls? Or a red pagoda nestled in snow-capped mountains? Localized images should draw upon the culture and geography of the region. This might include incorporating famous landmarks, nature and landscapes, bustling cities, and national holidays or events. Where applicable, all language and currency depicted should be from the target region, too.

Still have questions about how to use localized images in your next project? Contact the specialists at ULG today to learn more.