Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual Metaphors

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Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to present this session at the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit at Sacramento, California.

You can download an audio recording of the session from http://blogs.adobe.com/samartha/files/2011/12/Localizing-Images-Cultural-Aspects-and-Visual-Metaphors.mp3

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  • Thanks for joining in for this session. I am Samartha Vashishtha. I work Adobe Systems in NOIDA, where the primary product I document is the LiveCycle enterprise suite.Our topic this afternoon is “Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual Metaphors.” Besides images, as we normally think of them, this presentation also touches upon different visual elements, such as graphics, symbols, icons, colors, user interactions, and visual arrangements.When we discuss these visual elements, we will talk about the cultural meaning that they convey and how they could be used optimally for users from myriad cultural backgrounds.Modern corporations maintain a wide range of Web assets, including websites, documentation portals, and knowledge-bases. These Web resources use visual elements, such as colors, graphics, images, symbols, visual arrangements, and user interactions, to convey information. Most of us would agree that these visual elements are important. Yet, most Web localization projects limit their focus to only text and screenshots and do not take these elements into cognizance. As I was thinking about this presentation, one of the major points I wanted to put across was the need to look beyond text and screenshots in localization projects. We’ll look at this aspect more as we chug along. Also, I have a lot of case studies and illustrations that we’ll study as we go along.
  • Let’s begin with defining Culture. Geert Hofstede, Professor Emeritus at Maastricht University in The Netherlands, defines culture as the…… it is the way in which all of us are socially programmed to react to stimuli and situations.Hofstede, interestingly, is a guy we’ll talk about more as this presentation progresses.So, this was more the academic definition of culture. Let’s come to a slightly different, pragmatic kind of definition, given again by Hofstede.
  • While we want these visual elements to convey only the information we want them to convey, they also carry cultural meanings that could be interpreted differently by users from different cultural and social backgrounds.
  • Let’s begin with examining symbols and how they are interpreted differently across cultures.Swastik – Hindu religious symbolSwastika – The symbol of NazismSerpentIsreali Paratroopers Brigade (35th Brigade); symbol of valorSymbol of temptation in Christian mythology; the Devil, tempterHoly symbol in Hinduism; Vishnu lying on the the great serpent, Shesh Naga, in the depths of the oceanRed Cross symbolsCommon hand symbols are improper in many parts of the world; almost all hand symbols are considered improper in one part of the world or another.
  • Flags on globalized websitesAnother interesting consideration is whether to use flags as icons that users must click to access language-localized versions of content. This is because the same language may be the native tongue of many countries, and the lingua franca of a still greater number of communities. Using a flag to represent a language (for example, using the British, American or the Australian flag to represent the English language) could offend users in other countries where that language is widely spoken.OK to use flags as icons for websites localized for a particularly country, but not for languages.
  • We now turn our attention to colors and how they are interpreted differently in different cultures. I have two tables here that talk about the General Meanings conveyed by major colors and the culture specific meanings of those colors. These tables are published online and you can refer to them anytime.As we look at the cultural meanings of color, we may find that many meanings of red stand the same across cultures. Gold is looked at as a color of prosperity almost everywhere.For other colors, only some meanings may be globally applicable. For example, white is the color of peace almost all across the world. However, it is seen as a color of joy and celebration in West, while it has a diametrically opposite meaning in eastern cultures. White carnations signify death in Japan, while white is also the color of clothes that widows have traditionally worn in India.While Purple is seen as the color of royalty in Western cultures, it is the color of mourning in Thailand. In China, Malaysia, and Brunei, instead of Purple, yellow is the color of royalty.Black is seen as the color of power, sophistication, and sensuality.
  • We now turn our attention to colors and how they are interpreted differently in different cultures. I have two tables here that talk about the General Meanings conveyed by major colors and the culture specific meanings of those colors. These tables are published online and you can refer to them anytime.As we look at the cultural meanings of color, we may find that many meanings of red stand the same across cultures. Gold is looked at as a color of prosperity almost everywhere.For other colors, only some meanings may be globally applicable. For example, white is the color of peace almost all across the world. However, it is seen as a color of joy and celebration in West, while it has a diametrically opposite meaning in eastern cultures. White carnations signify death in Japan, while white is also the color of clothes that widows have traditionally worn in India.While Purple is seen as the color of royalty in Western cultures, it is the color of mourning in Thailand. In China, Malaysia, and Brunei, instead of Purple, yellow is the color of royalty.Black is seen as the color of power, sophistication, and sensuality.
  • We now turn our attention to colors and how they are interpreted differently in different cultures. I have two tables here that talk about the General Meanings conveyed by major colors and the culture specific meanings of those colors. These tables are published online and you can refer to them anytime.As we look at the cultural meanings of color, we may find that many meanings of red stand the same across cultures. Gold is looked at as a color of prosperity almost everywhere.For other colors, only some meanings may be globally applicable. For example, white is the color of peace almost all across the world. However, it is seen as a color of joy and celebration in West, while it has a diametrically opposite meaning in eastern cultures. White carnations signify death in Japan, while white is also the color of clothes that widows have traditionally worn in India.While Purple is seen as the color of royalty in Western cultures, it is the color of mourning in Thailand. In China, Malaysia, and Brunei, instead of Purple, yellow is the color of royalty.Black is seen as the color of power, sophistication, and sensuality.
  • I have a very simple case study here—snapshots from two websites of personal care products. Let’s spend a moment and figure out the meanings that the color schemes of these two Web pages are intended to convey…
  • It has been observed that members of the general working class prefer colors that they can easily name, while the highly educated class prefers obscure colors like azure and mauve. This seems to be a primary reason why Wal-mart® chooses simple colors for its logo. The current logo is a distinct blue and yellow.Children like bright, solid colors, while adults prefer subdued shades; implying that mild pastels and gray shades are not the appropriate colors for images on a children’s website.The climatic conditions of a target country also have an effect on the color preferences of the people there. For instance, Scandinavians are known to have a preference for light yellows, bright whites, and sky blues. This is in stark contrast to the long, dark nights that they are used to as a people. The residents of San Francisco, being used to foggy days, don’t exhibit a liking for grays. However, these hues are preferred by the residents of Miami.Web-safe color palletBack when computer displays were capable of displaying only 256 colors, a palette of 216 colors—supposedly immune to dithering on such displays—was developed. Those colors did not have standardized names, but were identifiable through a unique set of RGB values. The Web-safe palette has gone obsolete now, since almost all modern color displays are 16+ bit. However, designers of anti-phishing systems still use that palette; since a large number of its colors can be distinguished uniquely by the human eye.
  • Now, we move on to the part of this presentation that I like most. There is already a lot of good work that has been published on cultural attributes. Let’s focus on a few key theories as we move along.
  • Collectivism vs Individualism (IDV): The degree to which the culture emphasizes individual or collective relationships. It is also related to how tightly individuals are integrated into groups.Power Distance (PD): The extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. It is more about how the inequality is endorsed by the commoners rather than the leaders. Femininity vs Masculinity (MAS): The distribution of roles between the genders in a culture and the gap between masculine and feminine values in a culture. The important observation here was that women’s value stay relatively stable across cultures, while masculine values differ. In some cultures, men may be aggressively assertive and competitive, while they come closer to the feminine values of care and modesty in other cultures. In a way, thus, this attribute is an index of the gap between the values of the two genders in different cultures.Uncertainty Avoidance (UA): The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain circumstances, or how the society as a whole tolerates ambiguity and uncertainty. Cultures with high UAI tend to have unambiguous rules, regulations, customs, etc.Time Orientation (LTO): The extent to which a culture tried to uphold perceived virtues regardless of the truth. Values associated with Longest Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Shortest Term Orientation are the drive to fulfil social obligations while retaining a respect of tradition and the constant effort of protecting one's 'face'. As I tried to study this attribute closely, I really saw in it a semblance of the literal long term orientation of the culture.Hofstede has determined scores for each of these attributes for many countries of the world. Let’s look at these attributes a bit more closely.
  • To begin with, I have a comparison of the Hofstede scores for India and the US.As we can see, India, being a country of 1.2 billion people, has a much higher Power Distance Index score than the US. On the other hand, the US has a much higher Individualism score. In fact, the US has one of the highest Individualism scores of all countries of the world. Australia is another country that has a high IDV score. India, as you can see, is more a collectivist culture.India and the US have comparable Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance attribute index scores.India’s LTO score is indicative of a culture that is perseverant and parsimonious.Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one's 'face'.China, incidentally, has the highest LTO score in the world, approximating 100.
  • While searching for corporate information, users from individualist societies tend to be more interested in personal achievers at a company. Members of collectivist cultures focus more on group milestones.
  • There could be several applications of the Power Distance dimension:Navigation: People from High Power Distance cultures have been observed to appreciate restricted, guided routes and ways to access information, and greater use of authentication mechanisms. On the other hand, users from LPD cultures demonstrate a preference for multiple information paths, and freedom in the way things can be done.This parameter also affects how error messages and instructional content could be structured for LPD and HPD cultures.Models: While users in LPD cultures like to see influential people and leaders featured on websites, users in HPD cultures prefer to see normal people engaged in day-to-day activities. This may also reflect in the fonts, colors, sounds, logos and other multimedia elements on a website.
  • McDonald’s websites for Norway (low MAS) and Saudi Arabia (high MAS) have different designs. The metaphor on the front page of the Norwegian website underlines family and shopping, while the Saudi Arabian design lays emphasis on the spirit of sports and competition. Thus, the content and design of a website targeting a woman-dominated culture should emphasize social relationships. On the graphic design front, women tend to like softer edges and shapes, while men seem to prefer clear, no fuss illustrations
  • Trends are observable in the visual information that Skoda presents to users in Britain (low UA) and Belgium (high UA). While the British website shows a dynamic image open to interpretation, the Belgian website features relatively unambiguous images.
  • On this slide, we see snapshots of the websites of two builders—one from Pakistan (LTO closer to zero) and the other active in India (LTO closer to 60). The effect of this Hofstede’s parameter on the visual imagery of these websites is evident. The first website focuses on a single project, while the second one depicts a city-level long-term view.An interesting application of the LTO dimension is in designing the Contact Us page for a corporate website. Even a single Web form could suffice as the Contact Us Web page of a site targeting users from low LTO cultures, since long-distance communication is often the dominant mode of communication in such societies. However, in high LTO countries, users expect to see the personal contact information of some company representative displayed prominently on contact pages.
  • Edward T. Hall’s theory of time orientations differentiates monochronic (single-tasking) and polychronic (multi-tasking) cultures. The US is usually seen as a monochronic culture, while the Arab world is considered polychronic. Thischronocity is all about how people from different cultures view or organize their time.Unlike Hofstede, Hall has not developed detailed time orientation scores for countries and cultures. However, behavioral observation of a sample user-base could help determine if a culture is monochronic or polychronic.Hall’s orientations likely have limited applications to the localization of visual elements. However, they could help optimize information design and workflow documentation.A good example of the dichotomy that this attribute presents is that of a British businessman transacting with a businessman in, let’s say, Kuwait. The British business may find it out of place if the Kuwaiti businessman takes calls during the meeting, which may be the normal mode of business for the Arab businessman. In India as well, polychronic transactions are pretty common-place.Let’s spend a moment thinking about the applications of the chronicity attribute. Knowing the chronicity preferences of a culture could help you write more efficient workflow documentation. For example, if a workflow has several possible branches per step, you could decide if, at the expense of some content duplication, you’d want to organize those steps as different procedures. Of course, such an exercise would make sense only for key geographies that are important from a revenue perspective.
  • Now that we’ve discussedHofstede’s dimensions, let’s take a look at a related set of attributes developed by Aaron Marcus, another renowned expert on culture-sensitive localization. Marcus has identified five attributes that are the center of cultural experiences:Metaphors are words, images, sounds, and tactile experiences that have the potential to convey complex concepts. Mental Models are assumptions that people have in mind. For example, when someone says they went to see a sports game, Indian listeners would likely imagine a cricket match, while American listeners would likely think about a football/baseball game.Navigation pertains to how user would traverse a particular model.Interaction pertains to the human-computer interaction. Interaction involves elements, such as I/O, status displays, and other feedback.Appearance relates to the choice of fonts, colors, styles, sounds, or tactile perception for localized Web UIs.Marcus’ attributes have only limited relevance to the localization of visual elements. Yet, I thought it’d be interesting to include them in the presentation as an alternate way to study cultural interactions.
  • Sometimes, the quest to be politically correct leads to the conscious rejection of certain colors and symbols by a people or community. Such trends are more observable when a nation comes of age—for instance, when it becomes a sovereign state after a period of dictatorship or colonial rule. Otherwise too, trends like replacing the word disabled with the wheelchair symbol, or the coinage differently-abled, reflect an attempt to avoid offending those in question.Another recent example is that of China blocking Web searches for the keyword Jasmine in the wake of the recent Tunisian ‘Jasmine’ revolution.
  • We some examples of all-visual documentation on this slide. The first one is from the ‘manual’ of a pair of noise-resisiting ear plugs. Note the procedure and that no numbers or text are used.Shows as much of body parts as necessary and just sketchesThe second is a Help screen from Angry Birds.
  • We some examples of all-visual documentation on this slide. The first one is from the ‘manual’ of a pair of noise-resisiting ear plugs. Note the procedure and that no numbers or text are used.Shows as much of body parts as necessary and just sketchesThe second is a Help screen from Angry Birds.
  • Some references
  • Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual Metaphors

    1. 1. Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual Metaphors Samartha Vashishtha Adobe Systems© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    2. 2. Defining Culture… “Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.” - Geert Hofstede "Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster." - Hofstede© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    3. 3. Visual elements Localization isn’t about just text and screenshots. Symbols Visual Icons arrangements User Graphics interactions Colors Images …with special relevance for persuasive and marketing- oriented content.© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    4. 4. Symbols Symbols are closely intertwined with etiquette and religious beliefs. Swastika and Swastik Differing representations of the serpent Hand symbol Intended meaning Improper in…  OK, thumbs up Italy  Precisely France, Japan, South America, India  Stop Greece Hand symbols are generally problematic© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    5. 5. Guidelines for using symbols in content Avoid… • Graphical elements with text; single letter • Hand symbols, gestures, and body parts • Religious symbols that are not globally recognized • Animal symbols, especially for conveying emotions • Flags as icons to indicate language-specific content Use… • Images of nature • Abstract illustrations, sketches, and geometric shapes • Inanimate objects • Globally recognized symbols like professions, modes of transport, equipment, devices, and consumer goods • Consider time-sensitivity • Standardized traffic and warning symbols • Other standardized images like scientific symbols© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    6. 6. Cultural meaning of color General meanings conveyed by major colors Culture-specific meanings of major colors© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    7. 7. Cultural meaning of color© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    8. 8. Cultural meaning of color© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    9. 9. Snapshots — Personal care product websites© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    10. 10. Other considerations for color preferences Class differences Climatic Age differences differences Some popular colors for Web and information systems The Web-safe color pallet is still relevant for anti-phishing systems.© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    11. 11. Cultural attributes and theories© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    12. 12. Hofstede‟s dimensions of culture© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    13. 13. Hofstede‟s dimensions for India and the US * Generated using a tool at http://geert-hofstede.com© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    14. 14. Individualism vs Collectivism© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    15. 15. Power Distance The Netherlands (PDI ~ 40) Applications • Navigation Malaysia (PDI > 90) • Models • User Interaction© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    16. 16. Femininity vs Masculinity Norway (MAS ~ 10) Saudi Arabia (MAS ~ 55)© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    17. 17. Uncertainty Avoidance The UK (UAI ~ 30) Belgium (UAI ~ 90)© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    18. 18. Long Term Orientation Pakistan (LTO ~ 0) India (LTO ~ 60)© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    19. 19. Chronicity Hall’s time orientations differentiate monochronic and polychronic cultures. Handy attribute during information design and while writing workflow documentation. Possible applications for user interactions. Monochronicity Polychronicity Single-tasking Multi-tasking Undivided attention OK with interruptions Germany, US, UK, some France, Arab world east-Asian countries Profound impact on the business environment of a country.© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    20. 20. Marcus‟ model of culture Metaphors Metaphors Mental models Mental Models Navigation Navigation Interaction Interaction Appearance Appearance© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    21. 21. Political correctness Conscious rejection of certain symbolism… Image courtesy: Clker.com© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    22. 22. Examples of „visual documentation‟ done right Angry Birds • Simple apps/products • No text/numbers • No localization cost • Clear message! Aero EAR Classic Soft© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    23. 23. Key takeaways from this session • Necessity to look beyond text and screenshot localization • Visual elements and their cultural meaning • Theories that help quantify culture • Case studies and some applications Image courtesy: Kollewin.com© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    24. 24. References • Global 2005 Calendar, Human Factors International • Table at http://www.users.bigpond.com/lionelhartley/resources/colours.htm, accessed in August 2007 • Jennifer Kyrnin, “Color Symbolism”, http://webdesign.about.com, accessed in April 2011 • H John Johnsen, “The Cultural Significance of Color”, http://www.americanchronicle.com, [California, American Chronicle], accessed in April 2011 • http://www.umb.edu/wau/techniques/color.html, accessed in April 2011 • http://www.casio.com/products/Timepiece/Baby-G and http://www.casio.com/products/Timepiece/G- Shock, accessed in April 2011 • Jeanette Joy Fisher, “Color Help: Many Factors Affect Color Preference”, http://ezinearticles.com, accessed in August 2007 • http://www.simplebits.com/notebook/2005/11/10/colors.html, accessed in August 2007 • http://www.webmonkey.com/webmonkey/00/37/index2a.html, accessed in August 2007 • http://www.honeynet.org/papers/phishing, accessed in April 2011 • William Horton, “The Icon Book”, [New York, John Wiley and Sons], 1994, page 245 • http://geert-hofstede.com, accessed in April 2011 • Aaron Marcus and Associates, “Culture vs. Corporate Global Web UI Design”, accessed in August 2007 • Harley Hahn, “Time Sense: Polychronicity and Monochronicity”, accessed in April 2011 • http://www.tamas.com/samples/source-docs/Hofstede_Hall.pdf, accessed in April 2011 • Valentina-Johanna Baumgartner, “A Practical Set of Cultural Dimensions for Global User-Interface Analysis and Design”, accessed in April 2011© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    25. 25. About the presenter Samartha Vashishtha works as Content and Community Lead with Adobe Systems, India. Beyond work, he is a bilingual poet and intermittent technology journalist. He blogs about all things Adobe at http://blogs.adobe.com/samartha.You can follow him on Twitter @samarthav. The views expressed in this presentation are the presenter’s own. His employer may not subscribe to them.© 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
    26. 26. © 2011 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.

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