S o c i e t y   f o r   Te c h n i c a l   C o m m u n i c a t i o n                                      STC’s 58th Annua...
NoticeThe papers published in these Proceedings were reproduced from originals furnished bythe authors. The opinions and s...
Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual Metaphors                                                  Samartha Vashish...
These examples elucidate the fact that the two genders             currency in the 1870s and 1880s. In the 1890s, creamhav...
Some Guidelines on Using                                                                                     In Greece, th...
electric bulbs), office equipment,                       Hofstede has determined scores for each of these         communic...
Case Study—Individualism vsCollectivismAdobe® Systems websites for the USA and India sportdifferent images.               ...
Figure 7: Uncertainty avoidance                                                                                          (...
Hall’s time orientations                                           POLITICAL CORRECTNESSEdward T. Hall’s theory of time or...
4.   H John Johnsen, “The Cultural Significance of         Color”, http://www.americanchronicle.com,         [California, ...
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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. This is the accompanying paper that was published in the Proceedings of the conference.

For the slide deck and an audio recording of the session, see http://blogs.adobe.com/samartha/2011/12/localizing-images-cultural-aspects-and-visual-metaphors.html.

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Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual Metaphors

  1. 1. S o c i e t y f o r Te c h n i c a l C o m m u n i c a t i o n STC’s 58th Annual Conferencewww.stc.org P R O C E E D I N G S 15 –18 May 2011 Sacramento Convention Center Sacramento, CA
  2. 2. NoticeThe papers published in these Proceedings were reproduced from originals furnished bythe authors. The opinions and security of the information are the responsibility of theauthors and not the Society for Technical Communication.STC grants permission to educators and academic libraries to photocopy articles fromthese Proceedings for classroom purposes. There is no charge to these institutionsprovided they give credit to the author, the Proceedings, and STC. All others mustrequest permission. Society for Technical Communication 9401 Lee Highway Suite 300 Fairfax, VA 22031 (703) 522-4114 (703) 522-2075 (fax) www.stc.org © 2011 Society for Technical Communication
  3. 3. Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual Metaphors Samartha VashishthaModern corporations maintain a wide range of Web assets,including websites, documentation portals, and knowledge-bases. These Web assets use visual elements, such as COLORcolors, graphics, images, symbols, visual arrangements,and user interactions, to convey information. While we Colors invoke different moods, emotions, and states ofexpect these elements to convey only the information we minds. Besides their general significance, they assumeintend to convey, such visual elements also carry cultural special significance in particular socio-cultural contexts.meanings that different users interpret differently in the While localizing visual elements, you could use thelight of their social background. tables in this section as references to choose a color that would convey the intended meaning to users from aDespite the importance of these visual elements, most Web specific cultural background.asset localization projects limit their focus to only text andscreenshots. However, translating these visual elements,keeping in mind the cultural ethos of the target audience, is Tables: Significance of Colorscrucial too—especially for marketing-oriented content,documentation, and websites. From this URL (PDF), you can download a table summarizing the general range of meaning that majorIn this article, we will look at the cultural aspects that must colors convey.2be considered while localizing these visual elements of This table (PDF) captures many useful instances of“content”. culture-specific significance of colors.1,2, and 4 Although color can be used to supplement and reinforceDEFINING CULTURE the effect of a Web element, it should not be used as the sole means to convey meaning5—partly because thatBefore we examine the aforementioned visual elements, information cannot be used by those who are color-blind.let’s review a definition of culture given by GeertHofstede, Emeritus Professor—Maastricht University: Case Study—Hygiene-product“Culture is the collective programming of the human Websitesmind that distinguishes the members of one human groupfrom those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of The websites of Axe® and Old Spice®, both leadingcollectively held values.” brands of deodorants targeting male customers, display predictable color patterns. While the Axe site isHofstede also propounded a set of five dimensions that predominantly set in black, a color of sexuality andhelp objectify cultural differences: sophistication, Old Spice uses a combination of red and black for similar reasons. Collectivism vs Individualism By contrast, SunSilk Gang Of Girls and Pond’s®, two Power Distance websites targeting female customers, figure pink hues prominently. Femininity vs Masculinity Similar trends are observable in Casio’s launch of a Uncertainty Avoidance series of women watches (Baby G) parallel to its popular G-Shock series for men6, which features a number of Long Term Orientation black watches. Many Baby G watches are pink or of pastel colors, so that they appeal to the modern woman.We will study these dimensions later in this article. Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 166
  4. 4. These examples elucidate the fact that the two genders currency in the 1870s and 1880s. In the 1890s, creamhave widely different color preferences. As a general shades got popular7.observation, men tend to like cooler colors like blue andblack, while women have a bias towards warmer colors— In the twentieth century, these cycles of preference arethat is, shades of red and orange3. See Case Study— short and abstract. As far as content, Help systems, andFemininity vs Masculinity later in this article for more Web design are concerned, shades of blues seem to beinformation on the general preferences of the two the in thing globally. Some custom colors that Web andgenders. graphic designers prefer, as per a survey, are shown in Figure 18.Class Differences and ColorPerceptionResearch has shown that members of the general workingclass prefer colors that they can easily name, while thehighly educated class prefers obscure colors like taupe,azure and mauve3. Figure 1: Some popular colors for Web and info designThis seems to be a primary reason why Wal-mart®chooses simple colors for its logo. The current logo is adistinct blue and yellow. Web-safe Colors Back 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. It mustAge Differences and Color be noted that the Web-safe palette has gone obsoletePerception now9, since almost all modern color displays are 16+ bit. However, designers of anti-phishing10 systems still useJennifer Kyrnin opines that children like bright, solid that palette; since a large number of its colors can becolors, while adults prefer subdued shades; implying that distinguished uniquely by the human eye.mild pastels and gray shades are not the appropriatecolors for images on a children’s website. SYMBOLS AND ICONSClimatic Differences and Color In most cultures, symbols are very closely interwovenPerception with general etiquette and theistic beliefs. This calls for aThe climatic conditions of a target country may also have careful assessment of their suitability in different culturalan effect on the color preferences of the people there. For contexts. In most cases, drawing elements from a set ofinstance, Scandinavians are known to have a preference internationally accepted icons and symbols can be a safefor light yellows, bright whites, and sky blues. This is in option.stark contrast to the long, dark nights that they are used Recognizing the need to standardize the use of visualto as a people. The residents of San Francisco, being elements on a global scale, JTC1, a technical group ofused to foggy days, don’t exhibit a liking for grays. the ISO has come up with the ISO/IEC DIS 11851However, these hues are preferred by the residents of standard for icon symbols and functions in IT userMiami7. system interfaces. The standard deals with general, object, pointer, control, tool, and action icons.Color TrendsLike all other things, colors too periodically gain or losefavor with the masses. Very bright colors ruled the roostin the West in the mid-1800s, but subdued colors gained Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 167
  5. 5. Some Guidelines on Using In Greece, thisSymbols Internationally gesture, goingAlthough deciding on the right symbols for a localization  Stop, halt back to Byzantineproject calls for ingenuity and caution, these guidelines times, is anwill come handy: abusive signal. Graphical elements with text in a particular Similarly, using body parts as symbols could language should be avoided, since they could be back-fire. Inanimate objects can be substituted difficult to localize. Elements with a single letter for human figures, wherever possible.11 When could particularly lose a lot of their meaning in using human figures is indispensable, line and translation, since words with identical meaning generic sketches should be used. in different languages can begin with different The use of animal symbols should also be letters. avoided while designing for an international Hand symbols should be avoided while audience. The dog normally thought of as a designing interfaces that will be localized. symbol of loyalty in the West, is food to many Generally speaking, almost all hand gestures are East Asians. The snake, which could be a obscene someplace or the other in the world.11 negative symbol for the West (the Devil, tempter), is the symbol of life and rebirth in If hand symbols must be used, generic human some parts of the East.11 Many animals hold hands engaged in some unambiguous activity religious significance in specific parts of the should be shown. Visual elements representing world. The cow is sacred in India, while the pig gender or racial distinctions should be is an unholy animal for Muslims everywhere. omitted—for instance, the hands should be Mythological or religious symbols that hold drawn in pure white or pure black. Some hand relevance for a particular culture may be gestures that will not go down well with a global meaningless for others. For instance, the Red audience are shown in the table below. Cross symbol is modified to the Red Crescent in Arabic countries, since crosses and six-pointed Intended stars can be deemed inappropriate there11. Icon Problems Similarly, while the Swastika is reminiscent of meaning Nazism in the West, the related Swastik is a In Sicily, this holy symbol for the Hindus. hand gesture is  Yes, OK a reference to an intimate activity. In France, this gesture means zero or Figure 2: Swastika and Swastik worthless. In Using abstract symbols, made up of simple Japan, it is a geometric shapes, can be a safe option. Here  Precisely, yes reference to money. In too, care must be taken not to use symbols that resemble religious symbols (like the Islamic South America crescent) and flags of nations.11 and India, this hand gesture Using natural images for designing symbols is has anatomical also an option, since these remain fairly connotations. consistent across the world. Other possible inspirations for international symbols could be modes of transportation, globally-marketed consumer goods (like cameras, batteries, and Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 168
  6. 6. electric bulbs), office equipment, Hofstede has determined scores for each of these communication media, scientific symbols, and attributes for many countries of the world. professions practiced throughout the world (painter, carpenter, writer, etc). Some traffic and warning symbols are also fairly standardized Example: Comparison of Hofstede’s and in use throughout the world11. dimensions for India and the USAFlags on a Globalized WebsiteYves Lang is of the view that on a globalized website,flags should not be used as icons that users must click toaccess language-localized versions. This is because thesame language may be the native tongue of manycountries, and the lingua franca of a still greater numberof communities. Using a flag to represent a language (forexample, using the British, American or the Australianflag to represent the English language) could offend usersin other countries where that language is widely spoken.CULTURAL ATTRIBUTESWhile localizing the visual elements in an informationasset, an understanding of the attributes of target culturecomes very handy. In this section, we’ll look at sometheories that attempt to define such attributes beyond theobvious.Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of Figure 3: Hofstede’s dimensions for India and the USAsynergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best andoften a disaster." - GEERT HOFSTEDEHofstede’s culture theory defines five dimensions ofculture that help objectify differences between cultures12: Collectivism vs Individualism (IDV): The degree to which the culture emphasizes individual or collective relationships Power Distance (PD): The degree of equality among the people of a culture Femininity vs Masculinity (MAS): The power equation between genders in a culture Uncertainty Avoidance (UA): The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain circumstances Time Orientation (LTO): The extent to which a culture stays devoted to traditional values on a long-term basis Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 169
  7. 7. Case Study—Individualism vsCollectivismAdobe® Systems websites for the USA and India sportdifferent images. Figure 5: Power distance (websites accessed on April 2, 2011) Some other applications of the Power Distance dimension are as follows: 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.13 User Interaction: An analysis of the Coca-Cola websites for countries with different power distances shows that the error messages meant for users in LPD cultures tend to be didactic, while for HPD cultures, these are more supportive in nature.13 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, Figure 4: Individualism vs Collectivism (websites accessed on April 15, 2011) colors, sounds, logos and other multimedia elements on a website.While searching for corporate information, users fromindividualist societies tend to be more interested inpersonal achievers at a company. Members of collectivist Case Study—Femininity vs Masculinitycultures focus more on group milestones. McDonald’s websites for Norway (low MAS) and Saudi Arabia (high MAS) have different designs. The metaphorCase Study—Power Distance on the front page of the Norwegian website underlines family and shopping, while the Saudi Arabian design laysThe Siemens® website for The Netherlands (low power emphasis on the spirit of sports and competition. Thus,distance) shows details of a single leaf as its predominant the content and design of a website targeting a woman-image. The website for Malaysia features images of the dominated culture should emphasize social relationships.Kuala Lumpur skyline. On the graphic design front, women tend to like softer edges and shapes, while men seem to prefer clear, no fuss illustrations13. Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 170
  8. 8. Figure 7: Uncertainty avoidance (websites accessed on April 3, 2011) Case Study: Long Term Orientation Figure 8 shows 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. Figure 6: Femininity vs Masculinity (websites accessed on April 3, 2011)Case Study: Uncertainty AvoidanceTrends are observable in the visual information thatSkoda presents to users in Britain (low UA) and Belgium(high UA). While the British website shows a dynamicimage open to interpretation, the Belgian website featuresrelatively unambiguous images. Figure 8: Long term orientation (websites accessed on April 3, 2011) An example 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.13 Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 171
  9. 9. Hall’s time orientations POLITICAL CORRECTNESSEdward T. Hall’s theory of time orientations Sometimes, the quest to be politically correct leads to thedifferentiates monochronic (single-tasking) and conscious rejection of certain colors and symbols by apolychronic (multi-tasking) cultures. The US is usually people or community. Such trends are more observableseen as a monochronic culture, while the Arab world is when a nation comes of age—for instance, when itconsidered polychronic.14 becomes a sovereign state after a period of dictatorshipUnlike Hofstede, Hall has not developed detailed time or colonial rule. Otherwise too, trends like replacing theorientation scores for countries and cultures. However, word disabled with the wheelchair symbol, or the coinagebehavioral observation of a sample user-base could help differently-abled, reflect an attempt to avoid offendingdetermine if a culture is monochronic or polychronic.15 those in question.Hall’s orientations likely have limited applications to the Another recent example is that of China blocking Weblocalization of visual elements. However, they could help searches for the keyword Jasmine in the wake of theoptimize workflow and user interaction design for recent Tunisian ‘Jasmine’ revolution.different cultures.Marcus’ model of culture- SUMMARYsensitive Web UI design The localization of corporate Web assets is a complex process involving many technical and cultural variables.Aaron Marcus has identified five key design components The cultural aspects of this process can be addressedfor optimized global UI design16: adequately through a careful study of the target user-base and application of cultural models, early in the Metaphors are words, images, sounds, and development cycle. tactile experiences that have the potential to convey complex concepts. Besides linguistic heterogeneities, the perception of colors, images, symbols, gestures, and signals by different cultures varies under the influence of factors like demographics, taboos, politics, history, moralities, and theistic beliefs. Any successful attempt to localize these assets, thus, must take cognizance of these factors. Mental Models are assumptions that people While localizing visual elements in a culture-sensitive have in mind. For example, when someone says manner increases the overall localization effort, the they went to see a sports game, Indian listeners resulting global Web presence helps companies build, would likely imagine a cricket match, while maintain, and expand a loyal customer-base. Web American listeners would likely think about a analytics tools like Adobe Test&Target and user- football/baseball game. feedback mechanisms, such as ratings and questionnaires, could help quantify the impact of culture-sensitive Navigation pertains to how user would traverse localization on user experience and customer loyalty. a particular model. Interaction pertains to the human-computer interaction. Interaction involves elements, such REFERENCES as I/O, status displays, and other feedback. 1. Global 2005 Calendar, Human Factors Appearance relates to the choice of fonts, International colors, styles, sounds, or tactile perception for 2. Table at localized Web UIs. http://www.users.bigpond.com/lionelhartley/reso urces/colours.htm, accessed in August 2007Besides UI design, Marcus’ components could findapplications in information design and content delivery 3. Jennifer Kyrnin, “Color Symbolism”,mechanisms for documentation suites. http://webdesign.about.com, accessed in April 2011 Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 172
  10. 10. 4. H John Johnsen, “The Cultural Significance of Color”, http://www.americanchronicle.com, [California, American Chronicle], accessed in April 2011 5. http://www.umb.edu/wau/techniques/color.html, accessed in April 2011 6. http://www.casio.com/products/Timepiece/Baby- G and http://www.casio.com/products/Timepiece/G- Shock, accessed in April 2011 7. Jeanette Joy Fisher, “Color Help: Many Factors Affect Color Preference”, http://ezinearticles.com, accessed in August 2007 8. http://www.simplebits.com/notebook/2005/11/10 /colors.html, accessed in August 2007 9. http://www.webmonkey.com/webmonkey/00/37/i ndex2a.html, accessed in August 2007 10. http://www.honeynet.org/papers/phishing, accessed in April 2011 11. William Horton, “The Icon Book”, [New York, John Wiley and Sons], 1994, page 245 12. http://geert-hofstede.com, accessed in April 2011 13. Aaron Marcus and Associates, “Culture vs. Corporate Global Web UI Design”, accessed in August 2007 14. Harley Hahn, “Time Sense: Polychronicity and Monochronicity”, accessed in April 2011 15. http://www.tamas.com/samples/source- docs/Hofstede_Hall.pdf, accessed in April 2011 16. Valentina-Johanna Baumgartner, “A Practical Set of Cultural Dimensions for Global User- Interface Analysis and Design”, accessed in April 2011 Samartha Vashishtha Senior Technical Writer Adobe Systems Email: samartha@adobe.com Beyond work, Samartha Vashishtha 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. Samartha Vashishtha | Localizing Images: Cultural Aspects and Visual MetaphorsCopyright 2011 Society for Technical Communication 173