Graphics localization

How to translate websites. Episode 5: Picture time

Let’s have a look at the big picture. Websites are usually translated as part of the localisation process, which means that the text is just one of many items to consider. The layout, technical aspects, cultural references and visuals are all equally important and will have to be adapted to the target audience. So, how to deal with graphics when you localise or translate a website?

Worth a thousand words

Graphics and pictures are the key elements on every website. An average website visit lasts less than one minute, but the users need only 10 seconds to decide whether to stay on the page or not. In this time most website visitors will only read headlines or menu items and look at the layout and graphics. And that’s why appropriate and eye-catching visuals play such an important role in website design. The same rules apply for creating websites in another language version. Again, all factors have to play out in 8 to 10 seconds to convince the user to stay on the page. But now the task gets more complicated, as you have to deal with another culture, another language and different browsing habits.

Getting the picture

And this is where the journey through graphic localisation begins. Let’s look at two scenarios. In the first case you’ll work with a localisation team and graphic localisation will be assigned to a localisation engineer or a graphic designer. Then all you have to worry about is the image description contained in the ALT tag and the final review of the localised website to ensure that all images display well and are appropriate for the target culture. In the case of image description you’ll have to translate the text behind the ALT tag (in HTML represented as: <img src = “image.jpg” alt=”short image description”>). It’s an alternative text for an image which informs the search engine about the content represented on the graphic. The text may be displayed on the website e.g. when the graphic can’t be loaded. It’s also important for SEO purposes and better search results. And that’s why your translation will need to be equally effective as the original one. To find the best solution, try to browse images from the target language websites to see what kind of descriptions are the most adequate. Plus, remember to keep your text short, informative and meaningful.

In the second scenario, when you work on your own and have no localisation team to consult with, you’ll need to analyse the images before you proceed with text translation. First, check if the images will be attractive to the target audience. Maybe the website has too many images? Maybe some scenes look unrealistic? Too many skyscrapers and red post boxes, which are not as common in the target culture as in the US? Clothing and interiors presented on the images are not very typical of your target culture? Then propose an ideal picture, a better and adapted version of the message depicted by the graphic. Consult your ideas with the customer, explaining why all the changes are necessary. And then agree who will be responsible for delivering the new graphics: your customer, you or a third party.

Once the graphics are localised, come up with an effective image description and do the final check to ensure that the pictures localised by you really speak louder than words. That is, louder than the words of your target audience. 

Do you want to learn more how to translate and localise websites? Check out my online course How to translate and localise websites


Translate and localize websites like a pro

Dorota helps digital brands infuse their content with a local touch. She is a localization consultant, translator specialized in IT, prompt engineer, and a book author. Dorota teaches online courses on localization, writes for her blog and a Medium publication. She also runs a Small Biz AI, a Substack newsletter for freelancers and small business owners ready to discover handy AI tools.

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