International By Design

Category: Global Design

Powerful graphic design is as important to effective communications as clear, well-written text. Be honest: if this post was displayed as running text in one undifferentiated font style and color, you would navigate on. Boring! Fact: every piece of communication, be it ever so humble, is designed to present a message in an engaging way.

Hence the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Graphics can carry meaning differently than text. If you are expanding globally, internationalizing the design of your communications will protect your brand, your message, and your investment.

Internationalization (i18n) involves “designing a product to accommodate multiple languages and markets.” Internationalizing graphic design affects every visual component, from distinct elements (e.g., the choice of fonts, text style strategy, color palette, icons and images) to the tools and processes you choose to most efficiently localize your communications (e.g., authoring and graphic design software, and computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools). Volumes could be written about the myriad aspects of internationalizing communications, but here are some broad areas to consider:

If you use CAT tools to localize your communication, editability should inform all your choices about software tools you use and how you use them. By definition, graphic tools are best suited to developing visual content, but the formats they create are not necessarily compatible with CAT tools. Why? Images are built using multiple layers, including layers that contain text. As a matter of course, graphic artists merge the layers before integrating the image into the communication. The problem: once merged, CAT tools can no longer “see” or handle the text elements. Two i18n solutions: 1) externalize your text; or 2) use graphic files in which the layers have not been merged.

Most translations from English are longer. This text expansion can seriously disrupt the visual layout of your communication — how your text and graphics collaborate for your reader. Imagine a river that jumps its banks and sweeps away the carefully constructed visual landscape your graphic artist has designed. Text expansion can often cause similar challenges. The i18n solution: Anticipate all the possible effects of text expansion on your communication (i.e., on sentence and paragraph length, justification choices, interline spacing, image anchoring, etc.) and “widen your riverbed” accordingly. A logical and consistently-applied style sheet strategy will also greatly facilitate localization and ensure better results.

Stock photo archives are a rich treasure trove for graphic designers. Almost any concept can be vividly expressed using just the right photo. The problem: Stock photos are also rife with culturally-specific stereotypes that may be misread or even interpreted as offensive in other cultures. The i18n solution: Vet all stock photos according to the cultural norms of your target markets by circulating them to your global partners, or your translation agency, for approval. After all, they understand the nuances and can best identify potential pitfalls.

Making all elements of your communication attractive and accessible to your readers is just good content creation. Making your communications international by design is just smart business.

Photo attribution: Pankcho