Designing for an international audience (localisation): Global Design Guide - Cheat Sheet

There are many things that you need to consider when designing and localising your products (e.g. websites, apps or software) for audiences in different markets.

Where do you start?

Without doing any user research, these are the basic design elements that you should definitely look out for and localise, at the very least.

Language: It’s not just about translating your content into the local language, but translating it in the right context. If you have a translation company working with you, make sure they understand your business and the message each content is conveying. Avoid solely depending on Google Translate. Let’s be honest, as accurate and helpful as Google Translate can be, it still has its limitations, including its inability to understand context and tense. Considering that your products are going to be the core of your business, you simply can’t afford mistakes, regardless of how small it is.

When a language is used in more than one country/region, don’t forget:

  • The possibility of English spelling differences for the UK, US, Canada and Australia such as Colours Vs Colors, Cancellation Vs Cancelation, Centre Vs Center, or Utilise Vs Utilize
  • Words which might mean differently in different countries such as Spanish in Spain Vs Latin America, or Portuguese in Portugal Vs Brazil. Look out for these words and make sure they are translated correctly.

Name: Why do you need to work out how names work in a country? It’s important when you’re designing a contact or an order form, or to make sure you’re greeting your customers appropriately.

  • In some countries such as the majority of Asian countries (e.g. China, Japan, India, South East Asia) and some European countries (e.g. Hungary, Russia), Family Name comes before First Name. Therefore, make sure you have the fields in the right order to avoid confusions. People often don’t read form labels and you might end up capturing the wrong data.
  • Not all countries use middle names. You either want to set the field as an optional or remove it completely if possible for countries where middle names are not used.
  • Allowing spaces or symbols (e.g. a hyphen) for names input. In some countries, it’s common to have more than one Family Names, such as Brazilians and Spanish. Your field needs to allow that.
  • When there’s a space in one’s first name (for example, Ze Dong), never assume the second word (Dong) is the middle name and greet them by only first part of their name. 
 A welcome screen in my London hotel room. It not only got my title wrong, but also reordered my name, giving me a completely new identity.

A welcome screen in my London hotel room. It not only got my title wrong, but also reordered my name, giving me a completely new identity.

Numbers and decimalisation: Always display numbers using the appropriate punctuation. For example, unlike in the US or the UK, numbers are formatted as 1.234,56 in German and Spanish where they use a comma to indicate decimal places and a period to indicate thousands. On the other hand, for Switzerland, it’s 1'234.56. It might seem like a small detail but it is another detail that shows to your users how much you know and care about them judging by the effort you’re investing in them.

Currency: Use the right currency and display it appropriately. The decimalisation mentioned above also applies to your currency format. For example, use a comma (,) to separate Euro from Cents (e.g. 20,99€) and point (.) is used to divide thousands (e.g. 2.220,99€).

Sometimes there are many ways to display a currency. For instance, 􏰀 for Japanese Yen, it could be:

¥10,000 JPY , 10,000􏰁円 or ¥10,000 

In this case, there’s no right or wrong answer, but the last two are probably more commonly used locally. 

Measurements: There are two main metrications - Metric system versus Imperial system. Some countries use a mixture of both measurements (e.g. the UK), whilst others use one or another. Make sure you use the measurements which are used and familiar to your local audiences. 

  • Temperature: Celcius (°C) or Fahrenheit (°F)
  • Length: Inches (in) versus millimeters (mm)/centimeters (cm), Foot versus Meter (m)
  • Distance: Foot (ft) versus Miles (mi) versus Kilometres (km).
  • Weight: Pounds (lb) versus Stone versus Kilograms (kg), Ounces (oz) versus Grams versus Cups(g)
  • Capacity: Pint (pt) versus Litre (l)
  • Room/space: sq ft (ft ²) versus sq m (m²)

Date: When writing the date, some countries put the month first, others the day; some write the date out in full, others use abbreviations or just numbers; some use dashes, others use forward slashes. 

  • YYYY-MM-DD or YYYY-DD-MM or DD-MM-YYYY or MM-DD-YYYY
  • 12th December or December 12th
  • Abbreviated (e.g. dim. 12 avr. 2015) or Numerical (e.g. dim. 12/04/2015) or Full format (e.g. dimanche 12 avril 2015)

For example, in the US, the numeric date format is 01/31/2018 whereas it’s 31/01/2018 for the Russian audiences. Get that right. Avoid issues where 05/04/2018 might mean 5th of April to you but your audience might interpret it as 4th of May. 

Address format: There are many cases where you’d need to either capture your users’ addresses (e.g. for delivery or billing) or to show the addresses of your properties (e.g. hotels) in different markets.

  • Address order. In most of the world, addresses are written in order from most specific to general (e.g. house number → street → city → postcode → country). However, the order of address for some countries is the other way round, where they start from large unit (e.g. country) to small (e.g. flat number). This applies to Chinese, Japanese and Korean addresses. In addition, Chinese addresses are often written with no line breaks. In this case, you will need to increase the width of the address input field to ensure the address fit into the box and users can see what they’ve entered.
 An example of how an address form design works well for one country (UK) and doesn’t for another (China)

An example of how an address form design works well for one country (UK) and doesn’t for another (China)

 

  • Postcode/zip code: In some countries such as Chile, postcodes are not as important and rarely used. Hence, it’s common for them not remembering what their postcodes are. Hong Kong, for instance, does not use any postal codes. If you’re designing for these countries, you might want to avoid setting postcode fields as a mandatory field.

Fonts: If the website that you’re designing for is for non-Latin languages, you will need to pay additional attention to the fonts and text design. You might want to consider the following:

  • Font type. Carefully choose suitable fonts to ensure readability. If you have contents that use italics to call attention to certain words in a block of text, bear in mind that this might not work for some languages such as Hindi, Chinese or Japanese where italics are not used or available. 
  • Font size. You might want to consider using bigger fonts size for languages which have complicated characters like Chinese.
  • Line spacing. You might need to adapt the line spacing for legibility for some languages especially ones with non-Latin characters such as Chinese and Arabic (to enable more breathing space and for better readability).

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the design considerations that you must take into account when localising your digital products for different markets. But they are some of the most fundamental aspects of design localisation.

There are of course other things that you might also want to look at, for instance, use of icons, use of imageries, payment methods, social network channels and so on. 

WHAT'S NEXT?

If you would like a Global Guide, whether it’s a design specific guide or one that also includes important facts, insights of a specific country, get in touch with us.

We can create a bespoke guide for you. You can specify the markets you want to focus on and we will tailor the details which are relevant to you based on your product and industry. You can then use the guide for design localisation, as well as to inform your product, marketing, operation and business strategy.