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Tips on Graphic Design for Translation 2: Use of Graphics

Last week we discussed the text layout of materials intended for translation. This time we’ll look at some tips on the use of graphics in multilingual design.

Here are a few rules on the use of graphics that will facilitate the translation process:

  • Avoid text embedded in graphics

Text embedded in graphics will also need to be translated. At the least, this will mean extra expense to localize the graphic. If a version of the graphic with the text on a separate, editable layer is not available, it may be nearly impossible, in the case of a complex graphic, to remove the English text and substitute the translation. This applies to charts, diagrams and graphs as well as photos and illustrations.

For translation purposes it is better to use call-outs or overlay text in your layout program rather than embedding text in a graphic. If text must be part of a graphic, make sure that you save the original layered Photoshop, Illustrator or other native file with editable text (that is, do not convert fonts to outlines or rasterize text).

  • Allow space for text expansion

Just as with body text, text relating to graphics—whether embedded or in text boxes—must have room to expand. Open up text boxes; leave room around text overlaying graphics so that the translated text won’t have to be reduced in order to keep it within the confines of the graphic.

  • Use text instead of icons

Try not to use pictures or icons as substitutes for text. Icons may not be meaningful – or may suggest different meanings – in different cultures. They may even turn out to be offensive. In particular, icons and graphics representing hand gestures may be open to various interpretations across cultures. Political maps can be especially problematic given the number of international disputes about borders and place names. Where a map is simply a design element, it is better to use an outline map to avoid possible offense.

  • Be careful in using colors

Colors also have different connotations in different cultures. Of course, you don’t want to eliminate colors from your designs, but avoid designs that rely on dramatic background colors. Such background colors may be difficult to localize, while spot colors and graphics can be modified when the time comes.

Of course, graphics, colors and even wording may sometimes have to be localized for a particular audience. This is where transcreation comes in. A pre-translation cultural assessment can help you determine what content might have to be adapted for different cultures.



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