This post is part of The Ten Golden Rules of Global Content Strategy series.

A picture says 1,000 words.

Well, yes. It does. So, you need to be careful about the pictures that you use in content that is destined for foreign lands. I know, this sounds simple and maybe it is. But you’d be surprised at some of the errors I’ve seen. Stumbles run the gamut, from the simple “Duh, what does that mean?” to the “OMG, that is SO offensive!” Let’s take a look.

Symbols and Icons

We’ll start with some of the more nebulous types of graphic mishaps. Symbols and icons. Not all symbols and icons make sense to everyone.  For example, the ubiquitous stop sign:

Reminds me of a song from my childhood: “One of these things is not like the others…”

This, of course, seems obvious enough. Though if you are in Japan and you don’t know that the stop sign is a triangle, your results could be somewhat disastrous.

Another item that is potentially meaningless in other countries is the mailbox:

Luckily, I’m seeing fewer and fewer mailbox icons in user interfaces these days.

Maps and Flags

The next category of global content no-no’s is maps and flags. This is not to say that you shouldn’t use maps or flags in your content. Sometimes you need a map to show where your product is currently shipping or where a customer can find a service center. However, when you include a map in your content beware: maps change over time.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the maps of Germany and Eastern Europe had pretty significant redos:


Flags can be equally problematic over time.

Hand Gestures

Now we get to the downright potentially offensive images: hand gestures. Anyone who has ever been an obnoxious child knows that there are certain hand gestures that are just fine in the U.S., but overseas can get you in a lot of trouble. Why is it that we sometimes forget when we are creating content? (Or having our photo taken by the paparazzi?)

There are many places on the internet where you can see lists and lists of offensive hand gestures. Some are comical. Some, not so much. Here are a few of my favorites (please – no offense to those who will absolutely be offended!):

To sum up, I am a big proponent of using images instead of words, particularly in content that will be sent around the world. In fact, images can save you a lot of time and money if you are distributing content globally without translating it first.

But, before you disperse your photos and pictures far and wide, take a close look at them. Imagine the possible consequences of an offensive gesture. It could get ugly.

Val Swisher
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