Lost in Translation: the importance of visual design localisation

Alongside the recent launch of carwow Germany, we inevitably found ourselves needing to adapt the content of the website to the foreign market. Some may think that there’s nothing too complicated about it, being it just a matter of simply translating the existing pages into the new language.

The truth is… nothing is more wrong than that!

Translation by itself isn’t everything and we soon discovered how difficult it is to make the lovely German language fit within the beautiful and balanced layouts we created for the English text. It’s also true that, to an English-speaking person, German words look ridiculously long and therefore take up almost double the space that was previously considered, changing the position of line and page breaks(see Img.1 and 2 for reference).

Img.1: English tagline
Img.2: German translated tagline

At that point it was obvious that we couldn’t just copy-paste the translated text and expecting it to fit effortlessly. We seriously needed to rethink about the layout of each page making sure that everything looked in place. Also, as already said before, it’s not just about translation but about being able to convey the same message across different cultures.

Here are three things that you need to keep in mind when dealing with localisation and internationalisation.

1. Good copywriting skills
This one may seem obvious, but there’s nothing more important than being a really good copywriter. Text plays an important role in design and makes a significative contribution to the first impression people have about your website and product. Good copy doesn’t just need to be grammatically correct and without spelling mistakes, but it should also be well-written and engaging. This means that a literal translation may not work, especially when it’s too long or misses out on puns from the original language.

2. Design for context
We all know that an image is worth more than a thousand words so, when it comes to be visual, nothing beats choosing the best imagery. That needs to be relevant and understandable and in line with the cultural context. For our German homepage, for example, we decided to go with a different hero image to which German people could easily relate themselves instead of keeping the one we have on the UK website.

Hero image for the German homepage

3. Think global, act local
Design is really about solving problems and, with different markets, come different issues. Can one solution rule them all? Or do people from different countries think differently? What may seem logical to one may not work for another as the need of a person may vary according to the local culture. Although the Internet has helped us close the distance and make us feel part of the same big community, the diversity stays and, even when people use the same products, they create very different experiences out of them.


There’s not a lot of documentation about this topic and, looking at other websites, it looks like that often they are simply translated in other languages but not “localised” or “internationalised”, and the design stays the same. Visual design localisation is not something that should be underestimated as it goes well beyond translating text. The most important thing that we always need to keep in mind, in the end, is that we’re designing for humans and thus, we need to have a good understanding of the targeted culture and design accordingly.

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