Designing for Localization

Because text tends to increase when you localize an application, be careful when designing the following user interface components:

  • Application messages

  • Menus and forms

  • Icons and bitmaps

Creating Application Messages

When you create messages in your application, English text strings are usually shorter than equivalent text strings in other languages. The following table shows the additional average growth for strings, based on their initial length.

English length (in characters) Additional growth for localized strings

1 to 4


5 to 10


11 to 20


21 to 30


31 to 50


over 50


Designing Menus and Forms

As with messages, menus and forms can grow when the application is localized. For instance, consider the following forms, which are part of an Automated Teller Machine sample application. The first figure shows the English form, and the second figure shows the Spanish equivalent. You can see that extra space was allocated for text to increase in the form.


If you allow room for text to increase in an interface, localizers need less time to resize controls and to redesign the interface.

Text needs more room when localized

FoxPro Localization Issues

In menus and forms, avoid crowding status bars. Also, avoid abbreviations, because they might not exist in other languages.

Using Icons and Bitmaps

Used properly, icons and bitmaps can be an important part of a user interface. However, the meaning of icons and bitmaps can be more ambiguous than the meaning of words. Therefore, consider the following guidelines when using icons and bitmaps:

  • Use images that are universally recognized. For example, use an envelope to represent mail, but don't use a mailbox because it's not a universal symbol.

  • Use culturally sensitive images. For example, avoid using images of religious symbols and animals.

  • Avoid using text in bitmaps, because text growth can become a problem, just as it can in other parts of the interface.

  • Avoid jargon, slang, humor, extravagant language, and ethnic stereotypes.

  • Use ToolTips to help explain icons, which have the added advantage of expanding automatically to the size of the text they display.

  • If you portray men and women, ensure that their gender roles are suitable, and that gestures and images of the human body are appropriate in the target culture.

  • Use color appropriately. For example, avoid using color combinations associated with national flags or political movements.

If you're not sure whether an icon or bitmap is appropriate, consult someone in the locale for which you're designing the application.

See Also

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