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Internationalization is the process of designing and developing software or Web applications so that they can be easily adapted to various linguistic and cultural environments without additional programming or engineering. Central to internationalization is the separation of language and cultural data from the source code.

Internationalization is closely connected to globalization and localization:

  • Globalization is the process of putting in place business practices and processes necessary to take a product globally, e.g., technical, marketing, personnel.
  • Localization is the process of adapting a product to the requirements of a target locale, i.e., to the set of standards and rules specific to a language and geographical area.

The terms are commonly abbreviated following the same pattern: the first letter of the word followed by the number of letters between the first and the last letter followed by the last letter: I18N=internationalization, G11N=globalization, and L10N=localization.

Thus, internationalization is a design/technical part of globalization. It reduces time and cost of getting a product to international markets and facilitates localization of the product in a specific market.

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Detailed description

Technical Considerations

Internationalization involves:

  • Ensuring that all localizable elements (such as text and graphics) are extracted from the source code and stored in external resources.
  • Ensuring that the design of the user interface (UI) is flexible and neutral.
  • Ensuring that the relevant character set is supported.
  • Ensuring that regional standards are supported.
  • Using locale-sensitive utilities for formatting and collation.
  • Providing localized graphics or using scaleable vector graphic (SVG) formats to facilitate text replacement.

Cultural Considerations

To design a globally usable product, user experience (UX) and UI designers need to account not only for the technical rules for product internationalization, but also for the cultural differences between the markets. When designing for different cultures (Aykin, 2004):

  • Design with internationalization in mind, i.e., consider and select design characteristics that would be acceptable for most countries. The more design decisions are truly global, the less the need for localization to specific markets. Such design decisions can take into consideration cultural preferences, such as learning styles and color choice; culture-specific examples, such as symbols, heroes, rituals and values; and graphic design elements, such as signs and icons.
  • Perform usability evaluations with cultural differences in mind. Testing in one country does not guarantee product usability in other countries, therefore early testing of localized versions is important.
  • Have local experts who will check the interface for cultural insensitivities or errors.
  • Hire translators whose native language is the target language. For example, if you need to translate from Japanese to English, select a translator whose native language is English.


Team roles typically responsible for ensuring product usability internationally include Project Manger, UX/UI Designer, Software Engineer/Developer, and Technical Writer.


Lifecycle: User research, Design
© 2010 Usability Professionals Association