Designing a language switch or selector: Examples and best UX/UI practices

Building a global SaaS product isn’t easy. You have to localize your product, translate your website, and make sure that everything’s still up and running.

And there might be a major UI problem, which looks like a tiny thing at first but is actually something to think about a little longer. What I’m talking about is the visualization of selecting a language.

How can you visualize the option to change languages so that your global audience can choose which language they want to use?

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know when it comes to designing a language switch for your application or website, including some examples and best practices.

Language switch icons

When offering multilingual software or web services, you’ll end up at some point thinking about a language icon.

A language icon is a visual aid, indicating the existing languages of the used application. The problem, however, is that there’s yet no standard definition on how a language icon or language switcher should look like.

language icon google search

Language icon initiative

As I mentioned before there seems to be no standard definition on how a language icon should look like. I might be wrong. There’s a language icon initiative started in 2008 which aims to standardize the language selection icon.

The standard language selection icon looks like this:

language icon selection
Source: languageicon.org

But have you ever seen that icon on one of your favorite websites or applications? I haven’t. And our user tests showed that people won’t recognize this icon as an option for selecting languages.

It seems that the standardized language icon isn’t widely used.

Other language icon ideas

So, we weren’t 100% happy with the language icon provided by the language icon initiative. As we continued our research, we found out that a globe icon is a popular icon used for language switching.

Source: http://fontawesome.io/icon/globe/

The problem with globes? Different people have different associations with globe icons. If you’re a heavy facebook user, you’ll identify this icon as your notification center.

facebook notifications globe

So, definitely no globe icon for us.

The problem with flags and countries

Intuitively, we tend to think about countries when we talk about languages. Chinese = China, Japanese = Japan, and so on. However, there are some major limitations when you start using country flags for your language switcher.

So, why you shouldn’t use country flags:

  • There are design limitations if you use more than 20 languages for your app. Displaying 20 country flags can be quite messy.
  • Countries do not represent languages, nor the other way round.
language switch icon

Flags symbolize nations, not languages. It’s that simple.

And I recommend to only use country flags if your product is different from country to country and not from language to language.

Best practices of language switch designs

So, you might wonder. How should I visualize a language switcher?

If you like country flags and really want to stick with country flags, I’d recommend a solution like the following one:

language selection
Source: https://dribbble.com/shots/2386084-Language-Selection-Modal

Source: https://dribbble.com/shots/2386084-Language-Selection-Modal

Language switching buttons

The US government released a comprehensive guide on web design standards a while ago, so I was curious how they solved the problem of language switching.

As you can see in the screenshot below, USA.gov makes use of a language button and its styling is clearly defined by its web design standards.

usagov language switch
Source: https://www.usa.gov/

Source: usa.gov

Text links for offering language switching option are widely used. Google.com can be named as a great example here.

google language switcher

Language selector as part of the main navigation

Text links are a great way to offer your website or app in other languages. By embedding the language switcher in your main navigation, users will easily find the option to change languages.

Trello, for example, embedded the language switch in the app settings.

Other websites and applications enable their users to change languages in the footer section of their site.

Facebook seems to be one of the prominent examples for doing so:

language switcher footer facebook

Text-based language switch instead of icons

After much discussion and user testings, the result and user feedback leaned towards text-based language switch. So we decided not to use any icon at all.

Why? Because it seems that there’s no language icon available which creates a mutual understanding.

As we already had a text-based language selector on our website, we decided to be consistent.

Language switch is key for UX

When you offer a multilingual website or product, thinking about the language switch is probably top priority.

Making use of various language icons, country flags, or other graphics can lead to confusion and doesn’t create a mutual understanding of its features. Therefore we at Usersnap decided to use a simple text-based switcher.

A well-designed language selection option is one of the key things that enhances usability and creates a simple user experience for your website visitors and customers.

If you’re still unsure about which design to choose, get some user feedback and conduct some testing. To learn more about how to do user testing download this free ebook How to Build Products Users Love with interviews with Trello, Prezi and HotelTonight.

Same language or automatically preferred default language

In the intricate landscape of global product development, the decision between sticking with the same language or implementing an automatically preferred default language holds substantial implications for user experience.

Let’s explore the nuances of this choice and how it can shape the way users engage with your application or website.

Same language continuity

Opting for a strategy where users stay within the same language throughout their interaction with your product offers a sense of continuity. This approach eliminates potential confusion that might arise from unexpected language switches, providing a seamless experience for users navigating different sections of your platform.

Consistency in communication

Maintaining a consistent language aligns with effective communication. Users can comfortably browse through your content without the cognitive load of adjusting to different languages. This is particularly advantageous when your audience shares a common primary language or when your product caters to a specific linguistic community.

User control and preferences

Allowing users to choose their preferred language offers a user-centric approach. By providing language options in settings or profiles, users gain control over their language experience.

This approach is especially beneficial when your user base is diverse, with varying language preferences among different segments.

Automatically preferred default language

Implementing an automatically preferred default language involves leveraging user data or browser settings to predict the most suitable language for the individual.

This approach streamlines the user experience by minimizing the need for manual language selection, particularly helpful for first-time users or those accessing your product from multiple devices.

Personalization and user insights

By intelligently predicting and setting a default language, you enhance personalization. Tailoring the user experience based on historical data or user preferences contributes to a more user-friendly interface.

It’s a balance between offering a default language for efficiency while respecting the user’s ability to customize.

Balancing automation and user autonomy

The key lies in striking a balance between automation and user autonomy.

While an automatically preferred default language can enhance efficiency, always provide a clear and easily accessible option for users to change their language settings. This empowers users to tailor their experience based on their preferences.

Consideration for multilingual platforms

For platforms with diverse content or user bases, consider allowing users to set different default languages for different sections. This caters to scenarios where users might prefer distinct languages for various aspects of your product.

In conclusion, whether you choose the path of same language continuity or an automatically preferred default language, it’s essential to align your decision with the needs and preferences of your user base. A thoughtful approach to language settings contributes significantly to a positive user experience, fostering engagement and satisfaction across your global audience.

User testing and feedback: Ensuring a seamless language switch experience

Building a global SaaS product demands not only technical finesse but a keen understanding of user experience (UX).

While selecting the right visual elements for language switching is crucial, validating your choices through user testing and gathering feedback is equally paramount.

Let’s delve into the world of user testing and feedback to ensure your language switcher resonates effectively with your diverse audience.

The imperative of user testing

As you embark on the journey of designing your language switch, user testing becomes a pivotal step.

It’s not just about what looks good; it’s about what works seamlessly for your users. Conducting user tests with individuals representing different languages and cultural backgrounds provides invaluable insights into the effectiveness of your design.

Usability testing with diverse participants

User tests should encompass individuals who speak various languages and have distinct cultural perspectives.

This diversity ensures that your language switch accommodates the preferences and expectations of a broad user base.

Navigating accessibility: Keyboard testing

Ensuring that users can effortlessly navigate and select their preferred language is key. Include keyboard testing in your user tests to guarantee that users can switch languages using accessible keyboard shortcuts.

This not only enhances usability but also caters to individuals with visual impairments.

Responsive design challenges

Consider the devices your users are employing to access your product. Conduct tests on both desktop and mobile platforms to confirm that the language switch remains easily accessible and visible, providing a consistent experience across various screen sizes.

Iterative testing for continuous improvement

User testing should be an iterative process. Use the feedback garnered from initial tests to refine and optimize your language switch design continually. This iterative approach ensures that your language switch evolves to meet the evolving needs and preferences of your user base.

The role of feedback

In addition to structured user testing, actively seek feedback from your users.

Whether through surveys, user forums, or direct communication, hearing the opinions of your audience provides a nuanced understanding of what works and what might need improvement.

Encouraging user feedback

Encourage users to share their thoughts on the language switch experience.

Include clear calls-to-action for feedback on your website or application. Users often appreciate being heard and may provide valuable suggestions that enhance the overall usability of your language switch.

Adapting based on user insights

User feedback is a goldmine of insights. Be open to adapting your language switch design based on the feedback received. Whether it’s tweaking the visual elements or adjusting the placement of the language switch, user insights guide you toward an optimal solution.

In conclusion, user testing and feedback are not just checkboxes in the design process; they are the compass guiding you toward a language switch that truly resonates with your global audience.

By embracing diverse perspectives and continuously refining your design, you ensure that your language switch remains a seamless and user-friendly feature for all.

Streamlining user testing and feedback with Usersnap

As you dive into user testing and feedback for your language switcher, integrate Usersnap for a seamless and efficient UX design process.

Here’s how Usersnap can enhance your journey:

Visual feedback precision

Usersnap allows users to provide detailed visual feedback, enabling precise annotations on the language switch interface.

Example: Users can pinpoint specific areas, offering clear insights into design elements.

Cross-browser and device testing

Simplify cross-browser and device testing with Usersnap, ensuring a consistent language switch experience across platforms.

Example: Test the switcher seamlessly across various browsers and devices.

Real-time collaboration

Enable real-time collaboration among stakeholders, designers, and developers using Usersnap, accelerating the iteration process.

Example: Collaborators can discuss and resolve feedback directly within the Usersnap platform.

Accessible user testing

Usersnap’s features cater to accessible user testing, ensuring inclusivity for all users navigating the language switch.

Example: Test keyboard navigation and other accessibility aspects for a universally positive experience.

Integrated feedback loops

Integrate Usersnap into your workflow for a continuous feedback loop, facilitating consistent refinement of the language switch design.

Example: Seamlessly integrate Usersnap into your development environment for efficient feedback flow.

Analytics and insights dashboard

Leverage Usersnap’s analytics dashboard to track language switch performance over time, gaining insights into user behavior.

Example: Use Usersnap’s analytics to inform decisions about language switch evolution.

Incorporating Usersnap ensures an efficient and comprehensive approach to language switch design, delivering a user-friendly experience for your global audience. With Usersnap, navigate user testing and feedback with precision, ultimately creating a language switch that resonates effectively.

Capture user feedback easily. Get more insights and make confident product decisions.

Microsurveys by Usersnap

Getting feedback has never been easier and we hope you’ve realized that after reading this article. Let us know what you think, your feedback is important.

And if you’re ready to try out a customer feedback software, Usersnap offers a free trial. Sign up today or book a demo with our feedback specialists.