It Is Time We Standardize Global Web Navigation

Global Web site navigation is a hot topic these days, and it seems every site has a slightly different way of solving that eternal problem of getting people to their localized sites as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Here are a few thoughts on the matter…

What Does “Localized” Mean?

The term “localization” is confusing to people; it was confusing to me when I first entered this field years ago. Industry experts have long referred to the internationalization and localization of Web sites. While I find these terms important within the industry, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to the casual Web user. Consider the following example, courtesy of Scansoft:


The site uses “Localized Websites” for its navigation menu. I would recommend at the least tightening this to “Local Websites,” although this too is a flawed solution. Local is such a relative term; it could refer to regional, country, state, or city Web sites. Perhaps “Global Sites” makes more sense; Symantec does it here:


However, no matter what words we use, they will no doubt be in English, which is hardly usable for non-English speakers.

Why Not Use an Icon?

The more I study this issue, the more convinced I am that an icon is the only long-term solution to global navigation — something that communicates across all languages. I don’t know why Web developers and designers resist the notion of dropping a little globe icon next to the menu. The little shopping cart icon is becoming a globally recognized image, regardless of whether a particular country actually relies predominantly on shopping carts.

Let’s Adopt a Global Navigation Standard

If the shopping cart icon can become the default commerce icon globally, why not do the same thing for global navigation? For inspiration, take a look at how Bose does it:


While the location of the gateway is too far down the home page, the use of the globe icon is perfect. I also want to note that Bose recently overhauled its site design but retained the globe icon — a sign that it’s working. The Bose site also makes use of the shopping cart icon:

Bose cart

Not all icons work, but when it comes to creating sites that communicate across languages, they can be an ideal solution.

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