Is this the next language icon?


Does this icon say “language” to you?

It doesn’t to me.

But the OMC design studio feels so strongly about it that it has launched a web site to promote this icon as a global standard.

I applaud the effort and I fully agree that there is a need for such an icon, but I don’t believe that this one should be it. I find that this looks like a floppy disk (and, yes, I’m aware that there is an entire generation of computer users out there who don’t even know what a floppy disk looks like).

If I were to vote for an international icon, I would vote for a generic globe icon. Companies such as Panasonic, Dow Corning, and Microsoft have used a globe icon to denote either language or country/region (or both).

Other companies use tiny maps, such as John Deere and Caterpillar.

I prefer the globe, but either will do the trick.

What do you think?

PS: I just discovered that I wrote about the need for a standard icon way back in 2004. I preferred the globe icon even back then.

To learn more, check out my new book The Art of the Global Gateway.

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12 thoughts on “Is this the next language icon?”

  1. I agree with you on all your points… yes it’s a good idea, and yes it’s something we need, but unfortunately as an icon it just doesn’t work. The globe is good for regional content but if you’re presenting different languages to local users it doesn’t work. For language-specific content (not country/region) I think something like speech bubbles/different characters (i.e. a combination of Asian, latin etc.) probably works best.

  2. Well, this just doesn’t make sense. And I think they realize it doesn’t make sense either. Their only explanation for why they use this icon: “because it doesn’t mean anything else”. Huh? First of all, I agree with you that it looks like a floppy. So, that already kills their argiment. Next, how about finding something that actually will remind people about cultures and languages? I don’t think it should be a random globe or a map, but a stylized and simplified globe would certainly work much better than this icon.

  3. Before reading the posts here I arrived at the same thought as James -that of the speech bubble. Within or without characters inside its much more intuitive than the proposed icon which has no discernible mnemonic association with speech or language.

  4. Interesting post and replies.

    Hi Daniel, As you know, the speech bubble is used in similar concerns also such as localization – is among them.

    Another possibility might be a tree – as in tree of language, or palaver tree (or in Indian mythology, a speaking tree). The idea of a tree image figured prominently in the National Museum of Language’s contest for design of a flag for language(s).

  5. Disagree with the Tree idea, too obscure (sorry).

    How about two characters next to each other, such as a regular “A” character followed by the German one “Ä”

    Something like this:



    I also think the Globe idea is fine because language is almost always tied to location.

    • “Almost always” is the key phrase here. The task is easy when you’re thinking about German being spoken in Germany or Italian being spoken in Italy, but what location would you assign to Arabic? Or even English or French? Globalization has blurred the lines between countries, cultures, and languages. Consider, also, the English speaker living in Russia, or the Spanish speaker living in the USA.

      We do need something that universally says “language,” not just “location.” Speech bubbles are fine, but sort of clunky in my opinion. The suggested icon of a stylized mouth would work if executed better. As is stands right now it resembles a house without a roof, which can muddy the usability of sites which use the house icon for navigation back to the homepage.

      And yes, I realize this post is nearly 4 years old, but I don’t know that this is an issue that has been resolved.

  6. why don’t you submit your design ideas to .. I am not a strict guy, we will have a PR campaign for the icon after we finalize it, but this is what we have atm. and globe or map is totally out of question because come on it is select region, it is nothing to do with languages, also when you say it, I agree it looks like a floppy.. but if it can be a tree, it can be a floppy? and the new generation do not know floppies anyway. a talking mouth or tongue would be way better then globe, what we had in mind was to have a mouth (the square) and the tongue (the inner square).. well I will work on it when have more time, thanks for the feedback 🙂

  7. There are issues not being dealt with:
    a) There are locations where multiple languages exist within political boundaries – in Spain, you have official Castilian “Spanish”, but you also have “Catalan”, “Galego” and “Euskera”. So, tying the visual iconography to a map or global representation is going to get muddy.
    b) People are going global, and languages are spoken in various locations. So, even if there IS a visual representation of language linked to a geographical locale, whether its a globe or a tree or a cup of coffee, you still have to decide to which geographic location to indicate for each language. Would English be the US or the UK or Canada or Jamaica or Belize or whatever?
    c) OK, the icon selected looks like a floppy (and true, most kids don’t remember floppies), but that doesn’t kill the concept if everyone agrees that now it represents a language choice. What kills the concept for me is the use of variations in colour that are too minute to detect in some cases. Also, it’s easy for each individiual to remember his/her colour code, but I’m not a mariner, I don’t want to remember 200 colour combos if I’m designing.

  8. I agree with the article and the some of the comments.
    Some of you are missing a point, though: we are not talking about an icon per language, we want one icon that means “language” or “select language”.
    In my opinion a combination of some of what you have already said would be most meaningful, although I understand that we don’t want something overly complicated…
    How about a globe surrounded by a ring of flags and a speech bubble on the top?
    The flags is something intuitive and that many of us are already used to when choosing a language on a web page, only that here we are not using a specific flag, but rather the concept of it. The globe adds onto the idea of internationalization, and the speech bubble specifies that this is related to talking, as opposed to other regional settings…

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