Internalization - Thinking Globally, Not Locally

Internationalization: Thinking Globally, Not Locally

What’s something that approximately 40 percent of the world’s population has in common? Hint: it’s not religion. The largest “shared” religion tops out at 32 percent. Ethnicity? Nope. The world’s most common ethnicity, Han Chinese, makes up just 18 percent of the global population. Generation? Try again—the most common shared age group is the millennial population, which clocks in at just 24 percent.

The percentage that surpasses all of the above is none other than the world's population of internet users, which has now topped at roughly 40 percent. 

In fact, there are only a few things that are shared more globally than internet access-–such as literacy, gender and being humans.

What does this mean? It means a lot. We’re talking about almost half the world. And as the numbers above illustrate, you'll find a lot of diversity when carving out 40 percent the world’s population: diversity in language, economics and culture just to name a few. As companies begin to move towards this diverse global space, it is crucial to consider each and every user of your software, potentially all 3.4 billion of them. Now, accounting for the entire world population to have access to your software might be a bit ambitious, however it’s important not to discount the amount of users growing exponentially every day. Providing every unique user with the same seamless and innovative experience, regardless of their location, should be the end result for every application that wishes to target a global audience.

Tackling internationalization

There are three valuable instances to consider when tackling internationalization, and some are not as obvious as you may think.



Thinking about internationalization, often times the immediate focus is on the language aspect. But though it plays a huge role, it’s definitely not the only thing to consider when making an application user-friendly for the global space. It is imperative to keep your mobile users high on the priority list when developing software, as most countries are running on 3G speeds or lower. Considering that, a global-first mentality often requires a mobile-first mentality. You want to produce something that runs fast, is preferably text based and uses minimal visuals.

By minimizing the amount of visuals and focusing on a heavier text-driven application, translation software like Google Translate will have a decreased risk of misconstruing context for the user, as issues of text within animations or images can increase this risk. Not to mention that text usually loads significantly faster than an image, which in turn creates a faster load time for an improved user experience (UX).


Translating entire applications across multiple languages can be both extremely costly as well as time consuming, but there is an engineering solution that can be implemented within the early stages of development called Unicode. Unicode is a computing standard for consistent representation of text through a multitude of languages, from symbols to how the text appears and is read on a page. There are over a hundred thousand characters to date that span across 90 different scripts.

“Google really raised the baseline for languages expectations for everyone else. Back when most companies were happy to support 10-20 languages, Google localized its search interface to support 60 languages. The search engine now supports 120+ languages and most Google services support between 40 and 50 languages.”

It is important to note that keeping content and design separate allows for the design to dynamically configure to whatever language or text is available on the page at any given time. Allowing for a multi-functional design ensures that a button written in Japanese or French carries over with the same character limits and expectations regardless of the language displayed.


One thing that many don’t initially consider when approaching internationalization is color. An observation amongst the top technology companies today reveals a common thread—a particular colored thread to be exact. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and PayPal rely heavily on various shades of blue. Why?


From a color symbolism standpoint, blue is actually categorized as a very “trusted” color in the global space. Not to say that if you don’t have blue as a company color, you're not to be trusted, but the color spectrum plays a huge role in the global space and needs to be researched and accounted for in designs and images when aiming to influence or target a global market. It is extremely important to research and reference color theory when thinking about designing for all cultures as color is often seen as the non-verbal communication within your application.

Our Part

Benefitfocus has continually taken from the pages of internationalization and globalization by improving our software platforms both presently and with plans continuing well into the future. Most recently, our associates had the option to enroll in benefits entirely through our responsive mobile application—a huge milestone as we continue to trend towards mobile-first development. Our UX team continues to drive towards globalization by designing for the world user so our applications teem with a seamless transition across the global space.


Internationalization continues to be a hot topic amongst many key players within the technology space and some continue to lead the charge in a universal user experience across a multitude of global platforms. Recently, Facebook unveiled its multilingual post functionality, showcasing the continuing innovation in this global marketplace. It is definitely not an easy task to mold one’s mindset to consider others outside of the realm of every day life and outside cultures, but realizing the need to acknowledge and design for the other 3.4 billion users is a big step towards thinking globally and not just locally.