Should emoji be localized when used in prompts and utterances in a chatbot conversation.

For example, donut.ai uses donuts (U.S. spelling..:)) as the metaphor of its intent. Say this was to be localized for Japan or Italy – would the donut need to be localized to say sushi or espresso coffee or similar?

Or is it globally acceptable that the users will "get it"?

Is there a mapping table for emoji localization or cultural adaptation (other than flags)?

  • There are plenty of answers now that are correct, so I will just stick my two cents in. If I was in Chine and I was receiving emojis based on stereotypes, I would be greatly offended. Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 12:08

2 Answers 2


My opinion: don't

Don't attempt to adapt/translate/localize them, at least at the beginning. There isn't even universal agreement for the meaning of emoji within a single community of practice.

I chat with people on different mobile platforms and am constantly excusing myself just because their older Android draws the emoji differently than mine, so the subtle meaning conveyed in the way the iris points in an eyeball means the difference between complete understanding me unintentional upsetting.

Toy example: the "imp" emoji displayed by Apple (left) and the custom implementation by some Samsung Android devices (right):

Imp emoji Apple Imp emoji samsung


One is "clearly angry" and one is "clearly playful", to me, because of my culture and personal experience.

Furthermore, while the meaning of emoji is influenced by culture, but is also highly dependent on the relationship between the two people chatting.

So it will be incredibly difficult to figure out which emojis means what to whom, and is probably not worth the risk. Just be aware of what meanings some emoji can carry in different cultures and be sensitive to that.

Perhaps worth mentioning

Perhaps a useful idea to mitigate against the problems above could be the GitHub Reactions approach: limit emoji in system-generated responses to a subset of relatively unambiguous emoji (however you define that for your user base).


You're making a chatbot, which implies that you're doing machine learning. Use that as a data source and improve your use of emoji over time, and find trends on how different classes of user react to / appreciate / use emoji in context.

That is also something you can A/B test yourself.


That depends on if it's appropriate. Complete localisation works best when there's no defining culture at the center. If a website, app or brand is built around a culture's references, it cannot be simply replaced with the dominant culture of the localisation. Then you end up with cultural translation. With cultural translation you take every reference to something foreign, and translate it into terms the user would be familiar with. Even if it makes no sense. If cultural aspects are so weaved into the brand, then it's perfectly fine (and sometimes even desired) to keep them as they are. The brand will be stronger for it.

With donut, the metaphor was chosen because donuts are often eaten in casual get-togethers. I as a Dutch person may sort of get this reference because of popular culture, but it's not something that makes immediate sense to me. And that's okay. Donuts are so intrinsically linked to the brand identity, that replacing them with stroopwafels or bitterballen would feel very forced and break the brand consistency.

Giving more localised emoji options is great of course, but don't replace existing ones.

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