I am a UX designer for a software company, and our product has been translated for the following:

  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Spanish
  • Romanian
  • Japanese
  • Chinese

Are there any icons that are commonly used for English-speaking audiences that don't work in the locales I've mentioned? So far I've found that the following are okay:

  • X = delete
  • House = home
  • Magnifying Glass = search
  • Calendar icon = date picker
  • Gears = settings

A list would be helpful but information on whether an icon is universally accepted or not will also be great.

  • 1
    Hi Anna. Welcome to the UX Stack Exchange! Unfortunately, requests for lists aren't very well suited to this site (see the FAQ), so if you don't edit your question it will be likely to be closed. If you rephrase it to ask something like "how can I tell whether an icon is internationally accepted," it might stand a better chance of remaining open. Commented May 14, 2013 at 19:44
  • 1
    Also, the question about whether a pencil can be used for edit has already been asked and appeared unrelated to your main question, so I've edited it out. It's generally a good idea to just ask one question per post. Commented May 14, 2013 at 19:46

3 Answers 3


I think you should be fine with the pencil icon for edit since Wikipedia has this to say about the universal edit button.

The Universal Edit Button is a green pencil icon in the address bar of a web browser that indicates whether a web page on the World Wide Web (most often a wiki) is editable. It is similar to the orange "broadcast" RSS icon () that indicates that there is a web feed available. Clicking the icon opens the edit window. It was invented by a collaborative team of wiki enthusiasts, including Ward Cunningham, Jack Herrick, and many others.

It even has a site Called the universaleditbutton.org.

The definitive source of information about what icons can be used across international applications is the International Standards Organization ISO/IEC 11581 which is unfortunately a paid download but should be useful if you really are serious about this.

That said, there are some icon types you should be particularly careful with as quoted from this article

Symbols and icons showing a thumbs-up, two-fingered V and OK sign are considered very positive in the United States. However, even former U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush have found that other cultures consider these hand gestures the international equivalent of a vulgar middle finger. Even a disembodied hand, which we often see in software manuals and user interfaces, can be considered offensive in some locales.

Animal symbols can also be dangerous. For example, owls symbolize wisdom in the United States, and an e-learning website may use an icon of an owl to symbolize that a user or student is performing well in an online course. However, owls symbolize stupidity in some parts of Asia, and Asian students may be insulted, not encouraged, by such an icon.

Religious symbols can, of course, be particularly sensitive. Microsoft’s geopolitical product strategy team once avoided embarrassment by preventing the release of the company’s Office XP software containing a moon and stars astrology icon that resembled the Islamic Hila symbol. When religious symbols cannot be avoided, they must be localized, such as when the Red Cross has been adapted as the Red Crescent in the Middle East.

I also recommend looking at this article about icon standards for more inputs.

  • Nice find in that article. I wonder how the bug guys handle this though? What does Facebook do in countries where a disembodied hand with thumbs up is considered offensive? How does Outlook flag emails internationally? Commented May 14, 2013 at 19:48
  • I assume you mean the big guys :), I remember a quora post about the product manager for facebook who wrote about it,let me see if I can dig it up.
    – Mervin
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 19:50

Maybe you can add Star for favorite, Heart for love, Locker for lock, the RSS icon, the Mail icon for message or alert, Paper clip for attached, Speaker, Play, Pause, Forward, Music note etc., Camera for photo, Clock for time and the famous Printer for print.

The graphic element that is easiest to internationalize is text though, I recommend to stick with it when you can (and you always can, if you think about it enough).

I would say that X is not delete but remove, Trash can is delete.

  • 4
    nice list but references would be helpful
    – Mervin
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 19:38

Cultural applicability of icons is always a tough question since fundamentally it needs to take into account the context of use. For example, what is often read as commonsense usability wisdom for icons may not actually apply to your use case. see for example, how context of use, metaphor, and usage profile can impact the perception and usability of someone like the Save icon or Like icon in the Enterprise. See, for example, some insight here: http://www.multilingualblog.com/?p=1755

I think the optimal solution to the question here, if allowed, is to test out our options with representative tasks, representative users, and realistic scenarios.

Text is not the easiest element to internationalize. There are issues of character support, expansion, sorting, etc.

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