Copywriting & translation: Using the correct idioms

Using the correct idioms is critical to communicate the language culture.

Having lived and worked in the UK for over 25 years, I realise how critical it is to pay attention (and homage) to the small subtleties of a language when translating copy for the web. This in terms of essence and the meaning whilst portraying the language, culture, sense of humour and idioms correctly.
Having acquired a good level of written German and having used English on a day-to-day basis have highlighted these nuances.  I have taken great interest into what they actually are (whilst not being a translation agency!), and how they can affect the quality of a written piece. I witness how even specialist translation agencies struggle with these subtleties within the English language. These nuances may affect the meaning of a sentence, and furthermore, do not pay tribute to the language culture into which the copy has been translated.

I am not a good English writer, that is obvious, but I think I am a good observer and reader. In my MA, in editorial design and narrative illustration, I undertook a little modest study of ‘sayings’ (idioms). I tried to research the history of idioms, then visually represented them and compared the differences. It was fun and not very scientific, but it certainly showed my interest in the small hidden nuances of a language.

Some editorials, translated from German to English, show up key translation errors which may be charming for a reader like myself. But it is critical to represent the culture of a language correctly. I may understand what the content is and what the copywriter means, but the smallest tweaks would embrace the English language further. These necessary adjustments can only be identified with years of using the English language as a native speaker. So it is that in-depth knowledge of both: understanding the German AND understanding the English language culture and how this would translate correctly whilst maintain a sense of humour, the seriousness of a text, the quality and the cultural essence. This is especially the case when using idioms.


It is critical to get the copy of your website just right.

A badly translated text can affect the brand of your company. It may even look like you are not paying attention to the addressed user audience. In the competitive business world, where every detail needs to be just so, it is important to make sure that you have the subtleties nailed. Get a copywriter to write your initial text, but then get this checked by someone who understands the language culture,  such as the idioms, the ‘sayings’ (Direct translation definitely never works). It is important to really understand the sense of humour and how this is applied in copy, the tone of voice etc.

The same applies to graphical assets and how they can represent something very different in a different culture. I am astonished that despite the people movement within even Europe alone these small nuances remain, and represent a culture, a country, a language.

An example:

‘For some time now tunnels have not just been constructed in the Alps and for reasons of geography but also in the relatively flat Central Plateau region to save time and as less and less space is available on the surface.’ 

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The right header for the right website

As designers, we are victims of trends. I don't mind trends, but I am also glad I can rely on simple, basic and trusted graphic design skills. So what is my opinion on sliders or carousels VS using a large hero image that changes on refresh?

A slider slides the images horizontally or vertically with a momentum effect. A carousel rotates the images radially and in a 3D feel by using distance and depth of field. They rotate on an axis where the image is always facing you. A Hero image is a static large image, containing sa large headline.


usability study by Neilson Norman group confirmed that auto-forwarding carousels annoy users and reduce visibility, usability and conversions:

  • Automatic rotation makes the user lose control
  • They create banner blindness
  • Low-literacy users often read slowly

So why are sliders & carousels still so popular?

  • Some people find it a nice ‘window to their brand’. The initial large image representing the company/ organisation and what they do.
  • They are an easy way out to make everyone happy. Different departments and managers want to get their message on the home page. Design by committee has never worked...
  • They are often seen as an easy solution to provide better navigation to all the important content/offers on the site. The data suggests otherwise though

 What should I use instead of a slider or a carousel?

By removing the crutch of a carousel, you may find yourself forced to make tough decisions about what content is most important. This is a good thing.

  • Focus Your Homepage on your primary offer and prioritise your content
  • Feature one item at a time in each space. Invest the time to change your featured items often
  • If you have a lot of valuable content, don’t bury that content in a carousel. Invest in your page structure, your information architecture, and your search engine to help make it easy to find content that isn’t featured
  • Offer a targeted homepage for specific audiences and test, amend, test again

If you must choose a slider, make sure you:

  • Limit the slides to 2
  • Offer access to each slide with a dot or a number, possibly even creating little thumbnails with a bit of text so that the user can see that there are multiple slides (but make sure you pay attention to design and keep it simple)
  • Use a slider which allows random first slide display
  • Target the offers to the complete target market, and not just a particular visitor persona

The changing hero image – a good solution

A good solution is to show a large hero image with a concise message and a clear call to action. By conveying a simple, single message followed by an intuitive call to action, you will find your conversions improve considerably. If that is the avenue you want to take, make sure that the hero image changes on refresh.

A nice example:

  • A nice graphical representation of the audience
  • A small but concise amount of text
  • And an inviting call to action (or 2)

  My advice

  • Make sure you take care over the design of the hero image and it's associated content - think of the user and keep it light
  • Change this hero image often, use different messages for your complete target audience, adjust the Call to actions, whilst testing, amending and testing some more for better conversions
  • Be clear and concise, helpful and friendly
  • And if you feel the slider is the right solution, that's fine too.

 The next trend is just round the corner:

The fullscreen single page background designs: Here a nice example: focused, clear, courageous, on-trend. Less really is more. Nice!