FAE Group : Clashing symbols
'Change of language' icons are open to misinterpretation.
FAE Group, an Italy-based manufacturer of forestry and agricultural shredders, leaves its language icons open to interpretation.
FAE Group has a set of national flag icons as part of the top utility menu on all pages of its site. Clicking on any of the first five icons (the flags of Italy, UK, Germany, France, and Spain respectively) triggers a switch to the corresponding language so that any page, including navigation headings, can in effect be ‘translated’ in one click.
However, clicking on either of the final two icons (the US and Australia) launches a country website that replaces the group site in the current browser window. Although the country sites use the same template as the group site, both have only their own national flag icon and no obvious link to the group site.
FAE Group’s language switch system is fairly common among small and medium-sized European companies, and makes obvious commercial sense to a specialised manufacturer. Where FAE Group strays from the norm and away from best practice is in giving a different function to parts of an apparently homogeneous navigation tool. So, while most icons ‘change language’, as users would expect in the context, others ‘change country’.
National flags can be and are used quite often for the latter purpose, but generally within contact or worldwide location/site tools. Adding them into a configuration where different conventions apply without in any way distinguishing their separate functionality introduces the potential for surprise and confusion. Equally, the group site is lost without warning to Americans or Australians who click ‘their’ link, something which the adoption of a common template makes it less likely they would notice.http://www.fae-group.com/content.asp?L=3&IdMen=146
First published on 31 July, 2008