Flag icons are pretty (like fam-fam-fam icon set). But flag represents a country, not a language. Isn't it obvious? No, it's obviously not! While I surfed the web yesterday I found several websites that use flags for language choice. Here are a few reasons why you'll never want to do that.
1. It can be very confusing
There are many flags in the world that are very similar. And when they are 16x16 they become hardly recognizable. Let's, for example, take a look at the following flags:
Photo by nofrills
Do you see where the problem is? Yes, they are all similar. And some of them are almost identical! And that's not all. It can be even more confusing. Let's take Canada for example. If you use a flag of Canada for language choice, in which language content would be: English or French?
This one argument should be enough to convince you not to use flags. But if not, here are two more.
2. It could insult
Few years ago, one of our clients was showing us a website in order to show us what he would like to have on his own. Suddenly, he pointed to English flag and said "Hmm, I DO speak English, but this is not the flag of my country. I hate when I see this! I might not know all the flags, and then what?" Simple.
3. It could mess up your design
Just imagine a website localized in ten or more languages. Where would you put all these flags? Just imagine what would it look like?
So,what would be the right choice?
Although it is hard to tell what would be the best choice, one thing is certain: language choices should be presented with language names in the languages themselves. This can be done, for example, as a list of text links, or by populating drop down list.
What is your opinion? If you disagree, I'd like to know why!