In Western left-to-right languages, e. g. German, we also read images from left to right. Therefore if a person in the image walks from right to left, he/she is seen as coming to the viewer or welcoming him. A person walking in the opposite direction is seen as moving away from the viewer or leaving the scene.

In which direction do native speakers of a right-to-left-language, such as Hebrew or Arabic, read and interpret an image? Is a person moving from right to left seen as coming to or walking away?

IMHO this question needs to be considered when designing images for an RTL-speaking audience.

  • 2
    "coming to" or "walking away" really has little to do with reading direction. It's in the context of the image itself. Interesting question, but I suspect, as with a great deal of design, eye movement matters and rather than trying to push upper right, one would push upper left movement. or push right moment when you want to delay progression. I've only ever worked left-to-right. So I'm curious about this. :)
    – Scott
    Commented May 27, 2022 at 0:20

2 Answers 2


Summary: They usually read it from right to left. Be careful on flipping. Consider creating a localized image.

According to a Cognitive Science study [1], the reading order of an image depends on the habitual reading direction, but can be biased by reading a text before viewing that image. Therefore, RTL native speakers usually read the image from right to left.
For the effects on image design, there are some answers in the similar field of user interface design. Apple's Human Interface Guidelines and Google's Material Design specification suggest to:

  • Flip the order of images in a given layout if their order is meaningful. Applied to the order of elements in a single image, they should be reordered if the order is meaningful.
  • Flip icons that communicate forward or backward movement or the passage of time. Applied to image elements this means to flip e.g. walking people if their walk means to come to or move away from the viewer. However, mind the intended position of the person in the whole scene to keep the overall meaning of the image.
  • Not flip real world objects, universal symbols or imagery related to handedness.
  • Be careful on flipping complete images: Do not flip copyrighted images because this could be a copyright violation. Addition: Thoughtlessly flipping an image containing text, signs or universal symbols could make it look like a cheap trick.

[1] Zaeinab Afsari, José P. Ossandón, Peter König; The dynamic effect of reading direction habit on spatial asymmetry of image perception. Journal of Vision 2016;16(11):8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/16.11.8

  • I can confirm this with anecdotal evidence (sample size of about 2000). When I get laser cutting instructions for a language area thats different reading then all the pieces are also usually stacked in the corner where reading begins. They also want to place their sheet in that corner. Although its often more poductive to place the work on lower right corner for smaller sheets due to geometry of a large lasercutter, the upper left corner is inpractically far away from operator. Which is a rare reading direction indeed
    – joojaa
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 7:07

I can honestly say this isn't something I've thought about even though my career started in the publishing industry. Digging into it, this is certainly an issue depending on the country/culture you're working for. Here's an interesting article that also points to a study which favors considering l-to-r or r-to-l reading comprehension:


I think this would also be content specific, i.e. is there movement in the image that's important to its presentation? I also think the photographer should have a say so that he/she understands that the image might be flipped if the publication is printed in another language. Certainly is something that the designer and the editor responsible for the content would have to collaborate on.

I wonder what would happen in the case of an artwork catalog where the painter/photographer/sculptor intended the work be presented as is?

As a former mentor of mine used to say, there's only so long you can debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin....

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