In search of a better translation icon

A few years ago I wrote about the translation icon and its many variations at that point in time.

I thought now would be a good time to revisit this icon.

Let’s start with the Google Translate. This icon has not changed in substance over the years but it has been streamlined a great deal.

Here is the icon used for its app:

google-translate-icon

Microsoft uses a similar icon across its website, apps, and APIs:

microsoft_translate

I’m not a fan of this icon, despite how prevalent it has become.

Before I go into why exactly, here is another app icon I came across:

another-translate-icon

These first three icons display specific language pairs, which could be interpreted as showing preference for a given language pair. This is the issue that I find problematic.

Why can’t a translate icon be language agnostic?

Here is how SDL approaches the translation icon:

sdl_translation

Although the icon is busy, I’m partial to what SDL is doing here — as this icon does not display a given script pair.

Here is another icon, from the iTranslate app:

iTranslate_app

The counter-argument to a globe icon is this: It is used EVERYWHERE. And this is true. Facebook, for example, uses the globe icon for notifications, which I’ve never understood. Nevertheless, the globe icon can successfully deliver different messages depending on context. In the context of a mobile app icon, I think a globe icon works perfectly well.

 

So the larger question here is whether or not a language pair is required to communicate “translation.” 

Google and Microsoft certainly believe that a language pair is required, which is where we stand right now. I’d love to see this change. I think we can do better.

Is your global gateway stuck in the basement?

When you welcome visitors into your home, you probably don’t usher them directly to the basement.

Yet when it comes to websites, this is exactly how many companies treat visitors from around the world.

That is, they expect visitors to scroll down to the footer (basement) of their websites in order to find the global gateway.

Now I want to emphasize that many companies smartly use country codes to create country-specific “front doors.” In addition, many companies use backend technologies such as geolocation and content negotiation to guess what language/locale website the user prefers before forcing the user to select one.

But these technologies don’t work perfectly and there are times when users need to be able to self-select the language they wish to use or country website they wish to visit.

Which leads us to the global gateway.

Apple has long forced international users down to the footer to locate the global gateway as shown below. I’ve already written about the flaws with the flag itself.

apple gateway basement

Apple is not alone. Here is the Microsoft footer (on the Thai website):

Microsoft Thai gateway

To underscore that there is plenty of room in the header for the gateway, below is the header from that same web page.

msft_header_thai

Do you think we could cut back on that search window a tad to make room for the gateway? I would think so.

Kayak manages to fit its global gateway in the header — see the flag at the far right:

kayak_header

So does GE (I love the globe icon):

ge_header

You can tell so much about a company by how it structures its website.

The global gateway is more than a functional element, it is in many ways an extension of your brand.

It’s important to greet visitors from around the world as warmly as you greet those users in your home country.

When you send your global gateway into the basement you are sending many users there as well.

You say Sea of Japan. I say East Sea.

Who said the life of a map maker isn’t interesting?

Every other day it seems there is another disputed territory, which usually means another disputed name.

I’ve already mentioned the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas issue.

On the other side of the planet there is a dispute brewing over the Sea of Japan.

South Korea maintains that the body of water should be known as the East Sea.

Japan disagrees.

Now I’m not going to wade into these murky waters by picking a side.

But if you’re a map maker, you’ve got a tough decision to make, unless you wisely decide to take a more neutral approach.

Here is how Google handles the issue currently:

Google Sea of Japan East Sea

And this from Bing:

Bing Sea of Japan East Sea

Of the two approaches, Microsoft appears more tactful. I’m not sure Google’s approach is as pleasing to South Koreans.

And there is a takeaway from this issue that every global executive should always keep in mind — maps often convey cultural and geopolitical biases. Use caution when you use maps on websites and in promotional campaigns.