The inherent flaw of the translation icon

There is no internationally accepted definition of what a “translation” icon should look like.

But here’s the icon websites tend to use:

You see it many places these days — most often used to indicate the availability of automatic translation, such as seen here with Google Translate:

Or within the Apple Safari browser:

Here’s an example from the Roblox Automatic Translation feature:

And here it is on the Airbnb site:

I’ve always found the icon lacking for the simple fact that it displays a preference for two scripts over others.

Let’s suppose that your website does not include support for Chinese or a Latin-based language, this icon would be wanting.

In fact, as you’ll see on this website for an Indian government agency the gateway icon features a more localized script pairing:

Selecting the icon brings up the following menu of languages:

Is there a better translation icon we should be using?

In the end, any script pairing will display some bias and ultimately fall short.

So any alternative should be free of scripts. Then what should it display?

We can’t use a globe icon because that should be reserved for the global gateway menu.

Or could we?

Returning to Airbnb, we see a globe icon and a translation icon used as follows:

The globe icon is well position in the header to indicate the global gateway menu. Within the menu we have the automatic translation icon. I could argue that the icon isn’t even needed here — text alone should suffice.

And if we look a few years down the road it’s not difficult to see websites that have leverage automatic translation to such a degree that the globe icon could be used — in the header — to refer to locale, language and automatic translation.

What are your thoughts? Let me know, particularly if you have a better icon suggestion!

PS: I asked an AI engine to design a translation icon. Here’s what it came up with:

Perhaps the globe icon is the best path forward.

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