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RE: International Internet Icons

From: Martin Brunecky <mbrunecky@onerealm.com>
Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2001 08:19:05 -0600
Message-ID: <235F239718A5D411B5E20090277399360A6277@onerealmserver.onerealm.com>
To: "'duerst@w3.org'" <duerst@w3.org>
Cc: "'www-international@w3.org'" <www-international@w3.org>

-----Original Message-----
From: Christophe Pouylau [mailto:cpouylau@yahoo.com]
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2001 11:13 PM
To: www-international@w3.org
Subject: Re: International Internet Icons

This is the core of the problem: "don't need localization". 
Icons are great. They save screen real-estate, don't need localization, and
look pretty cool and sexy. 
Sure. As long as localization in your mind means "make the damned user learn
The association between the (low resolution, low detail, often barely
recognizable) picture and it's meaning is always leveraging some cultural
associations, for example a "stop sign" (the US 'stop sign' did not make any
sense to me: in my country that symbol prohibited entry into a one-way
street, meaning 'go the opposite way'; 'stop' was a simple red circle with
white center, no cross-line). 
To illustrate the cultural dependency of icons, think about how do you
choose which restroom to go into in say Hungary? Spanish speaking territory?
French? ... Mountain top at Vail, Colorado?
Icons do help productivity in frequent-use applications (due to screen real
estate savings), AFTER the user had LEARNED their meaning. Hence, they make
sense as shortcuts, i.e. toolbar buttons etc. But they should NEVER be the
primary or (God forbid) the only way to access a given functionality. 
The learning curve heavily depends upon how well the icon associates with
the function in a given cultural background... Unfortunately, most symbols,
which are taken for granted by the 'computer people', are totally obscure to
the 'uninitiated' rest of the population. It will only take some 80 years
for all those non-computer folks to die out and be replaced by computer
geeks. And by that time, great deal of today's icons will map into the
reality the same way we frown about Chinese ideographs. Take the usual
'save' icon displaying a floppy disk. What will THAT associate with in 20
years? Or the printer... envelope... clipboard...
But they can be bandwidth-hungry, inaccessible to
the visually impaired, and cryptic to the non-initiated. A picture's worth a
thousand words... multiplied by the number of participants. And if you take
the chance to trade clarity and usability for 'look and feel', don't expect
users to click on this obvious question mark. They would invest time to
learn a UI if they spent money on it and/or need it. But if the content of a
Web site is not unique, they won't bother.

Assuming that users will benefit from their computer knowledge on the Web
makes perfect sense if your target audience is populated with software
engineers. But if you intend a site to be usable for the majority of people,
bear in mind that the prime motivation of consumers who buy their first PC
is to 'get on the Net.' More and more of them won't even use a computer for
this, but rather some kind of information appliance, TV set-top box or
on-board, portable, wearable you-name-it widget.

As far as Web design is concerned, the use of a specific icon for 'home' or
'back-to-the-root' seems a bit like the desktop metaphor in OS design:
outdated. Just have a look at your favorite sites and see... To get back to
the top level of the information hierarchy, you click the company's logo, in
the upper left corner--or upper right, on bidi pages.

What would be the standard international Internet icon for
'back-to-the-previous-page'? Obviously none, since this functionality is
integrated in the browser.

Standardization is more than a matter of graphics, it's about behaviors. For
centuries, readers have been used to look up and left when searching for the
origin of a page, to browse back to the left. And what do people most do on
the Web?

Perhaps if you could list these usual, repetitive behaviors, it would be
possible to do well without icons.


----- Original Message -----
From: Lacoursiere, Guy <Guy.Lacoursiere@Cognos.COM>
To: 'Tex Texin' <texin@progress.com>; Richard Francois M
Cc: <paul.a.brandt@us.pwcglobal.com>; <www-international@w3.org>
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2001 4:25 PM
Subject: RE: International Internet Icons

 > The symbol of the home icon (the house icon, as I call it) is totally
 > obscure to non-English users.  To a French, German or Japanese user, what
 > does a house have to do with the concept of "returning to the initial
 > In Internet Explorer, the French translation of Home is "D駑arrage"
 > in German, it is "Startseite" (Start page); in Japanese, it is, well, it
 > three kanas that read something like "homu".  The house picture has
 > absolutely no meaning in these languages, let alone the fact that it
 > nothing like a French, German or Japanese house.
 > Yes, through exposure, people know what it means, but there is no
 > behind it. It's just an image of something.
 > On terminology, the fact that "many computer related words become [...]
 > of other languages" does not make them international.  The word
 > is probably understood by most people who have one.  You still wouldn't
 > to use it in a proper French or Spanish user interface.
 > An icon must not illustrate a play on words in any given language. The
 > "house" icon is no different.
 > Guy Lacoursi鑽e
 > Cognos Incorporated
 > Software Globalisation Consultant
 > -----Message d'origine-----
 > De: Tex Texin [mailto:texin@progress.com]
 > Date: domenica 1 aprile 2001 18:15
 > タ: Richard Francois M
 > Cc: 'paul.a.brandt@us.pwcglobal.com'; www-international@w3.org
 > Objet: Re: International Internet Icons
 > OK, I'll have to go back to my copy. I thought pictures of houses was
 > pointed out as not appropriate in his book.
 > The "however", that goes with this, is that some icons have been used
 > so much in software, that even though they were not international to
 > begin with, they become international thru exposure. Just as many
 > computer related words become international and a part of other
 > languages' lexicons.
 > The "however" that goes with the first "however" is that as new
 > regional markets become computer literate, they have to learn these
 > "foreign" symbols from scratch.
 > tex
 > "Richard, Francois M" wrote:
 > >
 > > Yes,
 > >
 > > It is the book by Horton. It does not look like a "home" to me neither,
 > but
 > > I recognize the icon and interpret it.
 > > Francois
 > >
 > > > -----Original Message-----
 > > > From: Tex Texin [mailto:texin@progress.com]
 > > > Sent: Friday, March 30, 2001 9:05 PM
 > > > To: Richard Francois M
 > > > Cc: 'paul.a.brandt@us.pwcglobal.com'; www-international@w3.org
 > > > Subject: Re: International Internet Icons
 > > >
 > > >
 > > > Except, in many parts of the world that icon does not look like
 > > > a typical house or a home. So in what way is that icon international?
 > > >
 > > > Is this the book by Horton?
 > > > tex
 > > >
 > > > "Richard, Francois M" wrote:
 > > > >
 > > > > There is a set of international icons from the "icon book".
 > > > > Attached is the "home" icon, as an example.
 > > > >
 > > > > Francois
 > > > >

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Received on Tuesday, 3 April 2001 10:19:46 UTC

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