Re: Internationalization--Standard Icons

From: Michael Everson (
Date: Fri May 28 1999 - 07:41:13 EDT

Ar 12:02 -0700 1999-05-27, scríobh Geoffrey Waigh:
>Markus Kuhn wrote:
>> A lot of work has been put into the international standardization of
>> various icons such as buttons on consumer equipment or various warning
>> You are most likely well familiar with them (right-pointing black triangle
>> = record, black square = stop, white circle = off, etc. on your VCR) without
>> ever having heard about the relevant standards in this area:
>That's true, and given a relatively small number of manufacturers, it is
>possible to get most people to follow the standard. However it doesn't
>mean that the public likes it, because that which comes out of standards
>bodies has a less than perfect correlation with usability.

Thou beggest the question. I like the record/stop/off icons on my VCR just
fine. And the two vertical lines for pause. And as a member of the public,
too. Not _because_ they are in standards, since I was a user of them before
I was a standardizer.

>pictograms sometimes make sense and sometimes become something people
>have to memorize. Granted if everybody has to memorize the association,
>then it is not showing favour to a particular culture, but all you have
>done is moved the localization tables out of the software and into the
>manuals/education system.

It's hard to say. People get used to a lot of the pictures. In Europe, No
Parking signs have no text on them. This is linguistically independent, and
people have to learn it, and people do learn it. It is far better than the
situation in the US, where you have "No Parking" next to the amazingly
ambiguous "Fine For Parking".

>> Much more important than localizing graphical icons is to come up with a
>> standardized set of internationally acceptable icons that helps to avoid
>> having to localize too many aspects of GUIs.

Actually, it makes things harder for the localizer. It adds to cost. EGT
localized Eudora Light into Irish; we changed the little red menu flag that
appears when you've got mail by changing the text from "MAIL" to "POST"
(which is Irish for "post" :-). But "TITIQA" just barely fits in syllabics,
and is a possibly-acceptable truncation of a much longer word for mail. It
would be a lot nicer to have a good "post" icon. I've always considered the
curled horn used in Europe to be very attractive.

>As I mention above, I don't think the acceptance will be outside the
>committee. You mention ISO 8601 and in North America at least, it is
>seldom used.

Date formats like 1999-05-28 are common enough in computing use, are they not?

>Similarly the international notation for telephone numbers
>is so unaccepted that the printers who did my business cards contacted
>me so they could correct the "mistake" - I had to explain I was technically
>one of the few people in city who had it "right."

You don't say that. You say "Oh, that's following the international
standard for telephone number formatting".

>Of course if most of the population thinks otherwise am I ahead
>trying to foist it on them?

Well, if you want business cards that people outside the US can use easily,
you should use international notation. Anyway lots of things are "foisted"
by standards, and most of them are good. That's why we have standards, and
want standards.

Michael Everson, Everson Gunn Teoranta **
15 Port Chaeimhghein Íochtarach; Baile Átha Cliath 2; Éire/Ireland
Guthán: +353 1 478-2597 ** Facsa: +353 1 478-2597 (by arrangement)
27 Páirc an Fhéithlinn;  Baile an Bhóthair;  Co. Átha Cliath; Éire

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