When a star is not a star

with 2 Comments

Icons have international recognition. But they also have cultural bias.

Able and How is gearing up for international client work next week. And the office has been discussing how icons have a number of appealing similarities around the world. There are for example natural colours that are associated with apples: red, green or even yellow; and red and orange for fire.

Colour is also perceived differently across nations. So in many Islamic countries green may represent revolution or in the US red and blue denote the political colour preferences of Democrats and Republicans.  

Can icons be truly international? Our work in the Middle East reveals that culturally neutral graphics work the best. We are avoiding any stars (religious symbols); handshaking (man-woman contact has specific rules) and animals (dogs and pigs in particular).

So, is there such a thing as a culturally neutral image?



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2 Responses

  1. Annebeth Lasseur
    |

    Icons, or 2D representations of 3D objects, are a cultural phenomenon in itself. More importantly, it’s not about the image, it’s about the meaning we attribute to it. And attributing meaning is what culture is all about. So an image can never be culturally neutral.
    There are plenty tips and tricks to avoid embarrassment, but no rules to garantee and target understanding.
    Having said that, please prove me wrong.

  2. Uzma Mohamedali, Able and How
    |

    Comments on Able and How’s change management group on Linked-In are leaning towards that notion that icons are “culture-bound”. Despite globalisation, there is still a need to imbue words and visual forms with culturally-accepted meaning. That is why a star might mean ambition, talent or excellence in one region of the world but have religious connotations in another.

    Can anyone find an icon that is international? This is a great challenge Annabeth.

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