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Ouch, Vanilla Ice: Or, How to Use Pictures Correctly

Here’s a picture I took in Tokyo last week. Tell me, what do you think this is:



My guess: this is a description of a medical procedure designed to take the rough edges off of a cookie stuck inside Rob Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice. They have to use one cookie to sand the edges off of the other cookie because, as everyone knows, you can only cut a cookie with another cookie. Like diamonds.

Or not.

Let's zoom out a little:



Oh. Well, that makes more sense.

And that’s how pictures are supposed to work: they help the text carry the conceptual load, overcoming issues with translations and idiom to make the message clear.

Because glitches like this are occasionally going to happen—this was made by an ultra-sophisticated, consumer-facing conglomerate with $38 billion in revenue. They are world-class.

But this stuff just happens; it's life.

And here, the effect is minimal because of the well-used picture. In fact, if I hadn't called it out, you probably wouldn't have even noticed the screwy text. It's a nice example of how good design can transcend a cross-cultural glitch.

But this only happens when, like here, you use pictures that help explain the concepts reflected in the text. It wouldn’t have worked if the picture had been a cartoon polar bear (like, say, the old Klondike bar wrappers)—and of course, it wouldn't have worked if it had been text-only, either.

So, here's the takeaway in the compliance context: when you use visuals, they should be doing something. They should help explain the concept, not just be there to break up text.

And that's especially true when you're looking at an international audience. When you lose fidelity in the translation process—because you will—thoughtful, well-designed images will help bridge the gap and get the message across.

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