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July 28, 2011  |  Geopolitical concerns and the 4 fingers of ... change  |  79722 hit(s)

We went through an interesting fire drill at work earlier this week. We found out from the folks who watch over the geopolitical issues for our documentation about a cultural sensitivity in Japan to images of people that show only four fingers.[1] This is a real "Huh?" issue for many of us who are undereducated about Japanese culture. But it's well documented and there are some surprising examples of graphical content that has been changed for the Japanese market, to wit:


(Image adapted from site at preceding link.)

Word came down to us this week that we needed to do a sweep of our images to find and fix any graphics that might cause a geopolitical concern. What this boiled down to was reviewing, one by one, several thousand images. I work with programming tools and frameworks, so this seemed not only to be a tedious job, but sort of a pointless one. I mean, this is the sort of thing we have thousands of examples of:


And yet — saw this one coming, didn't you? — I actually found a couple of possible offenders. Here's one:

You might wonder how we'd end up with an image like this in programmer documentation, right? It's part of a topic that shows how to crop and scale images programmatically.[2] This topic is old (based on old versions, at least 8 years), so there's no telling where the image came from. There's a chance that the image was at one time part of a gallery of approved clipart that we're allowed to use in the documentation. (If so, it better be expunged from there by now.) A less preferable explanation is that the writer found the image on his or her own; this would be a great example of why doing that is not a good idea.

It just goes to show:
  • It's virtually impossible, based on just personal experience, to judge what might or might not be appropriate in other cultures.

  • It's helpful to have guidelines (teams! tools!) that alert you to issues like these so that you can avoid doing what we had to do, namely going through after the fact and fixing your documentation. (This was a big fail on our part, even and in spite of having people to help with it.)

  • Always and only use pre-approved imagery in your documentation.

  • As with any documentation (or code or project), it's always less time-consuming to catch and fix problems as early as possible in the pipeline.

[1] I don't know why we're only now finding out about this now, tho.

[2] Presumably in a short while, the topic will no longer contain that image, which is why I'm showing it here.