Friday, April 15, 2016

Point and Nod: The Universal Language Communicator That Won't Work

Last night I stumbled on this product: Traveller T-Shirt With 40 Icons Lets You Communicate In Any Country Even If You Don’t Speak Its Language. Here's what it looks like:

As cool an idea as this may seem, I can tell you, it absolutely will not work. I've done enough traveling to know that overseas one or two words, followed by gestures, will get you almost nowhere. Pointing to a cruise ship may mean: I've lost my cruise ship, I'd like to take a cruise, where can I buy a boat for my kid and about a zillion other things. You know exactly what you mean. The individual you're grunting towards has no context, little shared experience and no idea what you're talking about. Don't panic though; think of it as an opportunity to manufacture serendipity.

Consider this incident while we were traveling in Panama:

We were staying an an upscale hotel and for breakfast I wanted to order the pancakes minus any side orders of meat. Mind you, I wasn't even sure it came with meat. So I pointed to the pancakes, and clearly and repeatedly stated: No Carne. No meat. The waiter smiled and nodded. When he returned I found that he had mistaken my no meat for extra meat. Instead of getting pancakes and possibly a side of bacon, I got myself pancakes, and extra bacon *and* extra sausage. It was classic.

So these cheat sheets don't work. But they're a sweet idea, right? So I give you my digital version: Point & Nod. Calling this an app is vastly overselling it. All I did was spool out all the icons from Font Awesome and added a tiny bit of JavaScript so that you can highlight them with a click. It's actually pretty fun. Here's a few screenshots from my mobile phone. Here's how you might refer to a bicycle:

And here's a taxi one:

And how about asking if they take Visa? I've got you covered there, too:

And what about: Where did I leave my Space Shuttle? No problemo:

What I really need to do is allow you to select multiple icons to form a sort of visual sentence. Maybe I'll get there. For now though, it's oddly satisfying to play with, so give it a try. Maybe I should randomize the icons and use this as the start of a digital version of Story Cubes? So many possibilities.

Feel free to grab the source code for this bad boy here and make improvements upon it.

Happy Travels! Enjoy the extra bacon!