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What graphic/icon will look wrong when mirrored?
January 23, 2013 2:02 PM   Subscribe

We need to identify the front face of a transparent glass calibration target. If the target is held wrong-way to the camera, it won't work, so we need to make it obvious to the user when it's backwards. We can certainly just write "FRONT" on it, but it's going to a lot of different countries - is there a strictly graphical way to indicate this? An icon or graphic that looks wrong when viewed from behind and therefore reversed left to right?

The target is chrome deposited on glass except for a grid of transparent holes; we backlight it and image it so the holes are white and the rest black. There are some marker dots that make orientation important, and it's not obvious which side the chrome is on, so we need to indicate it. This needs to be done all in the clear vs. opaque design - we can't deposit anything on top of the glass on either side.

We probably will put FRONT on it but if there's something additional that would be a nice touch. The only thing I can think of so far is a stylized globe with continents, but we probably only have 1/2" or so, so that would be a bit small. A symbol (like "&") would be okay too if it was universal.
posted by ftm to Media & Arts (35 answers total)
A number, like 2? People from virtually all countries are familiar with Arabic numerals.
posted by brainmouse at 2:06 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

MRIs use an "L" on the lower left side to orient them. You might use the same sort of strategies that X-ray films use, which aren't coming up for me on the Google machine at the moment, but have the same sorts of constraints.

I like the globe idea.
posted by supercres at 2:09 PM on January 23, 2013

How badly off is your calibration if you have the wrong side facing the camera? Could you have the camera detect that it's looking at the wrong side and prompt the user to turn it around?

If a typical calibration adjustment is 1% and looking at the wrong side of glass causes a 5% error then just asked the user to double check things if the error is between 4% and 6%.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:10 PM on January 23, 2013

How about a small illustration of a person, hands clasped in front or arms folded? The presence of arms and a face will indicated front. Draw the same figure on the other side, but looking from behind - there will be no face and no arms, so someone who looks at it from both sides will be able to see which way it should go.
posted by trivia genius at 2:11 PM on January 23, 2013

How thick is the glass? Could you put an arrow and camera icon on the edge?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:11 PM on January 23, 2013

Oh! Are these people who would be familiar with math? How about a summation/capital sigma?

I think the "@" symbol is also pretty universal because of e-mail, but a bit harder to make out if it's small.
posted by supercres at 2:12 PM on January 23, 2013

Draw the same figure on the other side

Unless I'm mistaken, there is no "other side"-- this orientation illustration will be visible exactly the same on both sides, except reversed. Like a glass etching or something.

Of course, if I'm wrong, the simplest thing would be a big "X" on the wrong side and a checkmark on the other.
posted by supercres at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2013

My problem with any sort of symbol is what does it mean? How does the user make the connection between the symbol and the idea that it matters what side is facing the camera?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:19 PM on January 23, 2013

I like the number idea but think 1234 would be more obvious then just 2 on its own. Even better if each one has a serial number or something to put in there, then they can match it up with the number on the packaging even if they don't read roman numerals per se.
posted by shelleycat at 2:20 PM on January 23, 2013

An arrow or a hand pointing to the viewer's right. That will be the correct side of the target.
If the arrow or hand is pointing left, it is the wrong side of the target.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:38 PM on January 23, 2013

A picture of a globe or other recognizable map. (After posting, just noticed you said that already. Sorry)
posted by kidbritish at 2:39 PM on January 23, 2013

I think you need something that 1. exhibits chirality, 2. only exists with one chirality/handedness (so hands are out, because there are left hands and there are right hands), and 3. is universally recognized as being chiral (even if people don't know what that means).

Political borders & geographic features are about all I can come up with. As far as I know all corkscrews need to be turned clockwise, but I think that would be way too subtle.
posted by jjwiseman at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2013

I suppose the fact that the human heart is located slightly to the left is too subtle and not widely enough known.
posted by jjwiseman at 2:52 PM on January 23, 2013

A simple logo known worldwide, like LEGO or Coca-Cola would work.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:54 PM on January 23, 2013

A question mark? Maybe with some letters in front, like OK?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:56 PM on January 23, 2013

Hmm...this is tricky. Most living things we see in nature rely on a symmetrical axis, and won't appear "wrong" when reversed. For something to look wrong or right, it seems like a lot of the time it's a culturally constructed idea, like letters or a logo.

The globe/continent idea makes some sense; what country is your item being manufactured in? If it's a recognizable shape, maybe go with that.

Who is manufacturing this item? Even if someone can't understand the language that the company logo is in, they may understand the basic icon followed by text convention, and will be able to tell if it's been reversed.
posted by redsparkler at 3:12 PM on January 23, 2013

I'd suggest in the upper right corner, a symbol like "> > > R", and in the upper left corner, a symbol like "L". The trick is to remember that the "> > >" goes on the right side, when looked at through the camera. It's easy to recognize when it's inverted even for non-English speakers, as long as you can remember which way is supposed to be correct.

You'll probably have to include some kind of instructional leaflet as even something like 'FRONT' could be ambiguous.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:13 PM on January 23, 2013

Is there any asymmetry to the camera or whatever rig the calibration target gets attached to, or could you add some little notch or marking on one side of the apparatus? Then the icon/diagram could just show the correct orientation of the notch.
posted by contraption at 3:18 PM on January 23, 2013

A clock, with 12, 3, 6 & 9 shown.
posted by uncaken at 3:36 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

My contact lenses have "123" lasered near the edge on one of the sides, so that you can tell which way is which (although in that case it never really helped me much, since it's unclear to me from the packaging which direction they're supposed to be read from).

Are you also in control of whatever the target is mounted on? If so, you could put a placement dot about 2/3 down one of the sides on both the target and the mount.
posted by ckape at 3:51 PM on January 23, 2013

I think a short number sequence is your best bet, but this is a very fun question to ponder.

Symbols: $, %, @, &, ?, the male sign/Mars...

Maybe something showing a sequence that's always shown R to L? Like the evolution of man from the apes image?

The US flag or other asymmetric flags - though this might not be a great idea if you want maximum internationalism.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:11 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A symbol (like "&") would be okay too if it was universal.

If anything is universally understood in this world, I'll bet it's money.

Of the world's four major currency symbols ($, £, €, ¥), only the symbol for Japanese/Chinese currency is laterally (left/right) symmetric.

Plant a few asymmetric currency symbols on corners of your glass. The mirror/"wrong" side becomes clear.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:16 PM on January 23, 2013

As an added benefit, if the glass needs correct radial orientation (as well as front/back) mixing a few currency symbols makes the "base" orientation of the glass obvious. You'd probably want to use multiple symbols, in that case, as a 180-degree-rotated dollar symbol and a mirrored-180-degree-rotated Euro symbol look invariant. The British pound symbol seems pretty resilient to rotation and mirror transformations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:30 PM on January 23, 2013

how about the name of the company; that will show when the glass is backwards, and look like it belongs there as well.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:09 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think shelleycat's got it. Arabic numerals are nearly universal, and using a sequence of them, rather than a single number, makes the meaning completely obvious.

The main exceptions I can think of are languages that use Arabic script, which use the (earlier) Arabic version of Arabic numerals instead of the Western variant that been widely adopted elsewhere. 1234 in Arabic script is ۱۲۳۴. Farsi uses a different version of ۴ (4), so you might go with 1234 ۰۱۲۳. This is 1234 followed by 0123 in the Arabic-script version of Arabic numerals. The Arabic ۰ symbol for zero will probably be read as a separator character by people who don't recognize the Arabic symbols, so this will be "1234 [dot] some symbols".

(Indic scripts also have their own versions of Arabic numerals, but the Western version is also widely used in India, so I think you can ignore this.)
posted by nangar at 7:07 PM on January 23, 2013

Does your organization happen to have a non-symmetric logo? (If so, presumably it could also be printed on the other equipment or packaging, to aid in familiarity.)
posted by nobody at 9:18 PM on January 23, 2013

1234 or a clock with 12, 3, 6, 9.

The globe is not a clear-enough signifier at a quick glance because the shape of continents are distorted differently depending on how the image of the globe is rendered and the "centerpoint" is by no means standard. It'll just look weird, not obviously-backward.
posted by desuetude at 9:56 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

the year?
posted by at at 10:44 PM on January 23, 2013

Are you also in control of whatever the target is mounted on? If so, you could put a placement dot about 2/3 down one of the sides on both the target and the mount.

This is actually a great suggestion. You could have a little filled triangle arrow head in one place on the side and a matching one on the glass, so that they only point to each other if the glass is put in correctly. It just kind of feels right to line them up.

Adding Arabic numerals in there is also a great idea. Even though I've never seen them before I can tell they get larger as you go across, so it makes sense that they should lie in that direction. It gives extra confirmation of what's going on even for me.

I'd find any country outline or continents or whatever really difficult and confusing to figure out. I'm not even sure if I'd get it right if you used New Zealand, my own country and clearly not symmetrical (it leans to one side), because I suck at left and right and spatial orientation that bad. Lots of us just don't really look at the world map and think about what order everything is in, and the actual globe is round and symmetrical.

But I've had to orient glass microarray slides correctly, which was done easily by the serial numbers, and I have the 123 on my contact lenses thing which works, and my Western blot gels get lined up by a little notch in the corner which is similar to the arrowhead solution I mentioned above. They all work great.
posted by shelleycat at 1:14 AM on January 24, 2013

Also, I was thinking about the FRONT idea. If I get this right, whatever you put on there will be visible from both sides right? Because it's see through where you write so either you see it correctly or the wrong way round, but you can't make something that's only seen from one side.

Because in that case I'd totally be caught out by the word FRONT. Since I can also see it from the back I'd totally pick the thing up the wrong way around, see the word backwards and think "oh this is the front" then put it in and wonder why it's not working correctly. Because I can see and read the word pretty well either way. Even with the camera on and seeing the word show up backwards on my image I don't know if that one word will really tell me what's going on. I don't care which side is the front really, I just care if everything lines up correctly. Since you're using English already why not be more direct? Put on something like Correct, Right Way Around?, Are these letters going forwards? or even just ABCDE, so then I'm thinking about the orientation of the words instead of which side of the glass is whatever. Add in your numbers and/or your targeting dots and even I'd get it right.

I realise this seems kind of silly and many people won't be as dumb as me. But I really suck at spatial orientation, so do lots of people I work with, and I am a PhD qualified scientist so already used to working with fiddly things that need to go a certain way. So I'm thinking about what would happen based on my experience (and seeing others work with similar equipment) rather than just spit-balling. I figure if you're going to use English might as well make it as informative as possible, otherwise just go for your symbols and avoid any chance of confusion.
posted by shelleycat at 1:31 AM on January 24, 2013

ftm, I made a serious mistake in my answer above where I mentioned the possibility of using both the Western / international version of Arabic numerals and the Arabic / Middle Eastern version: I listed the Arabic script numerals in descending rather than ascending order.

Numbers written in Arabic numerals are written and read the same way regardless of the orientation of the script, so ۱۲۳ , read as a number, represents a hundred and twenty three (just like 123), but read as a sequence of numbers, ۱ ۲ ۳ is three, two, one, following the normal reading order of Arabic script (see here for instance). So combining the two variants of the numerals and preserving their normal ascending sequence in the scripts that use them you would have ۳۲۱۰1234 . This is 0123 (Arabic) and 1234 (Western) in the normal order for both, with zero in the center.

Sorry for screwing this up! That was a nasty mistake to given the nature of your question.
posted by nangar at 4:18 AM on January 24, 2013

Combining this with Blazecock's suggestion you you could have something like:
          £  €

posted by nangar at 4:37 AM on January 24, 2013

Sorry for screwing this up! That was a nasty mistake to given the nature of your question.
It's too late for apologies, I've already charged back my credit card and written a scathing Yelp review!

All our users will be engineers and fairly tech savvy, so I like the @ idea and the evolution of man idea and the numerals. Currency is a good one too! I think in the end we'll add some numbers (a serial number) and our logo (which is just our name in a certain font); the logo is all over everything else so it should be easy to reference. In truth, a Coke logo is probably the most recognized symbol in the world, but it sure would look odd on our grid!

I'll keep an eye on this in case anyone comes up with anything else clever but thanks for all the great ideas!
posted by ftm at 1:45 PM on January 24, 2013

Oh, and this isn't really going to be mounted in much of anything, else those ideas would be perfect - it may be helpful in the future!
posted by ftm at 1:48 PM on January 24, 2013

I think the logo is a great idea since all your customers will have looked at it somewhere along the way regardless of their language. It sounds like you'll have a pretty robust system.
posted by shelleycat at 2:11 PM on January 24, 2013

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