Found in Translation

Travis Hitchcock: Typography

Travis Hitchcock: Typography

Over the last two weeks I’ve fully transition to my new role as Prezi’s Head of International.  I’ve been in Budapest, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Venice, Soeul, and Tokyo.  I’ve met with Prezi customers, evangelists, Experts, PR agencies, journalists, industry leaders, resellers, and potential partners.  Certainly there are cultural variables that impact Prezi’s penetration in these various markets.  For example, in some markets:

1. Bottom-up (employee->employee->boss; student->student->teacher) word-of-mouth virality is king.  In others, traditional top-down (boss->employee; teacher -> student) adoption prevails.

2. Resellers remain a dominant force.  In others, SMBs buy most IT products and services via the Internet.

3. Presentation software is a basic educational tool from grade school on.  In others, university students rarely present in front of the classroom and when they do their presentation is meant to document their work—not as an opportunity to collaborate or share their ideas.

What has surprised me most were not these differences but rather the cross-cultural similarities.  Visual communication is a universal concept. From the Korean Hangul alphabet (characters do not only convey sounds but are visual representations of how the mouth forms the sounds), to Japanese anime and manga, to French obsession with fonts, to Italian hand-printed stationary, to the UK’s mastery of infographics (love Henry Beck’s original London tube map), to Germany’s precise signage.

People around the world like products that enable them to express themselves visually.  This is one reason the blackboard was so quickly adopted by global educational institutions during the industrial era, and the whiteboard has more recently achieved the same pace and level of adoption by businesses (over these last two weeks I sat in countless conference rooms and every one had a whiteboard). And why PowerPoint, introduced in 1984, has been embraced around the world.

Yet for all the advancements in digital communications, presentation software has been slow to evolve.  While cinematography and gaming have zoomed forward from rudimentary visualization to highly immersive experiences, presentation software stagnated after the introduction of PowerPoint.  The reason that people often criticize PowerPoint (e.g. Death by Powerpoint) is not because it is a bad product.  I personally believe Powerpoint and other slide-based presentation software are great tools, as I believe there are some great vintage movies and Pac-Man is a blast.  But the concept of a 2D, linear slide deck has limited the world of presentation software for far too long.

Over these past two weeks, many people I talked with stressed important cultural differences specific to their country’s market. But regardless of their language or locale, everyone was passionate about today’s new era of visual communications.

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