McDonald’s and ENLASO Corporation, a provider of translation and localization solutions, have released a ground breaking case study on how icons, designed to represent nutritional information, were culturally evaluated for worldwide use. McDonald’s decided to take its Nutritional Initiative to all of its markets by visually representing nutritional information on food packaging globally. The main challenge was developing icons or images that would work, with or without language, in over 109 locales. This case study covers how ENLASO’s linguistic iconographers determined which images would work in all regions without offending local cultural sensitivities. McDonald’s is making the final nutritional icons freely available to the food and restaurant industries worldwide, hoping to help set a standard for visually conveying nutritional information.

“We have essentially created a new visual language of nutrition,” commented Bridget Coffing, Vice President of Corporate Communications for McDonald’s. “At the beginning of the project we discovered that there were no ‘language free’ nutrient visuals that could be copied or modified.” Achieving self-evident images was also a critical goal. “Some countries served by McDonald’s encompass up to ten languages,” she continues, “so it was essential that the images work with or without text.” McDonald’s had to determine whether an international audience could understand the images without accompanying text.

After an extensive search for a linguistic partner, McDonald’s chose ENLASO. “This project was virtually without precedent due to its scope and ‘language-free’ nature,” states Yves Lang, ENLASO’s Chief Sales Officer and Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “The case study reveals McDonald’s intense commitment to reaching all of their consumers worldwide; even Fiji, Malta and Slovakia were tested.” Over a dozen icons were evaluated against eight criteria in 109 locales, and over 13,000 comments had to be evaluated. The image-dependent, highly subjective feedback from iconographers required the data to be manually distilled. The case study covers these project management challenges and their solutions.

Feedback from iconographers was often surprising and sometimes even amusing. An image of a bone to represent calcium was rejected due to its regional association with dogs, while a simple abstract image of a four-leaved plant, symbolizing fiber, was interpreted as everything from a Christmas tree to Marijuana!

Case study author, Maxwell Hoffmann, was impressed by the synergy between McDonald’s and ENLASO. “All of the McDonald’s and ENLASO staff I interviewed were enthusiastically committed to a single goal: to educate customers globally on nutrition in a totally visual way.” The nutritional icons will prove their worth on a broad playing field: McDonald’s serves over 50 million people a day worldwide.

McDonald’s began rolling out the new icons on packaging in several worldwide markets last year, including the USA. The next time you order a Big Mac, take a look at the bottom of the carton and notice the new icons for Calories, Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates and Sodium. This free case study, with rejected and accepted versions of the icons, can be downloaded from ENLASO’s Web site,

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