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In the Eye of the Beholder: Know Your Audience


In South Africa in the early 1970s, most of the men who worked in the mines were illiterate. The miners, therefore, were given instructions and warnings in the form of symbols rather than words.

In an effort to enlist the miners’ help in keeping mine tracks clear of rock, the South African Chamber of Mines posted this pictorial message:

But the campaign failed miserably. More and more rocks blocked the tracks.

The reason was soon discovered. Miners were indeed reading the message, but from right to left. The obligingly dumped their rocks on the tracks.

I love this lesson. Are there things about your audience/customers that you’ve made assumptions about?

The illustration and story are found in the book “Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols” by Henry Dreyfuss (© 1972).

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