And You Know Man

Our new standard is to feel the soul of music, embrace the whims of fashion, and imagine the realm of cosmetics.

So says a postcard sent to us from Japan. The postcard promoted a Web site called – get this – That’s Et Tu Sais Homme dot network dot Japan. “And you know Man.”

The postcard featured a full-on Wallpaper-inspired photograph of Dead Ringers–reminiscent backlit blue translucent body-care products (scissors, tweezers, and ampules containing a myriad overpriced water solutions), so we surfed on over. Most of the thing is in Japanese (surprise!), but take a look at the WebShop page:

[Close-up of EtTuSaisHomme popup menu]D.

They show a stylized (again, Wallpaper-style) map of the “store,” errantly corresponding RL floorplans with cybershopping. Departments – Advice Desk, Back Yard, Library, etc. – carry English legends (in the house font, Avenir). Mouse over them, and voilà: They’re turning Japanese. (Katakana only: shiookeesu, not the true Japanese word for “showcase.”) Underneath is a sentence in correct Japanese describing what you’ll find there. It’s all surrounded by a heavy-dashed-ruled ice-blue comic-strip word balloon. It’s gorgeous.

At page bottom are graphical representations of text links (i.e., not ASCII text but pictures of ASCII text – bitmaps) of the same departments. Mouse over them and you get the katakana again.

We like this approach. EtTuSaisHomme gets to profit from the prestige value of English (or English-like phrases: We used to own a sweatshirt emblazoned with ”Wildlife Port en Ouest de Moose”) while providing accessibility for Japanese-speakers if they need it and/or if they work a little or do a bit of experimenting.

Finally, the approach is internally consistent with Japanese. There’s a tradition in the writing system of furigana – hiragana placed above or below a kanji whose pronunciation you are unlikely to know. Another term for furigana is ruby. (Hiragana are syllabics. Everyone who reads Japanese can read hiragana. So if you encounter a kanji with furigana, you will at least know how to pronounce it.) These features of the Japanese orthography are evoked by mouseovers of this type.

We were just wondering if this kind of mouseover – maybe with flyout menus – could solve the problem of an interface to multilingual content at a site. Maybe an Info button (lowercase white i on a green ground) that, when moused over, turns into menus declaring Français, Deutsch, Português and the like. Perhaps that base graphic could be an animated GIF (yes, there may be a use for animated GIFs!) rotating text like FR DE PT.

Posted on 2000-04-26