Not all translation depends on words, as is made clear by a New York Times obit for graphic designer and artist Rajie Cook.
In 1974, Cook’s design firm was hired by the US Department of Transportation as it prepared for what was assumed would be an influx of foreign visitors around the time of the 1976 bicentennial. Cook’s charge was to create symbols that could efficiently convey to people who didn’t speak English key information — for instance, where are the bathrooms, which gender do they serve, where’s the elevator, or the train or bus stop.
The firm came up with 34 pictographs, still in use today. Cook’s analysis of that work contains a lesson that remains relevant to anyone trying to communicate across cultural spans: “We held firm to the principle that design communicates to its maximum efficiency without frills, contrivances and other extraneous material.”