2021 Best of Show Award: Found in Translation

Read Time: 3 minutes

On the evening of Day 2 of the 2021 SEGD Conference Experience Philadelphia, Richard The (Studio TheGreenEyl) accepted the SEGD Best of Show Award for “Found in Translation.”

Found in Translation immerses museum visitors within the world of automated language translation. This interactive installation is part of the larger exhibition “Translations: Understanding Misunderstanding” curated by Tokyo’s design museum, 21_21 Design Sight, and uses the power of the spoken word and written language to engage visitors in translation.

The larger exhibition is based on the idea that “translation is designing communication.” Our visual and auditory senses—and even our bodily expressions—act as bridges to transmit and receive communications. As such, translations generated by all these processes “can have much in common with art and design” according to the exhibition’s curators.

The designers of the Found in Translation interactive were challenged with how to present the “magic” of automated translation using the data sets from many different languages—and how to do this in a fun, informative, and engaging way for museum visitors.

Stepping into the gallery, visitors encounter a dark space featuring a spotlit pedestal at its center. Surrounding the pedestal are 24 screen panels of different sizes and positioned at differing heights. As visitors approach the pedestal, a voice asks a question, which visitors can answer by speaking into a microphone. “Hearing” the responses, the installation’s software (Google Translate) translates the answers into 24 languages, almost instantaneously. The central screen displays a visualization of the entire data set while others display language-specific translations.

The result is a theatrical experience placing visitors at the center of the translation process. Swirling lines of bright colors, moving across all screens, suggest the act of translating. The screens present the written translations in a variety of typefaces, scripts and vibrant colors. Simultaneously, audio speakers broadcast the translations in a diversity of voices.

The designers’ visualizations of data sets show how the “multilingual machine learning model” clusters words from different languages by semantic similarity. Word by word and sentence by sentence, it becomes apparent which words from which languages are clustered together. The designers conveyed this in a couple of different ways. First, the colors of the fonts express the language family that each language belongs to. Second, the size of each screen is directly proportional to the number of people who speak a particular language around the world.

The end result: Found in Translation not only amazes visitors with its visual and auditory design elements, but also sparks their curiosity to learn more about the world’s languages and the different peoples who speak them.

Juror Comments:

“This simple yet powerful audio-visual experience immerses the visitor in an awe-inspiring universe of typography, sweeping curves, and spoken language. The entire exhibit is fully personalized to the visitor, shifting and animating to visualize the words spoken in response to a question. Through sophisticated and visually mesmerizing scientific diagrams on angled planes of various sizes, visitors discover commonalities among languages and cultures.”

“This room is a fantastic expression of one of my favorite goals of interactive experiences — to give people superpowers. Say anything, and the space responds to you in every language. You are in the heart of the universal translator. Even more importantly, you can see how the machine translation is happening in real time. A.I., deep learning, and high dimensional neural networks are incredibly unintuitive and their workings opaque. By visualizing how the algorithm arrives at each of its translations, the visitor can build an understanding of how the overall system works. The overall effect is both empowering and awe-inspiring at the same time.”

Design Team

Richard The (creative direction, concept, visual design)
Frédéric Eyl (concept)
Andreas Schmelas (software design)
Marian Mentrup (sound design)
Pam Anantrungoj (spatial design),
Calen Chung (visual design)


Google Creative Lab

Dominick Chen

Maco Film, Luftzug

Photo Credits

Taiyo Watanabe (photographer)

Project Date

October 2020