- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 6, 2002

Alan Stillman has created his own word-free language. With the use of hand-drawn, simple pictures, Mr. Stillman has formed an easy-to-use visual guide for international communication. Users point to each image as a quick reference to what they are trying to say.
The Kwikpoint International Translator, which has more than 600 universally recognizable symbols, is being customized for such clients as the U.S. military and the Olive Garden restaurant chain.
"Most people only speak one or two languages," said Mr. Stillman, president of Alexandria-based GAIA Communications, which publishes Kwikpoint. "This is a fundamental set of pictures to break down barriers."
The guides use symbols representing police, firefighters, telephone and currency, as well as hundreds of specific items and activities such as a can of soda, a bottle of wine, batteries, dancing, gambling and boating.
The translator could be a lifesaver in war zones where different languages are spoken.
Mr. Stillman is working on a customized translator for the U.S. military that allows personnel to communicate quickly without interpreters or cumbersome dictionaries. The military has placed an initial order of 1,000 copies that will include 150 to 250 military-related images representing guns, tanks, aircraft, suicide bombers, uniforms, caves and tunnels, as well as other icons for basic communication.
The goal is to help the service members identify weapons to safeguard themselves. Pointing to a picture of a minefield could "save a whole platoon's life," Mr. Stillman said.
The guides also could help identify fugitives like Osama bin Laden, with detailed charts about complexion, facial hair, eye color, age and measurements.
For the hospitality industry, Mr. Stillman is creating a guide that is likely to be installed in the Olive Garden's 500 or so restaurants throughout the country in the next couple of months. The guides will include images relevant to the restaurant's Italian cuisine, from salads to squid, and the degree to which meat should be cooked.
"We're committed as a company to serving the customer," said Carrie Barner, director of brand marketing at the restaurant chain. "This tool will allow us to do that. It will not allow language barriers to get in the way of delivering a great experience."
GAIA has been serving corporate clients since the mid-1990s. Dozens of companies such as AT&T;, Visa, MasterCard, Exxon Mobil and AAA have added their logos to the basic Kwikpoint product and have offered it to customers and preferred members.
The military, however, has been Mr. Stillman's biggest client. He initially created a Kwikpoint guide for the U.S. Navy around 1994 that was distributed to 28 bases overseas for personnel and their spouses to communicate more efficiently.
The idea for Kwikpoint originated after Mr. Stillman returned from a 2-year bicycle trip to 28 countries places where he had trouble communicating and had to carry different translation dictionaries.
"I thought: What's the least amount of information you need to communicate?" Mr. Stillman said. The images "have to be as comprehensible as possible. They have to be simple and clear."
About 1 million Kwikpoint guides, with different formats, are in circulation. Costs vary from $4 to $10 depending on size. Clients who buy in bulk receive discounted rates.
Last year, companies such as AT&T;, United, Avis and National Geographic paid for advertising space in the 30-page pocket-sized Kwikpoint Global Guides that were distributed throughout the European rail system.
The initial test run of 100,000 copies was successful, but the September 11 terrorist attacks put plans for the second edition on hold as companies cut back on ad budgets and international travel declined, Mr. Stillman said.
However, the company isn't slowing down, and sales are up this quarter by 40 percent compared with the same time last year. Mr. Stillman is hoping for a government order that would put Kwikpoint guides in the hands of all active military personnel.
In the meantime, he is looking for more business and has submitted a proposal to the Transportation Security Administration for an airport-security card, which would show international travelers clearly which items are prohibited from planes and perhaps avert crises caused by miscommunication.

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