Thursday, July 22, 2010

Defining Dimensions in a Worldwide Marketplace

It's been a while since I've done an informational post, but this week a situation came up that necessitated my doing a little research into the standards of defining dimensions (those things that tell you the length, width or depth of something) across the world and across different industries. You may want to grab a couple of aspirins for that headache you're about to get!

The situation that came up this week was when someone who was interested in placing an ad on my blog (who also happens to live in Europe) responded to my request for an ad graphic that measured 175px x 145px. I was expecting a graphic that was oriented like this -
but what I received was oriented like this!

And I thought, "Huh... I wonder if I asked for it the wrong way," especially since the person who sent the file knows a thing or two about graphics. So, as I usually do when I'm confused or unsure, I went on a journey searching for the truth which I knew was out there (X-files music playing in the background... click here for sound in case your imagination's not as good as mine!)

Turns out that, like many other things, the method for noting linear dimensions is not the same the world over. In fact, it even varies from industry to industry within the US! Let's see how much I can confuse you now. Remember those 3x5 index cards that you put notes on when you were in grade school for a speech in front of the class? And those 4x6 photo prints that are a popular size for processed film? They both commonly have landscape orientation (like the first photo above). So, in the notation for the linear dimensions of that 3x5 index card and 4 x6 photo it goes length x width, right? Cool, so what's the problem, you're thinking... when you're describing something 2 dimensional, the first number is the length and the second number is the width.

Off you head to Michael's to get your 50% off (it's special pricing you know) custom frame for that 4x6 photo. You place your order with the brand new customer service person in the frame department (aren't you lucky?!? It's their very first custom frame order EVER!) and a few days later you go back in to pick up your frame and bring it home only to find that wonderful little hanger doohickey was mounted on the short side... so that beautiful photo of your hubby, which should hang proudly on the wall like this

actually hangs like this!

(Husband goes, "Bah!!!")

So, you pull out your copy of your custom order specifications and there it is... you asked for a 4x6 frame. Before you dial up the manager of the store to complain, it might surprise you to learn that the order should have been for a 6x4 frame, because the rules of the US paper/print industry say that notations for anything printable reflect width x length - or must specify landscape or portrait to differentiate between the two! (Whew, I was only following my native guidelines when I asked for those dimensions for that ad graphic after all!) For all other circumstances the common US notations reflect length x width in most industries. Think about that piece of notebook paper to visualize this easier - it's 8 1/2" x 11" (or width x length - portrait orientation) vs that 8x9" (landscape orientation) mouse pad sitting next to your PC.

Not surprisingly the rest of the world keeps it simple! Just as we learned in grade school, it's a good rule of thumb to remember that, in the worldwide marketplace, dimensions are expressed as length (height) x width (x depth, if applicable.) This is really important to know when you're listing an item, especially in online sales since photos don't always reflect accurate dimensions. The easiest solution is to simply add the (l/h) (w) (d) notations to your descriptions so there can't be any confusion!

For those of you who want to be really on top of things when selling to a worldwide audience, don't forget to add in the alternate metric based measurements too and vice versa! As an example, while the jewelry industry subscribes to the metric system, most Americans won't know that a 25mm pendant is roughly 1 inch in diameter or about the size of a quarter. On the flip side, someone in France or Australia may not have any idea how big a US quarter is, so placing one in your photo won't be much help to them, and neither will be that ruler with just inches marked on it. Maybe someday we'll join the rest of the world and use the metric system, but until then, we all need to play nice together! In case you aren't a metric conversion wiz, here's a link to the website I use to do my conversions - makes my life much easier when I'm listing or shopping internationally!

Hope this made sense to you - if you have any questions, post them in comments and I'll be happy to address them for you!

Time for a couple more aspirin? [wink]

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