9 Hand Gestures That Could Send the Wrong Message

Hand gestures are a non-vocal language, that can communicate positively or negatively, each with its own tone and intention. Depending on your nationality, religious domination, spiritual affiliation, and age, gestures can translate into contrasting definitions. The contrast grows even stronger when you're in a small sub-culture or an athletic team, gang, secret society, profession or other group who use hand gestures to communicate unity to others in your tribe.

One of the earliest forms of American Sign Language dates back to the Plain Indians, who used their hands to communicate with Europeans. Now as a refined language, hand gestures help the hearing impaired, and is used as a supplement to individuals with reading or learning disabilities. Gangs have used hand signals to identify themselves as members. Hitler used a hand gesture to address his Nazi party. Ancient Greek artifacts show hand shaking to communicate non-aggression. Roman Emperors would use hand gestures to communicate at large public events where their voice wouldn't carry, and Romans even incorporated hand gestures in their art to instill values and inform people. 

Gestures Depend 100% on Your Audience

Communicating information to your audience who speaks the same language as you is a challenge. Crossing a language barrier to customers outside of your native tongue, becomes daunting. But there is an opportunity to communicate with your customers non-verbally. Hand gestures are a powerful visual to use, but you do need to be aware that not every hand gesture has the same meaning across the globe, cultures or communities.

Hand gestures are nothing new. They have been used in ancient art, religion, advertising, signage, way-finding and propaganda. As work becomes globalized, and outsourcing and offshore services expand, illustrated and animated hand gestures are something to consider more often in telling your story. 92% of internet users use Emojis to communicate. Emojis are on the rise, they have a purpose and they aren't going anywhere. Here's a great article from Appboy to explain better than I can: https://blog.appboy.com/emojis-used-in-777-more-campaigns/

Emojis are more commonly found in personal messages, but business brands are using them more and more. As attaining and holding your customers attention becomes more difficult, using hand gestures as a tool to communicate helps simplify your message and interact with your customers in a personal way. If your customers are millennials, they've grown up in a world where using Emojis is natural. 

Online, hand gestures are commonly used, and the thumbs up to like a post on Facebook is clicked almost 3 billion times a day. As a designer, I illustrate icons to support text and as we communicate with customers around the globe on instant platforms such as Skype or with visuals, using hand gestures is a way to clarify your words in-case there's a muddy translation.

Once you post an infographic or educational marketing visual online, you have zero control on where it travels. An okay sign or thumbs up to your American audience might present your narrative in a different tone elsewhere. Hand gestures are a visual language, but not universal. In America, the difference between the peace sign and telling some to F-off is only one less finger, and turn of hand. Or unless you're down-under then your peace sign actually means the middle finger.

Below is 9 common hand gestures in the modern USA, that mean something else in history, sub-cultures and other parts of the world.

Chris Brock