Pictograms (was: (TC304.2313) AND/OR: antediluvian views)

From: Otto Stolz (Otto.Stolz@uni-konstanz.de)
Date: Tue Jun 13 2000 - 22:35:04 EDT

Am 2000-06-13 um 09:28 h (GMT-0800) hat J. Schneider geschrieben:
> Pictograms are problematic because they are often culturally based.
> the icon looked like an analog clock, sort of. [...] my son
> didn't make the connection until I explained it to him.

What about the even more old-fashioned, hour-glass shaped icon seen so
often in the Windows GUI? I reckon, many users haven't seen a real hor-

A similar example from my country: the tickets on the icon used for the
ticket-counter in German railway stations look like the Stevenson-style
tickets sold before the computer terminals replaced the ticket-printing
machines, about two decades ago.

Other examples in this vein are the US-style mailboxes und dust bins
often found in computer GUIs (e. g. in MacOS, or on my old Atari).
In other cultures, these devices look quite different.

Some years ago, the steam-engine on the German "level crossing" traffic sign
was replaced with an electric one.

Another problem seen with pictograms: some alude to metaphors (or
even puns) particular to some language, or culture. E. g., I have seen
the notion of "frozen" expressed by an ice-cube.

> The use of pictograms has their place, but it does require the user to
> learn a new set of symbols with which to represent ideas.

It does also require careful deliberation on the designers part to avoid
all sorts of cultural bias. If this cannot be avoided, you will end up
with different pictograms for the various cultures -- and you are back
to square one, as you will have to present several pictograms for different
readers, side by side. And Alain will be offended by the pictogram
tuned to his own culture being placed fifth in the lot :-)

Best wishes,
   Otto Stolz

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