March 11, 2010

Modern Hieroglyphs

This article brought up several interesting points about the use and function of icons, while cleverly incorporating them into the actual text. This was pretty cool, since it only made the point of the article even stronger, showing how easy it is to substitute words with icons, but retaining the message.
Reduction and consistency are the basis of the Neurath's pictograms, and are important rules that all (successful) icons need to conform to. But while western culture finds Neurath's icons to be easily understood, they rely heavily on the viewers being educated on the icons beforehand and also rely on contrast with the icons they are placed with. The man icon can stand for many different things, not just the toilet, when placed next to a water fountain, or in an elevator, or sitting down.
My favorite part of this article was at the end, when icons from another culture were compared to their writing system, and then attempted to translate to a "western" meaning. The ideographs created for the Japanese airport might not seem as clear to a foreigner, but when explained, it is immediately understood as a car rental, or hotel information icon.
It also brings up the interesting point that just as much as we may try to convince ourselves that icons are always clear, they are not. It is the same for English and the Latin alphabet. For something that is prided for being so rational, there are so many irregularities that there's never one way of reading (or pronouncing) things! Very interesting food for thought.

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