Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Seeing the World in Symbols: Icons and the Evolving Language of Digital Wayfinding

Communicating with icons ...

"Of all the objects that occupy our digital spaces, there are none that capture the imagination so much as icons. As symbols, icons can communicate powerfully, be delightful, add to the aesthetic value of software, engage people’s curiosity and playfulness, and encourage experimentation. These symbols are key components of a graphic user interface—mediators between our thoughts and actions, our intentions and accomplishments.

In conjunction with information architecture, icons guide virtual wayfinding and help users to perform specific tasks efficiently. While the term wayfinding typically refers to orienting people in physical space—using graphics, text, signs, and other design elements—it’s useful to examine the use of icons through the lens of digital wayfinding, as a way of generating a fresh perspective on how users perceive and interact with their virtual spaces.

In Steve Caplin’s book Icon Design, Susan Kare, the artist who created the icons for the original Mac desktop and applications said:

“In general, I believe that icons should work a bit like traffic signs; they should convey information without distracting the user, without competing with the data in an application. Ideally, they should suggest something about the functionality. If it is not completely evident, then the function should be easy to remember if the user is told only once.”

The Challenge of Constructing a Universal Language

The concept of a universal symbolic language—a visual vocabulary that anyone from any culture, any country, and any walk of life can understand—is of the utmost importance when it comes to wayfinding in physical spaces, especially in environments that play host to people from around the world."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]

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