[thelist] aliteracy and icons

rudy r937 at interlog.com
Mon May 21 15:41:25 CDT 2001

today's eLabsReport ("an eNewsletter from Ziff Davis") contains a column by
one Peter Coffee entitled App Design Demands Simple Communication, in which
the same Washington Post article is cited that was mentioned in ben's
recent evolt article --

  In a Hurry: Choosing Not To Read

i was going to post this as a comment to ben's article, but ya know, i'm
gonna grab about half of the eLabsReport column, and i'm not sure i want to
go through this long explanation there, so instead, and to compensate for
the content ripoff, i'll just add a link for anybody interested in getting
a ZD enewsletter to go to --

anyhow, the part that caught my eye about aliteracy was this --

   In Neal Stephenson's futuristic novel, "The Diamond Age,"
   a little girl only knows how to "read" animated icons.
   When her older brother refers to something by the initials
   of its full name, she's confused, but he explains that the
   shorter name comes from the way that the long name looks
   in letters.

   She asks, "What are letters?" Her brother explains: "Kinda
   like mediaglyphics except they're all black, and they're tiny,
   they don't move, they're old and boring and really hard to read.
   But you can use 'em to make short words for long words."
   Stephenson offers some far-reaching visions in this book,
   which is set in a time of ubiquitous nanotechnology, but his
   prediction of the disappearance of literacy (borne out by the
   research I've mentioned above) is perhaps the most troubling.

   And we can't just say, "Well, we'll do it with icons." For one
   thing, icons can be at least as ambiguous as words. In one famous
   example, the broken-glass icon that marks fragile objects'
   packaging was misinterpreted by freight handlers as meaning
   "damaged goods." They treated the boxes accordingly.

   Furthermore, the lack of interest in learning things spreads up
   the chain from one medium to another. A survey in the United
   Kingdom found that 95 percent of consumers did not understand
   the laboriously designed clothing-care symbols that have been
   devised for labels there to avoid the need for wordy instructions.

this calls to mind the ubiquitous house icon for the "home" page (as if we
all live in houses, eh?), or the hammer & wrench icon for "services" which
i always see  as meaning "if this site looks broken, go here to fix it"


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