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Symbolic Confusion How poor symbol design and selection make everyday products hard to use
What do all of these symbols have in common?
They all mean stop— of one type or another ≅ Stop Fast Stop Emerg. Stop Spindle Stop Timed. Stop Stop Light Progr. Stop Pr...
1949 PROTOCOL ON ROAD SIGNS AND SIGNALS Symbol A.16 ➔ ➔ Equipment Stop
What do you think these mean?
They all mean “start” Go! Start Recording Equipment Start Programmable Start Engine Start Engine Start Engine, Manual Star...
Cancel is somewhat more consistent
Power On (power physically switched) Off (power physically switched) On/Off (toggle, physical disconnect) On (only while p...
Arrow shapes are a key grammatical element
Shapes and colors have meaning <ul><li>Vocabulary </li></ul><ul><li>Grammar </li></ul><ul><li>Syntax </li></ul><ul><li>Sem...
Symbol Design <ul><li>IEC 80416-1:2001 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Basic principles for graphical symbols for use on equipment -...
But appliance makers don’t usually read the standards, so… Open Door Step Forward 1 Frame Start + = Turn off part of machi...
Keyboard symbol standard Caps lock Num lock Compose charcter Backward erase Control Escape Home End Prev. page Next page A...
Actual keyboard symbols in use
Even Apple doesn’t get it right! IEC standard 60417 says this symbol is a “bell”, as in “doorbell”, but iPhone uses it for...
iPhone vs. ITU symbols
Previous/Next & Beginning/End Play next part and then stop Fast-Forward Step Forward one frame Goto start of the current m...
Must-Read List <ul><li>Symbol Sourcebook (Dreyfuss) </li></ul><ul><li>Symbol Signs (AIGA) </li></ul><ul><li>Graphical-Symb...
Symbol Standards Bodies <ul><li>IEC 60417—Graphical Symbols for Use on Equipment </li></ul><ul><li>ISO TC 145—Graphical Sy...
Key Takeaways <ul><li>Very few designers pay attention to standards and existing conventions </li></ul><ul><li>Designers m...
Contact Me <ul><li>Peter Sheerin </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>http:// PetesGuide.com / </li></ul><u...
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Symbolic Confusion

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Presentation originally given at San Francisco Pecha Kucha Vol 29. It demonstrates many of the problems and confusion caused by improper symbol design and use.

Published in: Technology, Business
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Symbolic Confusion

  1. 1. Symbolic Confusion How poor symbol design and selection make everyday products hard to use
  2. 2. What do all of these symbols have in common?
  3. 3. They all mean stop— of one type or another ≅ Stop Fast Stop Emerg. Stop Spindle Stop Timed. Stop Stop Light Progr. Stop Progr. Opt. Stop Media Stop Stop after last rinse Play next part then stop Push to start/ push to stop Stop Browser
  4. 4. 1949 PROTOCOL ON ROAD SIGNS AND SIGNALS Symbol A.16 ➔ ➔ Equipment Stop
  5. 5. What do you think these mean?
  6. 6. They all mean “start” Go! Start Recording Equipment Start Programmable Start Engine Start Engine Start Engine, Manual Start Equipment Fast Start Equipment Start, Test Run Starter Motor Start/ Crank Start of Shift
  7. 7. Cancel is somewhat more consistent
  8. 8. Power On (power physically switched) Off (power physically switched) On/Off (toggle, physical disconnect) On (only while pushed; else physical disconnect) On/Off (toggle, no physical disconnect) Indicates On for a part of equipment Indicates Off for a part of equipment Indicates the stand-by state for a part of equipment Indicates the equipment is ready
  9. 9. Arrow shapes are a key grammatical element
  10. 10. Shapes and colors have meaning <ul><li>Vocabulary </li></ul><ul><li>Grammar </li></ul><ul><li>Syntax </li></ul><ul><li>Semantics </li></ul><ul><li>Etymology </li></ul>Stereo Sound + = Mono Headphones Stereo Headphones Heat Heated Seat Heated Mirror Heated Handle Hazard Warning Hazard Broadcast Alarm Panic Alarm Safety Fire Mandatory Action Prohibited Action Warning
  11. 11. Symbol Design <ul><li>IEC 80416-1:2001 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Basic principles for graphical symbols for use on equipment - Part 1: Creation of symbol originals </li></ul></ul>Basic pattern size (75 mm) Basic square (50 mm) Basic circle (same surface area as basic square 2) Circle (50 mm ⌀ ) (inscribed inside basic square 2) Rectangles (same surface area as basic square 2) Basic square, rotated 45 ° Octagon; limit for symbols
  12. 12. But appliance makers don’t usually read the standards, so… Open Door Step Forward 1 Frame Start + = Turn off part of machine and play music? vs. vs.
  13. 13. Keyboard symbol standard Caps lock Num lock Compose charcter Backward erase Control Escape Home End Prev. page Next page Alternate Undo Insert Enter Return
  14. 14. Actual keyboard symbols in use
  15. 15. Even Apple doesn’t get it right! IEC standard 60417 says this symbol is a “bell”, as in “doorbell”, but iPhone uses it for the ringer control. And without reading the standards, the most common understanding associates this symbol with alarms—witness most elevator alarm buttons. But the iPhone documentation shows that activating the Ring/Silent switch doesn’t silence all sounds—it is more selective than that. It silences the ringer, text alerts, calendar alerts, and effects sounds, but not clock alarms. A better display would be: Telephone Ringer off Clock Alarms on Alerts off Sound Effects off Vibrating on
  16. 16. iPhone vs. ITU symbols
  17. 17. Previous/Next & Beginning/End Play next part and then stop Fast-Forward Step Forward one frame Goto start of the current media object Play Next page Prev. page Home End Adobe Acrobat page navigation Media Playback Controls Document Navigation Controls
  18. 18. Must-Read List <ul><li>Symbol Sourcebook (Dreyfuss) </li></ul><ul><li>Symbol Signs (AIGA) </li></ul><ul><li>Graphical-Symbols.info ($500 + $150/year) </li></ul><ul><li>Official Signs & Icons 2 ($250; UltimateSymbol.com) </li></ul><ul><li>+ relevant ISO & IEC standards ($$$) </li></ul>
  19. 19. Symbol Standards Bodies <ul><li>IEC 60417—Graphical Symbols for Use on Equipment </li></ul><ul><li>ISO TC 145—Graphical Symbols </li></ul><ul><ul><li>SC1: Public Information Symbols (ISO 7001) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>SC2: Safety Colors & Signs (ISO 7010) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>SC3: Symbols for Use on Equipment (ISO 7000/IEC 60417) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>ISO TC 159—Ergonomics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>SC4: Ergonomics of human-system interaction </li></ul></ul><ul><li>ISO/IEC JTC 1—Information Technology </li></ul><ul><ul><li>SC35: User Interfaces </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>SC37: Biometrics </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Key Takeaways <ul><li>Very few designers pay attention to standards and existing conventions </li></ul><ul><li>Designers mostly copy each other (often getting it wrong) or invent new, poor symbols </li></ul><ul><li>Even the symbol design committees don’t do everything well, or even read each other’s existing work often enough </li></ul><ul><li>Many official symbols haven’t been tested for comprehensibility </li></ul>
  21. 21. Contact Me <ul><li>Peter Sheerin </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>http:// PetesGuide.com / </li></ul><ul><li>+1 650 898 7383 </li></ul>

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