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S S the perceptual and semantic relationship between images and words in visual communication THEMISSINGLINK a presentation by havi murungi phd brunel university egham 08.06.04 I
BACKGROUND • Road traffic signs and what they stand for Bend Slippery Road No Waiting Caution Pictorial Abstract Abstract Pictorial
Bend Slippery Road No Waiting Caution Pictorial Abstract Abstract Pictorial BACKGROUND • Was there a relationship between what the symbols stood for and their graphical forms? (abstract/pictorial)
BACKGROUND • At least two ways to investigate this: You can brief a random selection of designers to come up with graphical symbols based on different referent terms and see whether design outcomes support the hypothesis Or you can set up a quasi-experiment with symbols and referents of differing graphical and semantic attributes, respectively, and run statistical tests on data obtained from participants to see whether there was such a relationship
BACKGROUND • Current and proposed emblems for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Red Cross (1863), Red Crescent (1876), Red Lion and Sun (1899), and Red Crystal (2000)
THE THEORY • Symbol classification Existing symbols are pictorial… while the new proposal is abstract
THE THEORY • Language classification: Sadoski, Goetz, & Fritz (1993) Concrete language (e.g., ‘slender ballerina’) Abstract language (e.g., ‘valid hypothesis’) • Distinction: ease vs. difficulty of imagery
SEMIOTICS • The signification/symbolisation triad (Peirce 1839-1914) Iconic (visual analogue between sign, object, & interpretant) Indexical (causality as in smoke is an index of fire) Symbolic (convention or agreement) • The signifier-signified dyad (Saussure 1857-1913) Two sides of the same coin but relationship between sign and meaning is arbitrary/conventionalised, e.g., the alphabet • Validating the propositions of the founding fathers of semiotics
RESEARCH DESIGN • Test symbols Pictorial SchematicAbstract • Referents (key attributes of the movement) Humanitarianism Neutrality Protection Universality ConcreteAbstract
METHODOLOGY • Correspondence rating (quantitative) The idea or object represented by the symbol (appropriateness) • Comprehensibility estimation (quantitative) The percentage of the population who would understand the symbol if it represented visually the referent (meaningfulness) • Comprehension testing (qualitative) What do you think this symbol means? (recognition)
STUDY LOCATIONS & SAMPLE SIZES • Kenya Study 1 (Correspondence rating; n=56) Study 3 (Comprehensibility estimation; n=233) Study 4 (Comprehension testing; n=20) • UK Study 2 (Correspondence rating; n=54) Study 5 (Comprehension testing; n=33) • Total number of participants = 396
RESULTS • Correspondence rating (studies 1 & 2) Pictorial(Symbols)Schematic/Abstract Concrete(Referents)Abstract Protection/Humanitarianism Universality/Neutrality • At the referent denotation level, all the symbols could be considered icons as well as indexes of the referents
RESULTS • Comprehensibility estimation (study 3) Familiar symbols (Cross and Crescent) were rated more comprehensible than unfamiliar symbols (Lion & Sun, Crosscent, Heart, and Crystal) • Symbol familiarity may have confounded these results
RESULTS • Comprehension testing (studies 4 & 5) Responses to each symbol could be classified as either iconic or symbolic readings of the same symbol • Only the Lion and Sun and Cross did not generate ‘don’t know’ responses to: ‘What do you think this symbol means?’
Red Crosscent MOST SUITABLE SYMBOL
CONCLUSIONS • Symbols of pictorial, schematic, and abstract graphical forms function in ways more similar than have been acknowledged previously in the graphical symbols research literature • This debunks the notion that pictorial symbols are self-evident or more comprehensible/effective, relative to abstract symbols • The symbol-referent (signifier-signified) relationship does not appear to be arbitrary; rather, it seems to be visually and semantically ‘motivated’ (in the Saussurean sense)
CONCLUSIONS • The parallel and complimentary differences between the graphical form of the symbols on the one hand and the semantic polarity of the referents on the other appeared to be the key factors behind the correspondence between the symbols and referents in this investigation • This relationship between symbols and referents along a continuum of abstraction appears to be non-accidental (key finding)
THE VISUAL-VERBAL LINK Symbols Pictorial Schematic/Abstract Correspondence a factor of parallel abstraction Concrete Abstract Referents
THE DESIGN-OUTCOME LINK Referents ConcreteAbstract Design outcome a factor ofsemantic polarity Pictorial Schematic/Abstract Symbols
IMPLICATIONS • Visual-verbal resonance/dissonance… …in the design of signs, symbols, icons, logos, etc. • Information visualisation Translating from the verbal (spoken and written) to the visual mode of communication • The creative enterprise How much control do we have over design outcomes? If design outcomes are predetermined, how creative can we claim to be?
FURTHER READING • Bugnion, F. (2000). Towards a comprehensive solution to the question of the emblem (2003 ed). Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross. • Krampen, M. (1983). Icons of the road. Semiotica. 43(1/2). • Murungi, H., McLaren, I., & Chen, R. (2002/2003). The graphical forms, visual-verbal resonances, meanings, and semiosis of the Red Cross symbols: implications for symbol-type decisions. Information Design Journal. 11(2/3), 138-150. • Sadoski, M., Goetz, E., & Fritz, J. (1993). Impact of concreteness on comprehensibility, interest, and memory for text: implications for dual coding theory and text design. Journal of Educational Research. 85(2), 291-304.