Fun With Visuals

Tammy Garcia of Daisy Yellow has a lot of fun with Index Cards. She’s about to begin her Index Card A Day (ICAD) challenge again, and asked me to contribute a card. How could I not want to do that?

I’ve been experimenting with visual literacy lately–how we understand image-only messages, from icon-signs in airports to how we express ourselves with shapes and colors.

I made a card using basic shapes–a rectangle, a circle, a triangle, and a square–all in different colors (printed with a Gelli plate).


Seems simple enough. Almost like a shape-identifier in a children’s book.
But look what happens when you turn the card upside down:

You can immediately interpret the shapes to spell the word “love.”

ICADTammyGInterestingly enough, this works not because we can recognize letters from their general shapes, but because the word Love has a unique progression of letters that translate into basic shapes.

I made a similar card to spell “Book.” Rectangle, circle, circle, rectangle. No recognition at all. Because it could have also spelled Tool, Fool, Pool, or Cook, Rook, Look, Hook. (There are more).

There is a certain amount of visual- and life experience necessary to “get” the Love card. And there is a certain amount of cultural literacy involved too.images

Which makes the icon on the left  funny–in two years, when the bacon craze is over, it won’t seem funny anymore.


–Quinn McDonald is curious about almost anything to do with words and what they mean.





15 thoughts on “Fun With Visuals

      • One of the disciplines in user interface design is localization (or internationalization). The words are translated into 70+ languages and different alphabets, some of which read in different directions than top-left-to-bottom-right. And all the graphics have to make sense around the world as well.

        But the audience is different now than 20 years ago — almost everybody now has some fluency in using computers and recognizing icons. Where we once took pains to suggest “you can click this to make something happen”, that’s now understood. The new “flatter” graphic design you see in the latest phone software is a result of this.

  1. I thought I left a post this am but I guess not. Just wanted to mention teh book “The Missing Alphabet” which explains that people learn to communicate with all the methods a Sensory Alphabet, and gives you ways to figure out which methods your child can use best. It is fascinating.

  2. You get me involved in more stuff! I love it (I think). The iHanna postcard swap was great fun. So far I’ve gotten 9 cards back, and they’ve all had some redeeming feature on them and most of them were very nice. Overall I considered it a great success! Your ICAD cards are great. Thanks for keeping me inspired Quinn. And Pete, thanks for always making me giggle!

  3. That icon has nothing to do with bacon — it’s from the New England Backcountry First Aid-O-Matic (solar-powered kiosks installed alongside major hiking trails) and that’s the button you push for a tomato juice shower if you’ve been sprayed by a skunk.

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