Make sure symbols are comprehensible as well as graphic

Anna Richardson’s article Modern Hieroglyphics (DW 6 August) promoted the graphical diversity of pictograms (or symbols, according to BS and ISO standards). I agree entirely that these devices exist to provide users with a ‘clear and unambiguous understanding’.

However, I’m concerned that in striving for graphical interpretations of the same information, comprehensibility is often compromised. Bruno Maag says they must be ‘structurally recognisable and close to the established standard’. But who makes that judgement? Not the designer, that’s for sure.

Only by testing with a representative sample of end-users can we be certain that most people will understand the intended meaning of the symbol. I wonder how many designers know that there is an ISO standard test procedure for symbol comprehensibility.

Few people can understand ancient hieroglyphics – those of us designing modern versions hopefully have higher aspirations.
Gary Davis, Managing director, Davis Associates, by e-mail

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