in practice, an informed theory
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The decision of pictographic design as a suitable method of visual production can develop from the research process. Critical examination of this opportunity is vital as symbols come with opportunities but also limitations.
Common reasons for choosing symbols as an effective method of communication are as follows:
Symbols convey meaning instantly the function of a pictorial sign can be to supplement words—but not replace them. It can aid language. The foundations of this notion were importantly explored and proposed by Otto and Marie Neurath.
Symbols can allow for a user focused design approach. The function of a form can be to help a reader to understand or experience something unique. The audience is an indispensable reference in design ‘problems’.
Symbols are an opportunity to refer to the reader’s previous experience and familiarity with the aim of creating more understanding. This means playing with the reduction and simplification of symbols that would not necessarily be possible in text or image: the designer focuses on the cognitive and pictographic relationships and not the accessory.
The focus of a symbol is on its association: what the sign stands for. With non-phonetic signs the word doesn’t need to be known. There is a direct translation between sign and meaning. For this reason some symbols can be understood universally and transcends language ability. Finally the symbol’s application to a range of contexts and environments can be versatile.
Visual form and characterstics
Pictographic design, due to its often minimalist and stark visual characteristics, can appear ‘designed’ but when the design has no usage or application it becomes mere visual material. If it is not of use to the reader, it can be seen as a visual distraction or obstacle. Visual decision making should refer to content as well the relationships and connections within the content. The intention of the designer is to be informative. Visual decisions can create opportunities for an increase in insight and understanding. Cautiously, the role of the visual can also be of decoration, highlighting the redundant or interference. Form can clarify but can also be a barrier.
Visual reduction can be a useful tool in pictographic construction. Reduction should not be confused with simplification. Reduction can refer to, for example, bringing down the number of signs needed for communication. Whereas, simplification is about making things less complex, plainer or easier. The word reduction can apply to the syntax of the sign where the word simplification to the sigmatics.
Semantics: meaning of form
Sigmatic: method of expression
Syntax: method of form
Pragmatics: intention of form
The relationship between visual and its meaning can be complex and bi-directional and it plays an important role in the process of conceptual development, and the dictation of form. Form can inform function, and function can inform form. Function doesn’t necessarily determine form. Form is equally informed by the audience, the context, technology and format*.
*A quote from The Functional Art: An Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization by Alberto Cairo