This page shows an outline of the research background
for the analysis of pictogram characteristics and attributes. This
is needed for developing a practicable input and retrieval system.
The theoretical background is based on the thesis of theory of graphic
semiotics first formulated by Jacques Bertin and the recent thesis
of »Language of Graphic« by Yuri Engelhardt, Amsterdam,
All citations of Yuri Engelhardt are marked
with the acronym (YE).
Potential of Graphics
Graphics play an increasingly important role in our
daily life. New technologies for production, reproduction and distribution
are some of the main reasons for that.
Graphics are very usefully for communication as they
are more illustrative than text. Graphics can contain more complex
information than text in highly compressed form.
The example below shows a description of a square
in three variants.
The first part shows a graphical or geometrical representation.
The second part is an arithmetic expression and the third is a textual
description. This example shows the difference between figurative
and abstract formulation. The arithmetic and text variations make
it difficult to comprehend the exact particular features of 'square'.
This simple example illustrates convincingly, why we use graphics
to display complex information.
Graphics can be studied as a 'visual language' following
similar rules than spoken or written language.
Using Semiotics, a visual language to understand its elements, how
they are relat to each other, and how it is put into use. These
three dimensions of analysis are called:
Semantics, Syntactics, and Pragmatics.
The figure below shows the three different dimensions
of Semiotics. The three examples will explain this at a traffic
In a graphic representation we define the type
of correspondence as the type of relationship between what is shown
and what is meant, the 'signifying' and 'signified'.
|what is shown
||what is meant
hree Types of graphic notation can be recognized.
Each of these notations builds on the graphic objects and its visual
and formal attributes.
Each of these notations builds on the graphic objects
and its visual and formal attributes.
literal: what is shown is based on similarity to the
physical object or physical structure that is meant, or on similarity
to a prototypical example of the kind of physical object that is
metaphoric: based on a supposed analogy between what
is shown and what is meant, this may concern either a shared functional
characteristic or a structural analogy.
conventional: what is shown seems to stand for what
is meant by pure convention, although in many cases the current
users of the concerned representation may simply not be aware of
the fact that the representation originated involving one of the
other types of correspondence.
metonymic: based on a mental association due to the
fact that there is a relationship of physical involvement between
what is shown and what is meant, e.g. what is shown is a part of
or is a possible result of what is meant, or in some other way it
plays a role in what is meant.
Mode of Expression
Concerning its mode of expression, an elementary
graphic object may be:
pictorial object ranging in character
from realistic to abstract representation.
object such as abstract shapes, words and numbers
»An elementary graphic object is regarded
as a non-pictorial object if it involves no literal correspondence
- neither to its intended referent nor to its intermediary referent.
In other words, a nonpictorial object does not function as a depiction
of a physical object or scene .It may be an abstract shape, a word
or a number.« (YE p.119)
The semantic analysis of the meaning for a graphic
representation can fallow the same structure of the syntactical
The interpretation of a graphic object may
of it as an elementary graphic object, or
of it as a composite graphic object, constructed from:
interpretations of the graphic components that are part of it, and
interpretations of the graphic relations in which these graphic
components are involved, which may partly be based on the interpretation
of graphic space in witch they are arranged.
»In this way the interpretation of complex
graphic representation may be derived through several nested levels
of interpreting constituting graphic objects, and interpreting the
way in which these are combined.«
Type of correspondence
of graphic components and graphic relation between the different
graphic components and graphic elements
what is shown
and what is mean.
The types are literal, metaphoric, metonymic, rebus-base,
Mode of expression (Classification)
(from realistic to schematic pictures)
elements (abstract shapes, words and numbers)
Information roles of
The graphic syntax describes the arrangement
of the graphic elements. Yuri Engelhardt says, that a graphic representation
can be regarded as an expression of a visual language, and can be
analyzed in regards to its graphic syntax and its interpretation.
Engelhardt divides a graphic representation into
single graphic elements and space. He calls this the 'spatial structure'.
I will however use the term 'graphic component' instead of Yuri
Engelhard's term 'graphic object'. The reason for this change of
terminology is that Yuri Engelhard's thesis is looking especially
at information graphics, such as charts and diagrams. The term 'component'
has a more generic connotation making it easier to relate the findings
of this research to related studies in other fields. The 'graphic
components' is the smallest discernable unit in to given context
While Yuri Engelhardt considers a pictogram as a complete
graphic unit, I try to formulate a more scalable approach which
should facilitate classifier's context rather than some absolute
The benefit of Yuri Engelhardt's proposal is certainly
that it is easier to be understood by the user. In my approach,
I needed to find a structure which could easily be matched with
the qualities of object oriented database programming. Input and
retrieval are based on components of varying levels in focus. Such
flexibility would for example be required by a patent office which
has to deal with the administration of logos and trademarks.
Yuri Engelhardt says that every 'graphic object' can
be nested into another 'graphic object' within a given spatial structure.
Thus the arrangement of 'graphic objects' is constituting the syntax
In the special case of pictograms, I consider each
as a complete unit, made up of a set of graphic components. A pictograms
is the parent unit of different 'graphic components' which themselves
are parent units of 'graphic elements'.
The relationship of these parts to each other and
the pictogram as a complete sign itself defines the syntax of this
The graphic space is the medium in which graphic
objects and relation 'live', but it also affords a mental construction.
Graphic elements/components are often perceived as occupying different
layers. The frontmost layer attracts the main attention.
This layering effect can be used to support the imagination.
In the picture below the river flows clearly underneath the road.
The street becomes 'a bridge'.
The graphic space is divided in different visual layers.
Yuri Engelhardt categorizes them as:
In the illustration below, the map of a train station
has been analyzed to show these categories.
A graphic object may be a composite graphic object
itself, or it may be an elementary graphic object.
The figure below is adapted from the thesis of Yuri
Engelhardt. It has been modified for this paper in four different
variations that pictograms can appear.
Another way to analyse Pictograms is to list the 'morphemes'
they are made of. 'Morphemes' appear in two variations: 'free morphemes'
or 'bound morphemes'
In the example of the Non-Smoking sign, the cigarette
part can be regarded as 'free morphemes', while the smoke or the
red cross-out are 'bound morphemes'; only in direct combination
with the cigarette part they gain their respective significance.
Visual attributes describe position, orientation,
size, shape, colour, and texture. They can be divided in two groups.
Yuri Engelhardt calls these spatial attributes and area fill attributes.
This figure shows the simplified criteria for visual attributes
»The syntactic structure of a composite
graphic object is a set of graphic relations in which its constituent
graphic objects are involved.«
Spatial object-to-object relations can be classified:
The syntactic structure of graphic representation
may contain several dimensions and aspects.
This is only an outline of the theoretical background
of Iconnote research. Please read the
PDF Iconnote Documentation
me via my website Vollmer Design