pen rainbow

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday—The Writing Corner: The Noun Project

Sharing, celebrating & enhancing visual language

A library of iconography
The Noun Project

We see them every day...the symbols that represent everyday living.  
  • An upright white hand at a crosswalk tells us that it is safe to step into a busy intersection.
  • We scan the airport for the familiar figure of a man or a woman on the wall next to a public restroom
  • We search for smiling cat faces and tiny red tango dancers to punctuate our text messages
  • A lightbulb represents a light switch...or an idea 
  • A square with an arrow means, "share," in social media
Sometimes, it's just easier to use pictures to say what we mean.  

That is the idea behind The Noun Project, an open-source design project founded in 2010 by designers Edward Boatman, Sofya Polyakov, and Scott Thomas.  Create your own icons and add them to the NP library or download free icons from their collection.

As a linguist, I am fascinated by patterns of recognition and the similarities in which people express themselves cross-culturally.  Pictographs don't always translate the same meaning, and what seems perfectly clear to one person may be a mystery to another.  The ambiguities of meaning and the differences in context are hurdles when it comes to universal interpretation.  Visual language cuts through a lot of ambiguity and eliminates the distractions of syntax.  

As an aging 50-Something, I am also intrigued with the notion that pictographs could provide an enhanced communication tool for people with declining language skills.  Language is essentially a pictographic system of communication with symbolic images associated with meaning stored in our heads.  As the wires get crossed and the ability to retrieve information fades, a customized keyboard of icons like the ones we see in the Noun Project's library could help a person with Alzheimer's stay connected to the outside world.    

Think about how hard it would be to use a computer if you can't remember where you are in a series of steps.  Perhaps a computer that understands the compromised pathways of an Alzheimer's brain could compensate by communicating in icons that are customized for each individual.  A smart keyboard might make it easier for someone who can't remember what they did 5 minutes ago to track their activity, or at the very least, provide an outlet for personal expression.  Could an icon-exclusive environment facilitate the bridge between inner and outer expression when it comes to diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's?  

Click HERE to read more about The Noun Project