Inspired by the article Realism in interface design [via], I started to contemplate on our symbols we are very familiar with, but rarely are aware of their origins. Of course, they are obvious origins, otherwise they wouldn’t have established such a firm root in our culture(s).
And in my normal manner, I started to question them.
Take for example, the arrow, →. A line and a triangle, signifying movement by pointing a direction, quite often two-dimensionally, by assuming a start point and a destination. The origin is quite simple; you take a long straight twig, sharpen its one end, apply acceleration, it goes in the direction you point it at, it kills an animal, you get food. The tool has been such a milestone in man’s development that it formed the symbol for a direction.
Now imagine a culture, or a species, which hasn’t developed in such a manner. How would they signify movement?
What I came up with is quite simple and, I hope, unambiguous.
I assumed the species in question has stereoscopic sight, so that it at least has a concept for perspective. With perspective, moving objects may appear larger or smaller, depending on its distance to the viewer. I also assume that the culture’s (or a creature of it) default grasp of movement is from left to right. I chose this for the sake of familiarity. I also assume the creatures are moving mainly horizontally, so the system isn’t vertical.
The basic structure is a signifier of movement, if one would imagine the smaller circle to be approaching the viewer, by two frames of the motion. The circle doubles itself in size, and their distance is parallel with tangets of a 30° inclination.
These numbers have no larger meaning, I only found this to be symmetrical and harmonic. Although, isometric projection is often displayed as a 30° inclination to the horizon, as in many games, so it has an easy connection with perspective.
I also thought about our symbols + and –. Obviously + has two lines, so it’s more, and – is less. But less than… what exactly?
By turn, the spherical symbols could also substitute these. The black circle is again the basic component, and adding a smaller circle on top you naturally add. Here I assume the culture has gravity, so by adding simple objects to a whole, you stack them on top of each other. The less-symbol is inverted because of semantic and visual reasons; they are easier to discern from each other, and less is the inversion of more.
Lastly, I came up with entry– and exit-symbols, which have the same visual and semantic structure as above.
These symbols were heavily influenced by a brilliant webcomic, Rice Boy.