History of Glyphs and Shape Attributes

In previous papers on shape attributes, I’ve looked at some of the historic precedents for shape attributes used in other domains. This has included:

  • SciVis: e.g. Superquadrics,  tensor glyphs, blobs, voreen glyphs
  • InfoVis: Chernoff faces, star coordinates, stick vis, star plots, radar plots, genetic algorithms, anymails, puffs, sparklines, literary organism, time wheel, info-lotus, Isotype
  • Charts: e.g. Excel
  • Science: biological classification (trees, flowers, birds, species transformations), chemical notation
  • Graphics: icon design, logo design
  • Communication: Chappe telegraph, heraldry rules
  • Manufactured objects: WWII aircraft identification, parts catalogues
  • Art: Kandinsky, Miro

While the above may seem like a long list, discussion with various researchers at the recent VisWeek conference, shows that there are many other domains of shapes and glyphs  that have not been considered. This includes

  • Music and dance notation
  • Cartography icons
  • Electronic circuit diagrams/glyphs
  • More signalling systems, e.g. semaphore flags
  • Standard military icons
  • Feynman diagrams
  • Architectural symbols
  • Astrological symbols
  • Road signs, airport icons, icons on signage in general
  • More artists: Sol LeWitt, Allan McCollum (Shapes Project), Xu Bing (Book from the Ground)
  • More pictographic icons, esp. Gerd Arntz, Henry Dreyfuss (Symbol Sourcebook), Rudolf Modley

All the above, including the original list could be reviewed more rigorously too. For each type, we could look at the different types of shape attributes used. In addition, we should classify the type of glyph. This implies a classification framework. The classification framework I’ve previously used is:

  1. Simple abstract geometry
    • simple regular geometric shapes (circle, square, triangle, etc, e.g. Excel scatterplots)
    • morphological geometry (e.g. Sol LeWitt, Allan McCollum)
    • name-able recognizable non-pictographic glyphs (e.g. heart, cross, spade, crescent, drop)
  2. Pictographic glyphs,  i.e. representational glyphs including Isotype, many computer icons
  3. Symbol glyphs, e.g. letters of the alphabet, numbers. Unlike pictographs, and name-able icons these have implied order
  4. Micro-plots, e.g. sparklines, Morningstar 9 square grids, FF Chartwell
  5. Composite glyphs via layering visually separable elements, e.g. road signs, Taxonomy-based Glyphs (http://www.oerc.ox.ac.uk/personal-pages/emaguire/Taxonomy-based%20Glyph%20Design.pdf/view) by Eamonn Maguire. 
  6. Multi-attribute single shape glyphs (e.g. http://www.oculusinfo.com/assets/pdfs/papers/IV10-multishape-v5a.pdf)

However, the classification system should be revised and updated based on the formal study of signs and properly differentiating between icons, indexes, symbols, as well as metaphors, ideograms and pictograms. See State of the Art Report: Glyph-based Visualization: Foundations, Design Guidelines, Techniques and Applications (http://cs.swan.ac.uk/~csbob/research/star/glyph/borgo13glyph.pdf).  

Reviewing all the above, it would be a significant project to do a thorough survey, collect and analyse results and publish a paper. And, in the process, another dozen types of glyphs would need to be considered, and presumably other categorization data collected. Possibly a useful collaboration topic. 

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About richardbrath

Richard is a long time visualization designer and researcher. Professionally, I am one of the partners of Uncharted Software Inc. I am also pursuing a part-time PhD in data visualization at LSBU. The opinions on this blog are related to my personal interests in data visualization, particularly around research interests related to my PhD work- this blog is about exploratory aspects of data visualization not proven principles.
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One Response to History of Glyphs and Shape Attributes

  1. Pingback: What makes a data visualization memorable? « Health and Medical News and Resources

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