Visual Communication A Taxonomy And Bibliography Apa

by Timothy McAdoo

When an animal name is part of a journal article title, it is conventional to provide the animal’s scientific name (genus and species). Genus is always capitalized and species is not. Notice that the scientific names are also italicized (see examples on p. 105 of the APA Publication Manual).

For example, see the following articles from APA Journals:

This convention of including the scientific name in the paper’s title is not an APA Style guideline specified in the manual; however, it is an accepted norm of scientific research. (If you have any questions about whether to include the scientific name in your paper or manuscript, ask your teacher, advisor, or editor.)

So, if you cite an article that includes a genus and species in the title, how should the title appear in your reference list? Keep the italics and capitalization of the animal’s scientific name exactly as they appear in the original title:

MacLean, E. L., Krupenye, C., & Hare, B. (2014). Dogs (Canis familiaris) account for body orientation but not visual barriers when responding to pointing gestures. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 128, 285–297. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035742
Tu, H.-W., & Hampton, R. R. (2014). Control of working memory in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 40, 467–476. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xan0000030

2.1 Sign Taxonomies

Semiotics and semiology are probably the most widely known systems used to classify signs in general. The terms ‘semiotics’ and ‘semiology’ have often been used interchangeably despite their distinct origins. Semiotics (Hartshorne, Weiss, & Burks, 1931–58) was created by Charles Sanders Peirce as part of his full philosophical system, composed of phaneroscopy (phenomenology), normative sciences, and metaphysics. Semiotics was one of his proposed normative sciences. Conversely, semiology (Bally & Sechehaye, 1966) was created by Ferdinand de Saussure and is closely related to his linguistics theories. Both semiotics and semiology were developed by their respective authors in the same period and were devoted to the same subject. The coincidences seem to end here, as these two systems were based on different models.

Saussure modeled a sign as a dyadic chain connecting a signifier (the sign itself) and a signified (the referent). Peirce, on the other hand, envisioned a sign as part of a triadic relation composed of an object (the referent), a sign or representamen, and an interpretant (the logics that can possibly connect object and sign). There is at least one advantage of a triadic model over a dyadic one: the distance between a sign and its referent can be viewed in a more flexible manner. In the triadic model, the interpretant vertex can make the distance between the other two vertexes shorter or longer. This makes sense if we consider that the interpretation of a sign depends on more than the characteristics of the sign and the object alone.

Peirce went as far as proposing ten trichotomies, that is, ten possible triadic classifications of a sign. Among those, the most widely known and used are the ones exploring the relationships between a sign and its object (icon, index, and symbol), between a sign and its interpretant (rheme, dicisign, and argument), and a sign in itself (qualisign, sinsign, and legisign). In the fields of design and visual communication, the trichotomy icon/index/symbol has been the most frequently mentioned. Icons denote a sign-object relationship based on similarity (e.g., a caricature). Indexes denote a real existential connection between a sign and its object (e.g., a fingerprint). Symbols denote a sign-object relationship based on an arbitrary convention (e.g., a national flag). Johansen (1988) has called attention to the fact that the distinctions between a sign, an index, and a symbol can become less clear at a closer inspection. For example, a photograph can be considered an icon since it relates to its object by visual similarity. It can also be considered an index as it is physically influenced by its object (through light). Finally, it can be considered a symbol as the interpretation of a three-dimensional object represented in a two-dimensional medium is a cultural phenomenon.

2.2 Icons, Symbols, and Pictographs

In the previous sub-section, we provided Peirce’s definitions of an icon and a symbol. We also quoted Johansen to demonstrate that the distinction between Peirce’s definitions of these two concepts can be blurred depending on how one approaches the topic.

An examination of the definitions of an icon and a symbol offered by experts in visual communication often mirrors this lack of clear boundaries. For example, Horton considers icons as a subset of symbols. He argues: “The small pictorial symbols used on computer menus, windows, and screens are icons” (Horton, 1994, p. 2). Moreover: “In the computer industry, the term icon is often used as a synonym for any small visual symbol” (Horton, 1994, p. 2). McDougall argues for an inverse subordination between these two concepts: “For the sake of simplicity, icons is the term used in this article to refer to the broad range of icons, signs, or symbols used to help individuals interact with machines and their environment.” (McDougall & Isherwood, 2009, p. 325). Gurak also defines icons as a specific type of symbol: “Icon usually means a symbol that represents, either alone or in combination with some text, a task that users will perform” (Gurak, 1992, p. 33).

Marcus argues for a distinction between an icon and a symbol in terms of the concreteness of the representation: “Icons are signs that are familiar, are easy to understand, and are often concrete representations of objects or people. Symbols are signs that are often more abstract and require specific instruction to learn” (Marcus, 1996, p. 257). Yazdani and Barker, on the other hand, argue that icons can be both concrete and abstract in nature: “we regard an icon as being a graphical representation of some object or process. The object that is represented could have a concrete existence (such as a traffic signal or an airplane) or it could be abstract in nature -- such as a thought, a concept or an idea” (Yazdani & Barker, 2000, p. 7).

Definitions for the term ‘pictograph’ also vary considerably, depending on the author. Bottero offers a broad definition: “The term pictograph is used here to mean a graph that encodes a word (or a linguistic unit) through the medium of depiction” (Bottero, 2004, p. 251). Dewar uses the terms ‘symbol’, ‘icon’ and ‘pictograph’ as synonyms: “The terms ‘symbol’, ‘pictograph’, ‘pictogram’, ‘icon’ and ‘glyph’ all refer to commonly used pictorials. These terms will be used to mean more or less the same thing in the present chapter” (Dewar, 1999, p. 285). For Bocker (1996), the term ‘pictograph’ can be used to refer to both icons and symbols:

Pictograms, icons, and symbols convey information in pictorial form. They are graphical as opposed to textual signs. Pictograms (sometimes called pictographs) form the general class of graphical signs and include icons and symbols. An icon is a simplified pictorial representation which consists of more or less concrete and realistic elements and should be self-explanatory. A symbol is an abstract and often simplified pictorial representation which is not necessarily realistic. A symbol often requires a learning process in order to be understood. (p. 107).

In this paper, we will follow Peirce’s definitions of ‘icon’ and ‘symbol’ and, like Bocker, employ the term ‘pictograph’ to refer to both icons and symbols.

2.3 Pictograph Taxonomies

A few icon taxonomies have been proposed in the area of graphic user interface. However, they are not granular enough to capture differences among representation strategies that can be visually subtle but semantically significant. In the following paragraphs we discuss these previous taxonomies.

The most basic classification systems have focused their analysis on the characteristics of the pictorial representation. The studies by Lindgaard et al. (1987) and Blattner et al. (1989) fall into this category. Lindegaard et al. (1987) identified three classes of icons: abstract, depictive, or mixed. Abstract icons are purely symbolic and lack any resemblance to actual objects. The female symbol (a circle joined to a cross) is an example of an abstract icon. Depictive icons depictive elements. Blattner et al. (1989) proposed overlapping design principles for both icons and earcons (audio messages) in computer interfaces. Three types of icons were identified in this study: representational, abstract, and semi-abstract. Representational icons are representations of familiar objects or operations. Abstract icons are representations created by combining geometric shapes. A semi-abstract icon combines both representational and abstract features.

The focus on the pictorial representation is the major weakness of the two classification systems described above. As previously argued, pictographs are composed of two parts, a visual representation and its referent. The visual representation is supposed to communicate the referent with minimal ambiguity and minimal reliance on pre-established codes or conventions. Thus, a taxonomy of pictographs must assess the relation between concept and representation rather than focus on the merits and weaknesses of the graphic representation alone.

Studies that classify pictographs according to their relation to their intended meaning seem to agree that, broadly speaking, there are three basic ways to graphically represent a concept: directly, indirectly, or arbitrarily (Lodding, 1983; Purchase, 1998; Webb et al., 1989). In direct representations, the relation between pictograph and referent is immediate (as in the case of a portrait of a person). In indirect representations, the relation between pictograph and referent is mediated. That is, the referent is suggested rather than explicitly depicted in the pictograph (as in the case of a picture of a tent that indicates a camping area). In arbitrary representations, the relation between pictograph and referent is established arbitrarily, by convention (as in the case of a country and its national flag).

Lodding (1983) distinguished between three kinds of icons: representational, abstract, and arbitrary. Representational icons are those that contain images that mimic an object. Abstract icons were described as images of objects that displayed associated concepts. A picture of a broken wine glass used to convey the concept “fragile” is an example of an abstract icon. Arbitrary icons were described as images whose associations of meaning are arbitrarily established, for example, the red-cross symbol commonly associated with “first aid”.

Webb et al. (1989) also identified three types of icons: pictorial, symbolic, and sign. Pictorial icons are those that represent objects by resemblance. Symbolic icons operate by analogy, as in a picture of a cupid representing the concept “love”. Signs are abstract depictions that are learned by reinforcement. That is, there is no inherent or intuitive connection between a sign and its referent.

Purchase (1998) proposed a semiotic model of multimedia in which icons were classified as concrete-iconic, abstract-iconic, or symbolic. Concrete icons are associated to their referents by physical resemblance, as in a photograph. Abstract icons still maintain a relation with its referent though that relation is less explicit, as in the case of a diagram. Symbolic icons hold an arbitrary relation to their referents.

Direct and arbitrary representation strategies are relatively straightforward. Indirect representation strategies, on the other hand, can follow many different types of concept association. For example, the picture of a fork and a knife used to represent the concept “restaurant” and the picture of a running faucet used to represent the concept “water” are both examples of indirect representation. Nonetheless, these two examples are quite distinct in regard to the relation between the pictograph and its referent.

The studies by Gaver (1986), Rogers (1989), and Lidwell et al. (2003) attempted to develop more granular classifications of pictures created through indirect approaches.

Rogers (1989) identified four types of icon, according to their relation to their referents: resemblance icons, exemplar icons, symbolic icons, and arbitrary icons. Resemblance and arbitrary icons have self-explanatory titles. The former represent its referent by resemblance and the latter by an arbitrary convention. Exemplar and symbolic icons represent their referents indirectly. Exemplar icons focus on the most representative characteristics of the referent. The picture of a fork and a knife representing the concept “restaurant” is an example of an exemplar icon. Symbolic icons represent concepts that are at a higher level of abstraction. The picture of a broken wine glass representing the concept “fragile” (which Lodding classifies as abstract icon) is an example of a symbolic icon.

The classification system proposed by Lidwell, et al. (2003) mirrors the one created by Rogers (1989). The four iconic categories in this system are: similar icons, example icons, symbolic icons, and arbitrary icons. The definitions are quite similar to Roger’s classification: resemblance icons, exemplar icons, symbolic icons, and arbitrary, respectively.

Gaver (1986) proposed a system to map the relation between representations and their referents. The system was composed of three categories: symbolic mapping, nomic mapping, and metaphorical mapping. Symbolic mappings represent arbitrary relations. Nomic mappings represent direct relations, as the one between a photograph and the scene it depicts. Metaphorical mappings are based on similarities. They are not completely arbitrary and, at the same time, they do not depend on physical causation. The author offers as an example the relation between “genealogy” and “tree”. Metaphorical mappings are further divided into structure mapping and metonymic mapping. Structure mappings explore the similarities between referent and what is actually depicted (e.g., genealogy: tree). Metonymic mappings represent a concept through one of its parts (e.g., horse: horseshoe). Note that Gaver’s metonymic mapping is equivalent to Rogers’ exemplar icon.

Table 1 summarizes the classification systems described above.

The studies presented above generally agree that there are three basic ways to represent a concept graphically:

  1. Direct representations that explore the visual similarity between a pictograph and its referent;

  2. Arbitrary representations that are established by social convention;

  3. Indirect representations that explore semantic relations between a pictograph and its referent.

There are relatively few types of concept that can be represented through the direct and arbitrary approaches. Most conceptual categories require an indirect representation approach, as they cannot be represented by visual similarity or by an existing convention. However, prior studies have not yet produced a classification that is granular enough to distinguish among the different types of indirect approaches. Further, none of these studies have attempted to identify correlation patterns between representation strategy and the semantic characteristics of the referent.

The last taxonomy of pictographs we want to discuss is that proposed by Familant and Detweiler (1993). Of all existing taxonomies, this is probably the most comprehensive and shares many features with the taxonomy we propose in this paper.

Familant and Detweiler define a sign as something composed of two parts, a signal (what we call a representation in this paper) and a referent. Following Peirce’s model, they acknowledge that “what a particular sign denotes is dependent on the agent who gives the sign its meaning, i.e. the sign’s interpreter” (p. 710). They also follow Peirce’s distinctions between an icon and a symbol.

Like the taxonomy proposed here, Familant and Detweiler’s taxonomy distinguishes between direct and indirect relations between a representation and its referent. They distinguish among five types of referent relations (part-part, part-whole, whole-part, identical, disjoint) elaborating on two of them: part-part and part-whole. A part-part relation occurs when “the sign referent’s feature set intersects with the denotative referent’s set, but both sets contain features not found in the other set”, for example the picture of a trash can on a computer desktop to represent the concept ‘delete’ (p. 713). A whole-part relation occurs when “the sign referent’s feature set is a proper subset of the denotative referent’s feature set”, for example the picture of a fork and a knife to represent the concept ‘restaurant’ (p. 714).

A final merit of the taxonomy proposed by Familant and Detweiler is that it recognizes that many signs are composed of more than one type of relation between representation and referent. That is, they are composed through a combination of representation strategies.

In the following sub-section we conclude our review of the literature by discussing a few pictograph characteristics that have been previously investigated.

2.4 Pictograph Characteristics that Have Been Investigated

Indeed, there are many other ways to classify pictographs other than the ones examined in this study. Among those, the studies conducted by McDougall and colleagues are especially worth mentioning as they managed to assess several of those characteristics simultaneously (Isherwood, McDougall, & Curry, 2007; McDougall, Curry, & Bruijn, 1999; McDougall & Isherwood, 2009). We’ll discuss four of them: complexity (amount of detail in a representation), concreteness (the extent to which a representation depicts real objects, materials, or people), semantic distance (how close a representation is to its referent), and familiarity (how often a given pictograph is encountered).

Complexity is a characteristic of the representation in itself. Assessing how visually complex a representation is does not depend on what kind of relation it may hold with its referent. Concreteness is also a characteristic of the representation in itself: the concreteness of a representation is assessed in terms of its relation to a real world object and not to its referent. For example, a picture of a skull representing the concept ‘poison’ can be considered concrete because it visually resembles a skull, not a poison. McDougall, Curry, and Bruijn (1999) demonstrated in their study that, unlike previous studies suggested (Garcia, Badre, & Stasko, 1994), concreteness and complexity are two separate dimensions, with no significant correlation between them. Concreteness was found to be correlated with identification accuracy scores but complexity was not (Isherwood, McDougall, & Curry, 2007).

Semantic distance is a characteristic that takes into consideration both the representation and the referent. However, measuring the semantic distance between two terms is a challenging endeavor due to the lack of consolidated metrics. In their studies, McDougall, Curry, and Bruijn (1999) quantified semantic distance by asking participants to provide ratings (in a five-point scale) for the perceived closeness between symbols and their functions. Thus, perceived semantic distance rather than semantic distance was the object of assessment. In a later study (Isherwood, McDougall, & Curry, 2007), semantic distance was also found to be correlated with identification accuracy scores.

Familiarity is a characteristic that takes into consideration the representation, the referent, and also the interpretant. It is the one characteristic that incorporates the full triadic chain proposed by Peirce. McDougall and colleagues also found significant correlations between familiarity and icon identification accuracy.

Studies by McDougall and colleagues demonstrate that concreteness, semantic distance, and familiarity are dimensions that do influence the interpretation of pictographs. Although our study did not directly employ these dimensions, the evidence suggests they deserve further investigation and integration to pictograph taxonomies.

2.5 Goals

In this study, we propose to produce a more in-depth classification of representation strategies used in the creation of pictographs. More specifically, we propose to:

  1. Develop a classification system able to distinguish the representation/referent relations at a finer level.

  2. Identify the relation between the lexical and semantic characteristics of a concept and the representation strategies that can be applied to that concept.

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