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Re: Illustrating Guidelines

From: Matt May <mcmay@bestkungfu.com>
Date: Thu, 10 May 2001 09:52:57 -0700
Message-ID: <02cd01c0d971$ba376be0$6601a8c0@sttln1.wa.home.com>
To: "William Loughborough" <love26@gorge.net>, <ryladog@earthlink.net>, "3WC WCAG" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>, "Anne Pemberton" <apembert@erols.com>

----- Original Message -----
From: "Anne Pemberton" <apembert@erols.com>
> I do disagree with you that pictures are less universal than languages.
> Think about any electric or electronic appliance from your washing machine
> to a complex computer system. You can write as many words as you want to
> indicate what you want the appliance to do, but until a designer reduces
> all your words to a picture/s, the circuit boards that control behavior
> cannot be manufactured.

No image is instantly universal. Even the most basic symbols, including the
men and women on bathroom doors, have been subjects of years and years of
research. Even the stop sign as used in the US requires alt text. Symbols
are heavily dependent on culture and conditioning. And illustrations, when
done by the average author, don't often result in anything of substantial
value on their own (and almost certainly nothing to approach parity with the
written word), because we as a society have not been trained to produce
visual messages.

> The notion that text is superior to illustrations is a false pride
> engendered by a desire to separate users into those worthy of receiving
> message and those who are unworthy. Ther should be no distinctions of
> worthiness in accessibility.

I will say this: almost as a rule, text without illustration is superior to
illustration without text for information density. The exceptions are where
the message itself is purely visual in nature, and where designers have
worked expertly to communicate their message visually.

There is no "politics/religion" in citing text as first among equals for
content provision, and it's not a cop-out. We are almost universally trained
from birth to communicate near-exclusively by verbal or textual means.
Education in spoken and written language and composition is compulsory. The
closest most of us get to visual communication training is art class, which
often only addresses it by accident. Few people, I'm sure, have done their
dissertations in pictures or illustrations. This is why we communicate
primarily using text, and why illustrations are often extraordinary.

That is to say, all but a tiny fraction of people who have ideas to
communicate will do so in text because they are incapable of producing an
effective visual that communicates that idea as clearly and unambiguously as
written language will afford them. I would argue that in this day and age,
this is the barrier to illustration, and this is not something we get to
solve. We can't force people to illustrate their ideas when they don't have
the skills or tools to do so. We can say "you should try illustrating what
you write", and in fact, we already do that in 3.4 ("Use multimedia to
illustrate concepts"). However, illustration for illustration's sake as a
compliance requirement is counterproductive.

There's no "false pride" in this weakness, and certainly no grand conspiracy
among providers to "separate" the "unworthy." I think that your stance,
Anne, is unnecessarily combative, particularly in this setting, and is
generating more heat than light.

Received on Thursday, 10 May 2001 12:57:15 UTC

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