W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > July to September 1998

Re: Symbols

From: Alan Cantor <acantor@oise.utoronto.ca>
Date: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 11:21:33 -0400 (EDT)
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.SOL.3.91.980922104605.7019C-100000@tortoise>
You must be careful with symbols. There are only a handful of symbols,
such as the stop sign, that are widely (I would not go so far as to say
"universally") understood.  Most symbols make sense only within particular
cultural contexts. 

An example:

Last month, while travelling in France (and to a lesser extent, in England
and Switzerland) I conducted an ongoing "accessibility audit" of public
and private places, toilets, transportation systems, etc. etc. AND
signage. 

Simple symbols used on signs, in particular, were sometimes hard for me to
decipher because the symbol meant something else to me. Often the
meaning of a symbol was completely and "intuitively" transparent to my
hosts, but not to me. As an example, when finding one's way through a
airport or train station, it is clear to me that an arrow pointing up
means "go forward in this direction." In one railroad station in Paris, I
saw the same message conveyed by an arrow pointing down... even when it
was necessary to climb stairs to reach one's destination! 

(At the time I was completely at a loss to understand the logic of the
symbol. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense: Arrows were used to point 
to the PATH you must follow, not to show you the DIRECTION you are going, 
which in any case, is never straight UP!)

When designing Web pages, the implication is clear. When you use an image
to represent an idea, you can't expect everyone to be able make sense of
it. By including Alt-text you give people another strategy for
interpreting the message you wish to convey. 

Alan

Alan Cantor
Cantor + Associates
Workplace Accommodation Consultants
New e-mail address: acantor@interlog.com
http://www.interlog.com/~acantor
Received on Tuesday, 22 September 1998 11:22:50 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0+W3C-0.50 : Tuesday, 19 July 2011 18:13:40 GMT