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Re: A new iconography? (was:How to convince businesses to be accessib le...)

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2000 13:10:57 -0400 (EDT)
To: Dave J Woolley <david.woolley@bts.co.uk>
cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.21.0010111306050.7916-100000@tux.w3.org>
Text-based users have the same problem with language used as text
equivalents, which they have to learn. On the one hand they can often get
more useful information from a few words, but on the other hand they miss out
on the layout that is also used to help people understand what is happening
in a page. Learning to use a new system always takes time and the need to try
- people are just as likely to ignore a cool new function because it is not
clear to them that it will help them.

Charles McCN

On Fri, 6 Oct 2000, Dave  J Woolley wrote:

  > From:	Anne Pemberton [SMTP:apembert@crosslink.net]
  > accommodate all those with disabilities before we worry about those who
  > choose not to buy what they need. Again, the answer to slow download is a
  	[DJW:]  I have strong views on that response but 
  	limited time and want to concentrate on the other 
  	[DJW:]  [10 lines of context follow]
  > Using graphics for links is but one use of graphics on a page. If graphics
  > do not help you, does that tell you they don't help others? It shouldn't.
  > You shouldn't stop your thinking at the end of your own nose. Broaden your
  > perspective. Statistically, "retarded" folks are about 3 percent of the
  > total population. What percentage of the disabled population would that
  > be?
  > Statistically, "learning disabled" folks, many of whom have significant to
  > severe problems with text, are some 20-25% of the total population in the
  > US. Again, what percentage of the US disabled is that? If you have access
  > to numbers on the total disabled population, you can easily figure out how
  > many are likely to NEED graphics. 
  	- the specific issue was text as graphics, not graphics
  	  in general;
  	- commercial use of graphics doesn't help people with
  	  learning problems;
  	- standard icons are better treated as characters and 
  	  many are already available as such;
  	- icon characters could be added to text only browsers
  	  very quickly.
  	A typical heavily graphical commercial site tries to
  	establish a theme and then designs all the graphics and
  	icons based on that theme.  In order to use the site you
  	are faced with a puzzle formed from the site metaphor in 
  	order to work out which graphical elements are significant
  	and what they mean.
  	Even sites with a fair amount of textual content can have
  	up to half a dozen conventions that one needs to know before
  	one can decipher the site.
  	It's quite common for sites (particular mass market ones),
  	and Windows interfaces in general, to take well known icons
  	and serverly distort them to achieve a style.  This doesn't
  	happen on physical products.  E.g. a physical DVD player 
  	will likely use fairly clean forms of the common forward
  	backward, play, pause, etc., icons, but the web/windows interface
  	is likely to show them as images of inscribed shapes on a
  	mottled background.
  	The proliferation of different icons on Windows application
  	tool bars only helps the very frequent users; everyone else
  	has to check the tooltips on each.  Except for a few ones
  	which have become standard, every product tries to invent
  	its own.
  	Particularly back to web sites, someone who is not a frequent
  	user is faced with a problem a little like solving a cryptic
  	crossword puzzle.  In the same way that there are rules for
  	finding anagrams, there are rules that have to be learnt for
  	finding the significant elements in the site.
  	An 80 year old that I know (who can still solve crossword 
  	puzzles) has had difficulty learning the most basic operation
  	of new everyday technology for several years.  I try to imagine
  	him with many web sites.  I think I could eventually teach 
  	him how to operate sites using clean markup, or to operate
  	one specific web site (assume that it didn't change, which
  	is not usually a safe assumption), but I doubt that I could 
  	teach him the meta rules needed to handle a new graphical site.
  	Taking a bit of a risk, as you are clearly out of sympathy
  	with Jakob Nielsen (although he is far from anti-graphics),
  	you should have a look at 
  	which describes how the difficulty of learning a new
  	set of site conventions lost an author many sales when
  	he changed fulfillment companies (away from Amazon).
  	If one is going to use graphics to help people who cannot
  	handle words, one needs a standard set of graphics across
  	web sites (ideally across browsers as well).  This happens
  	to a large extent with physical products.  The brightness and
  	contrast icons on my monitor are very similar to those on
  	my home TV.  However, web designers don't want to look the
  	same as everyone else, so distort them to the limit of
  	Once you have a standard set of symbols, you have an iconic
  	alphabet, which can be represented as a font.  Many such
  	symbols already exist in Unicode, and, if there were the
  	commercial demand, I'm sure that e-commerce shopping
  	baskets and other relevant symbols could be added.  The
  	existing ones have been available to Windows interfaces
  	and, with some abuse of the font mechanism, in HTML for
  	a long time, but they are not used (even though, unlike
  	GIFs, they are scalable), because designers don't want their
  	symbol to look like everyone else's.
  	In theory, with the top end system you assume everyone will
  	buy before accessing commercial sites, the following HTML
  	will show a black telephone symbol that could be interpreted
  	as a phone number marker (it would be better to define a
  	new character with that specific meaning):
  	<title> Phone </title>
  	(Unfortunately, the reality is that this is not in Lucida
  	Sans Unicode and Windows doesn't have correct Unicode
  	mappings for Wingdings, so, at the moment, you can call on
  	the "when technology exists" clause, as the alternative 
  	hack of selecting the Wingdings font and typing "(" fails
  	on browsers that do interpet character codes properly.
  	I believe that Word 2000 comes with a more complete Unicode
  	font, and it may work with that, or some of the 
  	shareware ones.)
  	The current Unicode characters don't have many
  	modern symbols (probably because of the failure of
  	designers to use the ones already there)and
  	don't have multi-colour characters (although, I suspect
  	a PostScript type 3 font could create them), but these
  	features can be pressed for.
  	Once you have standard character codes, you can easily
  	build lookup tables into text only browsers; you can tranlate
  	them at WML gateways; you can use custom fonts for particular
  	users, possibly even spelling out the word (I've assumed that
  	content authors don't try to override the fonts, as, although
  	they will want to do that, it will destroy the consistency
  	of form that is desired - even then, an !important user 
  	override might solve the problem).
  	I think you should be encouraging a move towards an East
  	Asian type iconic language represented as well defined
  	text characters, rather than calling for a licence for
  	everyone to come up with different bit mapped graphics for
  	the same concept.  You should be encouraging the extension
  	of the text character repertoire, not unconstrained 

Charles McCathieNevile    mailto:charles@w3.org    phone: +61 (0) 409 134 136
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative                      http://www.w3.org/WAI
Location: I-cubed, 110 Victoria Street, Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
September - November 2000: 
W3C INRIA, 2004 Route des Lucioles, BP 93, 06902 Sophia Antipolis Cedex, France
Received on Wednesday, 11 October 2000 13:11:05 UTC

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