The Latest Hieroglyph

Thursday, August 19, 2010

If you don't know what the symbol at the right means just by looking at it, the government thinks you're (not even) an idiot.

If you guessed a low tire-pressure warning, you are right. If you didn't recognize the symbol, that's also understandable because one out of three drivers do not, according to Schrader, a company that makes tire pressure monitoring systems.

...

The issue here seems to be that the public hasn't been properly educated on the warning symbol, which is supposed to be "idiot proof" and understandable across a wide variety of cultures and languages. Yet 46% of drivers couldn't figure out that the icon represents a tire and 14% thought the symbol represented another problem with the vehicle entirely, according to Schrader. [bold added]
While I can see the case for having a small vocabulary of international hieroglyphs for ubiquitous products like cars, I have always bristled at the notion that they are somehow "intuitive", and thus superior to the written word. I take a small measure of grim satisfaction in the bolded sentence above, whose self-contradiction induces a sort of bracing cognitive whiplash along with a smirk.

If we need to be told about what this symbol means, how can anyone say it's idiot-proof? If it's idiot-proof, why do we need to be told what it means?

And then there's the whole matter of the government effectively training people not to check their tire pressure regularly by this mandated warning light.

When you design cars for idiots, ...

-- CAV

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Constapation?

Andrew Dalton said...

Heh. This post reminds me of the color-coded warning levels for Homeland Security ... which quickly had to be amended with verbal descriptions of what the colors mean. Why have the colors at all?

(Word verification for today: illing. Was this picked by the Beastie Boys?)

Benpercent said...

That's supposed to be a tire? It looks like half of a science beaker encased in a net.

If I saw that on my dashboard I'd probably do what the government doesn't expect I would do: Consult the manual.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

My first thought was the icon represented a fat bureaucratic asshole with an exclamation point!

C. Andrw

Gus Van Horn said...

Ah! We have what is, in effect, the start of a spontaneous caption contest! Keep 'em coming!

Couple of comments...

@Andrew Dalton: You're forgetting the ineffable, yet indubitably high, value of the emotional associations "society" will feel with each color!

@Benpercent: I see that someone has slipped though the cracks of our socialized education system not only able to read, but with some degree of initiative. Your secret is safe with me.

Andrew Dalton said...

This site has been around since maybe 2002, making fun of the ambiguous pictures created by -- you guessed it -- Homeland Security.

Gus Van Horn said...

Nice! Believe it or not, I've never seen that.

Richard said...

Looks like a pregnant woman's stomach shocked upon the discovery that the baby has the power to generate force fields.

Shea Levy said...

I thought it had something to do with a train coming out of a tunnel. Of course, if I saw it light up in my car I wouldn't go with that particular interpretation...

Jim May said...

I thought it had something to do with a train coming out of a tunnel.

You've been watching too many Fellini films.

Oh, wait, that's a train travelling INTO a tunnel.

Never mind :)

The software used in my industry has had "icon-itis" for years, with the sole exception of my tool of choice, LightWave. I too have thought what you thought -- I get the idea of not having to deal with the variability of different languages in things like button spacing etc. but the icons are often quite inscrutable.

To be fair, designing those things is no picnic. We have dedicated staff here doing that, and I don't envy their position one bit.

Gus Van Horn said...

I personally prefer an icon with a small subtitle in some common language (or the language of the intended market, if known). Then, if it's a badly-designed icon -- like one on a stove I once had to use that was o bad I had to turn burners on to find out which was being operated by which handle -- a user has a reasonable chance of still operating safely, or at least figuring out what the icon means.

To be fair, once you know what this icon is supposed to be, it does make sense.