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Keywords:

  • Diagrams;
  • Visual communication;
  • Gesture;
  • Spatial cognition;
  • Analogy;
  • Action;
  • Metaphor

Abstract

Depictive expressions of thought predate written language by thousands of years. They have evolved in communities through a kind of informal user testing that has refined them. Analyzing common visual communications reveals consistencies that illuminate how people think as well as guide design; the process can be brought into the laboratory and accelerated. Like language, visual communications abstract and schematize; unlike language, they use properties of the page (e.g., proximity and place: center, horizontal/up–down, vertical/left–right) and the marks on it (e.g., dots, lines, arrows, boxes, blobs, likenesses, symbols) to convey meanings. The visual expressions of these meanings (e.g., individual, category, order, relation, correspondence, continuum, hierarchy) have analogs in language, gesture, and especially in the patterns that are created when people design the world around them, arranging things into piles and rows and hierarchies and arrays, spatial-abstraction-action interconnections termed spractions. The designed world is a diagram.