Dictionary Icons

This week Michael Hall wrote a blog post about his foray into writing a new Dictionary Lens for Unity. It’s a lens that I would find most useful but until it’s packages I used the screenshots as a guide to how it would look.

I thought about how you would use the icon space to illustrate something useful about the words and definitions being shown. I thought that the type of the word is often not understood or remembered when looking up a word and often find myself reading over the abbr. italics. So I thought, how would you go about developing symbols for the concepts of word types?

In a fit of inkscape drafting, I put together a few concepts without colours and an open question to those interested; how would you iconify a concept?

Your comments below…

12 thoughts on “Dictionary Icons

  1. It is nearly impossible to come up with pictorial representations for these terms that will be universally understood.

    If these icons are the primary way to illustrate properties of words, it would make it very difficult to understand. Even if you have tool-tips with explanations in internationalized text, it precludes scanning quickly.

    Simple abbreviations like n. v., adv., adj. etc, are probably more effective. Within the context of a definition, these can be guessed without looking up a legend.

    If icons are required, simple icons can be created with the text in them, although I suppose, if these are not dynamically generated, these could turn into an i18n nightmare.

  2. F S. now is n. v. adv. adj. understandable? negative, for a visual mind these things are confusing and get in the way of the definition. An icon might not be innately understandable but it act as a good mnemonic after a few experiences.

  3. Abbreviation, bro’.
    As a linguistic I admire your effort, even if futile.

  4. I love this idea! Unfortunately the data I’m getting back from the online dictionary doesn’t specify or separate the different ways the word could be used, so I’m not sure how I would be able to incorporate icons like these.

  5. I don’t like it at all. Even if conceptualizing grammar taxonomy is possible, i really think abbreviations are a better option. To act as ‘a good mnemonic after some experiences’, coloring the abbreviations should suffice.

    Some random comments about this design:

    – I don’t see how the first icon indicates abbreviating anything. It looks like you are implying L2R reading and also combining a before and after sequence in the same image. That’s weird in an icon and animating seems overkill.

    – Adjective image suggests ‘companion’. Being beside the noun is not what defines an adjective. That would also be the case of articles.

    – Adverb has two big problems. There are quite a few adverbs that are not constructed from an adjective + ly. Also, every language other than English uses a different suffix.

    – The icon for article means nothing.

    – A conjunction doesn’t connect halves, but full entities.

    – A preposition is not only a connector. There are connectors which are not preposiions (i.e. conjunctions).

    – Pronouns can refer to objects or places, not just people.

    – Proper nouns might refer to many things other than places.

    – The idea of verb means action is simplistic. Lots of verbs doesn’t imply any action at all. Also, A running man reminds me more of an emergency exit than anything.

  6. @nadal – negative, negative, negative. Is no one capable of being constructive? Criticism is fine, but jeeze guys, lay off the orbital canon on this one. I happen to agree with the majority of what you’ve written, but since I’d already thought of all those problems and that your comment has nothing to add or any new ideas is bloody useless to me. The community surely must be able to come up with _something_ other than harsh bitter negativity.

  7. I think those criticisms are valid, and it’s important to discuss these things when the utility of the idea is dubious to begin with.

    I like the idea of colored abbreviations. The color makes it easy to scan, and the abbreviation has a specific meaning. Internationalization is indeed an issue, but dictionaries tend to be language-specific to begin with…

  8. “””An icon might not be innately understandable but it act as a good mnemonic after a few experiences.”””

    If you are working in that direction, I would suggest making the icons distinctive/different from each other (most of them are already distinctive enough), and not worry too much about making it meaningful because their interpretation can vary from person to person.

    Visual mnemonics are easier to remember when they are distinct (i.e. not too much alike). e.g. the icons for Adjective and Article can be made a bit more different from each other.

    “””now is n. v. adv. adj. understandable? “””

    My point was that abbreviations like these are easily guessable; at least for an English speaker (native or otherwise), because the human mind exploits contextual information. For instance, when someone is looking up something in a dictionary, it would be highly unusual if s/he doesn’t guess the right meaning.

    I was not suggesting that abbreviations can be used across languages; which is why I raised the concern of internationalization for my suggestion.

    Also, I do understand that the icon scheme that you proposed is to be learned as one uses it. The abbreviations like n. v. and adj. (traditionally used in definitions) are verbal mnemonics and also have to be learned as we use them. This is why I had suggested turning abbreviations into icons to like those tag-like icons, with color or shape distinctions (or both).

    Anyway, thanks man, for putting your time and energy into this and trying to make a difference in the F/OSS community.

  9. @FS, thanks for the good suggestions. For me as a dyslexic, the single letter abbr. like n. and v. aren’t easily guessable at all. They actually get in the way or worse are scanned over when reading the dictionary. I didn’t even know what they meant until I was twenty two.

    In any case, we can use real icons of nouns and other interesting icons if it was plausible. We had a look at the dictionary services to see what data we could spleen out of them for it. Wiktionary seems like it has the best information, but it’s encoded in a really difficult and inaccessible format. What we need is a better back end system.

  10. Cute icons, but my advice is: don’t. Just use the word for the part of speech, not an icon. It’s really not necessary to replace words with icons (cf Gmail’s replacing “compose” and “refresh” with cryptic icons–especially bad for elderly and new users), nor is it necessary to have an icon next to everything (eg Apple’s menus have no icons, and they’re fine). Words work fine. After all, the whole point of a dictionary is words, not pictures.

  11. @Adam – the design of Unity lenses doesn’t allow for ‘no icons’, we either have meaningless ‘file’ icons (even more erroneous) or something else. Personally I can’t see the drama over using icons, I get it that lots of the lexical types have their dictionaries in a twist about the very idea, but this isn’t like gmail as it’s not functional. It takes nothing away from the content if you don’t understand them.

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