Iconography principles

The use of icons (symbols or ideograms that convey their meaning through their pictorial resemblance to a physical object), can be an effective way for users to distinguish various elements. The age-old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, is often true with icons. TREsPASS tools and visualisations can benefit from the use of pictograms and iconography as icons can often transcend languages. This is why road signs and similar pictographic materials are often applied as global standards expected to be understood by nearly all. As Michaux remarks, visual language is by definition polysemic and by nature more successful in conveying specific objects (“door”,“key”) than abstract ideas. However, more abstract ideas can be expressed in icons, although those icons are more open to interpretation. Visualising an idea will often support its understanding.

For instance, privacy online is usually predicated on lengthy privacy policies regarding the use of cookies, web beacons, targeted advertising, and when the issuing organisation might share your information with law enforcement. Icons can be also be an effective way to visualise such (little-read) policies, as Raskin shows in an experiment where a 3000 word privacy policy text could be abbreviated to three pictograms.

In developing an iconography for TREsPASS we have deployed the following principles:

  • Where possible, icons are drawn from one visual style.
  • Icons are always accompanied by a supporting text label.

Developing the icon set

The icons developed were presented in survey form to a small feedback group of 15 people consisting of designers, students, coders, and programmers, with for each icon a minimum of four variations. The results of the survey led to the choice of the final icons, and informed decisions on how to adapt them to better communicate their purpose. The icons are used in the Attack Navigator Map but also in, for example, geo-location-based visualisations of the ATM case study.

 Download the complete set of TREsPASS icons

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