Mystery Meat Icons

Icons are everywhere. As the contexts within which we interpret content become more unpredictable, so does our reliance on iconography to communicate ideas and messages. The use of iconography has exploded as dissemination of information must reach a multitude of user contexts. Icons can summarize universal ideas and complex actions with a few shapes.

Icons undergo intense scrutiny. They clearly “work” or “don’t work”. If someone is confused by a message, icons are often to blame. An icon which is not understood may be assigned the undesirable label of “mystery meat”; the stuff found in the lore of public institutions tasked with filling countless sandwiches to feed cretinous populations.

What we are experiencing is the construction of a new, universal language. But instead of taking millennia to evolve, it’s happening as you read this post. Symbols that best express universal messages are hotly debated, not only regarding what index they carry (see Meggs’ History of Graphic Design), but on whether the style they carry is appropriate (google skeuomorphic design for more on this).

My question is, who has the loudest voice as this language is constructed? The answer may carry insights about who determines what, as well as how, we communicate.

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