Digging around the internet to learn more about visual alphabets (we all have our quirks), I was drawn deep down an odd rabbit hole. Would it be possible to create a language based purely on visuals that could be understood by everyone? I wondered.  Some people might say we're well on our way. Just look at the growing use of emoji—the icons increasingly used in text and email messages. Think 'smiley face' and you've got it. There is even a semi-official (and completely sinister-sounding) organisation that governs them:  The Unicode Consortium .  The number of emoji is growing. In May of next year, the Consortium will decide which of 74 candidate emoji will be added to the official roster. Among them are 'bacon' and 'avocado'. 'Lying face' (which will presumably double for 'politician') and 'nauseated face' ('voter') shall also be considered.   Speaking of 'lying faces', did you know that  =:o]  is the emoticon (the precursor of the more graphic emoji) for 'Bill Clinton'?  Ronald Reagan is either  ,:-)  or  7:^]   This is John Lennon:  //0-0\\ , though I'm not suggesting he was a politician. Or a lying face.  How far could The Unicode Consortium take this? Could we end up with sufficient emoji to constitute a full language?  It wouldn't be the first time someone has tried. Do you remember Zlango?  Let me refresh your memory.  Zlango was an icon-based language created in the noughties by a company of the same name. The idea was to shorten mobile text messages using a visual vocabulary of 300 or so icons. The language never took hold and the company no longer exists.  However, Zlango did prove how far you could get using only icons. Here is 'Little Red Riding Hood' in Zlango:      </iframe>" data-provider-name=""      Amir Yagil, a director of Zlango, narrated a story of 'Little Red Riding Hood' with its iconic language at the MWC 2008 in Barcelona, Spain. At the time, Zlango had over 1,000,000 users in 12 countries, according to  Aving , the product news agency that filmed this video.         I wonder what that other classic bedtime story  'Go the XXXX to Sleep'  would look like in purely icon form.   —Roger—

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Digging around the internet to learn more about visual alphabets (we all have our quirks), I was drawn deep down a peculiar rabbit hole. Would it be possible to create a language based purely on visuals that could be understood by everyone?

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      Explaining a complex idea using only words is tricky. Even describing simple things exactly can be hard.  Try this:  Think of an inverted isosceles triangle that has an apex of 35 degrees. Colour it in with the colour that has the hex value #00a5ff. Here's a hint: that's a greenish blue.  Now, scroll down.           Keep going...           Is this what you have in your head?      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Probably not exactly. Maybe not even close.  And I bet that if we compared notes, none of us would have come up with the exact same triangle.  But if, instead of describing the triangle to you, I had just shown it, how much simpler would that have been?   —Roger—

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Explaining a complex idea using only words is tricky. Even describing simple things exactly can be hard.

Try this:

Think of an inverted isosceles triangle that has an apex of 35 degrees. Colour it in with the colour that has the hex value #00a5ff. Here's a hint: that's a greenish blue.

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      One of the key advantages of using visuals to communicate is that they are quick. People can understand a visual in the blink of an eye.  Literally.  According to Bionumbers, an online database that logs this sort of thing,  a blink of a human eye lasts between 0.1 and 0.4 seconds . Or between 1/10th and 4/10ths of a second in old money. Either way, it's very short.  Research done in France shows that  humans can process a visual in 0.15 seconds . That's up to 2.5 times faster than the blink of an eye—if you're a sluggish blinker.  To process an image that quickly, people only need to see it for 0.02 seconds, according to the French study. This is supported by an MIT study in which subjects were shown images for an even shorter period of time, only  0.013 seconds .  Not so fast—We need clarity  The subjects who took part in the tests were asked what amount to a yes-no questions: "Does this image contain X?" That helps the brain tremendously. It knows what it is looking for. It can discard a huge amount of information that doesn't fit the pattern it is looking for.  That's not to suggest in any way that the studies are flawed. Certainly not.  If anything, it highlights the need for simplicity in our own communication.  Unlike the French and US test subjects, our audiences won't necessarily know what to look out for in our messages. Our visuals will have to make that clear of their own accord.  Yes, humans have an amazing capacity to process visual information. But we have to do our bit too to help them do so. We need to be explicit about what exactly the important part of our visual message is.  Clarity equals speedy comprehension.   —Roger—

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One of the key advantages of using visuals to communicate is that they are quick. People can understand a visual in the blink of an eye.

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