Posts in Category "Semiology"

Semiology and Time

Just a quick note so I don’t forget (and will expand on this topic later):

I received the BEST present for Christmas, in the form of the book Semiology of Graphics by Jacques Bertin. This book is pretty much everything you could want in a book, if you’re interested in semiology / semiotics, and infographics.

As I’ve been perusing (totally using that word wrong!) my precious copy, I had the thought occur to me regarding calendars and mixed metaphors.

Way too many years ago, I was working on a project to deliver email cases to customer support reps. The cases needed to be sorted by multiple different attributes, including:

  • Time in queue
  • Category / Type
  • Number of previous replies


…among others.  Well, we tried to represent some of these sorting attributes using a file tree component. We quickly learned that you can’t represent multiple attributes in one file tree. You have different hierarchies, and trying to represent them in a single hierarchy is against the laws of physics. Well, it’s against the laws of semiotics, but you get the picture.

So, as I was thinking about that previous debacle of an experience, and about clearly displaying time, it occurred to me that most calendar or project apps- which show a standard graphic representation of a calendar, with each week being a row – mix metaphors:

What you’re after, usually, is a visualization of project resources and ETAs for portions of your project. This type of visualization is best represented by a Gantt-type of view, with a timeline and various project lengths represented easily.

What you end up with is a Calendar with a bunch of bars going across multiple rows, or meaningless dots. The effort to properly visualize such a debacle of an experience is immense, and significantly takes away from discussion or analysis.

It helps me to know that, when I see such a mixed-metaphor calendar project timeline, it’s not my fault that I can’t understand it. Just like my multiple-attribute file tree experiment, it’s beyond the laws of semiotics.

I have some (wicked, wicked) plans on how to resolve this problem, but I’m not quite yet ready to share it. Will expand on this later, but thought I’d get the idea out there and see whatchyall think.