Talking head
Keep Ruby Weird 2014

This presentation, by Paul Battley, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

Have you ever cursed at the symbols on a washing machine, puzzled at the pictorial navigation of a website, or panicked at that inscrutable symbol on the car dashboard that's flashing red? I have. Especially the last one. (I eventually discovered that I'd been driving with the parking brake on.) All this has happened before, and all this will happen again. (Except for me driving with the parking brake on.) Throughout history, humanity has faced the challenge of putting complex and abstract concepts onto paper or clay or rock or skin or whatever. It usually starts out in the same way, but the end results have been very varied: We've ended up with alphabets, abjads, abugidas, logograms and syllabaries. Oh, and the symbols on modern industrial devices. I'll describe the history of some of the more interesting writing systems and explain how Chinese works, that Japanese can be really hard, and why you should be really glad you're not an Akkadian. I hope that it will be enlightening and fascinating, but I also hope that it will help to inform the way that people approach pictorial communication in the future. I also hope that it will go some way towards explaining why there are so many hamburger menus, and inspire people to do better.

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