Some notes on Bowman’s (1968) Three Modes of Visual Translation and the Meanings of the Terms Symbol, Icon and Sign.
- Objective Translation
Photographs can be thought of as icons, but we reserve the use of that term for images stripped of the cues that create the sensory illusion of visual reality
- Iconic Translation
Bowman refers to this form of visual translation as symbolic. The terms symbolic and iconic overlap in their meanings (see Box S), but we reserve symbol for the most conventional of representations, those that appear to be completely arbitrary, or represent the highly abstract.
- Abstract Translation
Bowman includes the bar chart, to show quantities and trend, and the pie chart, to show proportional division, as examples of abstract translation. They appear to us to be iconic translations. Our interpretation is that the problems of how to show simple processes and organization, as well as numerical data, lend themselves to design solutions favoring iconic translations. Abstract translations are what we usually see in words and technical languages such as music and mathematics. These also can be expressed within graphics by means of captions and thought balloons (see the section Augmenting Meaning: Images and Words).