Signs with pictures on have also stuck out to me. In part this is because they are vaguely familiar, but also because even if not familiar they are at least relatively easy to understand. But even with pictures, misunderstandings can take place. A picture of a brass instrument with a red line through it on the DUT campus had us guessing, no trumpets… no saxophones… no jazz? All obviously unlikely to be the actual meaning, but suitably entertaining as guesses until we found out that it meant no beeping of car horns. Curiously, it seemed to be obeyed – a stark contrast to the roads on the other side of the campus gates.
Symbols are important modes of representation. They assist in enabling effective collaboration despite lingo-cultural barriers. What could be a long verbal and non-verbal explanation can effectively be shown in a couple of shapes, some coloured lines, some emphasis with a pen, and a few accompanying words. I saw this tonight in my team’s discussion of our findings from the site. In trying to explain what struck him the most during research on site earlier that day, Cristian Ruiz, my teammate from UTS, an industrial design student, began to draw.
What had been a mix of confused Chinese, Colombian and English accented verbal discussion gradually dribbled to a close, as one by one our heads leaned in, tilted to one side and our mouths dropped open. Realising we had fallen silent, Cristian looked up. Like the car horn sign I had seen earlier that day, at this stage it was all guesses. Rectangles lined up with coloured criss-crossing lines. A strange disjointed shape sat in the middle of the diagram with different coloured lines criss-crossing within it. Cristian continued drawing. New colours suddenly spurted out in straight lines from each rectangle across the page, over the strange shape in the middle. I was clueless as to what I was looking at. But then, Cristian explained in some short simple words while emphasising with a pen on the picture, what the rectangles were, and what the strange shape was. The residents housing blocks and the mine pit.
Suddenly the picture made sense. It was inventive. It was creative. I could visualise what Cristian was talking about – probably more effectively than if he had tried to explain it verbally. Through the picture, the symbol representing his idea, I could see his idea. Our teammates were nodding in agreement. Soon, we were all contributing our own ideas. The representation in the face of lingo-cultural barriers as a key element of our state change facilitated effective idea communication. In doing so it freed our team to individually choose which mediums were best to communicate their ideas and especially opened up the possibility of representation as an effective medium of communication across lingo-cultural barriers. As a result of this, effective collaboration was enabled. Needless to say, the pens and coloured pencils were used a lot more after that.
Thus, while sometimes representations, be they signs or pictures, can be misunderstood requiring a few words to be added or some pen emphasis or demonstration of movement, they are particularly effective across barriers resulting from state change. In this case those barriers were lingo-cultural, however I can see how they could cross barriers of locations, paradigms, types of intelligence used and of course as a method itself, cross barriers caused by other methods of collaboration.
Signs in English have stuck out to me while being driven around, probably because they are the familiar amongst the unfamiliar. Some make sense. Some are a bit grammatically interesting. Some, like “Right English School”, arguably don’t need to be written in English. I’ve particularly taken a liking to the signs for new housing developments. “Welcome to the Wonderful World” certainly aroused my curiosity as to what alternate fantastical land lies beyond the stern looking red and white barricade.
I was struck in this instance by how with the representation I could see his idea. As someone who typically is quite comfortable communicating through written or verbal language, I have realised how effective symbols, pictures and other forms of representation can be to seeing, and thus, better understanding an idea. Indeed, my eyes have been opened beyond the barricade to a wonderful new world.