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Icon Usability Project

I would like to propose a project for those who'd like to be involved with the art project but who would prefer not to create artwork to increase the usability of the projects:

(1) Create sheets of the currently-designed icons as-is and with various filters applied them to synthesize how they might look from a distance or by visually-impaired users.

(2) (Even better) Create a plug-in for the GIMP or Inkscape (similar to the icon view too) so as the artists work on the icons they can preview how their icons would look with the same filters applied to them within their graphics creation tool.

The most recent issue of Boxes and Arrows has a very well-written article by Matt Queen about how to analyze and improve icons for discernibility.

The two main vectors by which we perceive differences in visual information are:

- P pathway - color & detailed shape (parvocellular)
- M pathway - gross shape, luminance, motion (magnocellular)

The more differences between icons in *both* of these aspects, the more discernable the icon will be. If icons all share the same color scheme and shape, for example, you're losing a lot of bandwidth for making the icons discernable.

To make icons more discernible via the M pathway:
- most simple method: 'squint'
- better method: spatial frequency filtering. The author suggests using the R statistical package [1] (yes, it works on Linux as well as OS X and Windows.) He outlines the methodology quite well in the article. You can see an example of the output here:


Matt's suggestion for how to apply this for the creation of better icons:

"I just mentioned in an email to Dustin Hamilton that he hit the nail on the head, distance filtering of icons is an evaluative technique—not a design technique. My knee-jerk reaction of how to coerce this method into a design tool is to create a plug-in for Photoshop or GIMP (preferably) that would allow an auto-updated window of the design space filtered at set distances. That way all design decisions (small and large) could be made in the context of the filtered frequency views. I imagine there is someone out there with enough talent and time to create such a tool. It seems like it would be useful."

Thus my suggestion #2 above. Queen points out a paper with the equations upon which such a plug-in could be based on:


(see the paragraph that starts with "Later theories of perception yield...")

If anyone is interested in this project please reply so we can organize.

Also, for the record & to reduce potential confusion, I would like to make clear a non-goal of the Echo icon theme:

- The goal of the Echo icon set is *not* to serve as a high-contrast and simple-shape icon set for blind and low-vision users. (The goal is to serve as a more general-purpose icon set.)


[1] http://www.r-project.org/

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