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Jocelyn Paine

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Non-Representational Art

January 10, 2011

In his posting The Command Line Phone, Al Williams expresses perplexity at the Android tablet's graphical user interface. One thing I've never liked about GUIs is how un-self-explanatory the icons are.

I'm looking at the Google toolbar on my browser above the Dobbs site. To the right of the Google search window is an icon made of two blue splodges, a yellow splodge, a big green splodge, and a little red splodge on top of the big green splodge. If I take off my glasses, the red and green become the side view of a Care Bear, or a goblin in his hat. With my glasses on, the icon is Plasticine pieces squished together by a toddler who has yet to pass Piaget Developmental Stage Zero. Perhaps, I guess, the different colours mimic the colours of sky, sea, desert, forest and wildflower meadow, reminding us that Google wants to own the Earth.

To the right of the Google Search Goblin is something not entirely unlike the Chinese character for "small", 小: a vertical bar with a pointy thing on each side. It signifies the shaking of my head from left to right and back, as I fail to comprehend the icons. Then there's a red, yellow and blue thing with shading under. It could be a folded flannel, a Battenburg cake with a blue Co-op "price-reduced" sticker, a pear, cherry and blueberry Swiss roll, or an open wallet from which I can pull money to go and buy a better pair of glasses. Not that that would help. Though I have now remembered a joke:

Q: How do you make a Swiss roll?
A: Push him down the hill.

Next, I see a grey temple. Its columns aren't rendered in enough detail to tell me which of the Five Orders they are, but from their squatness, I'd guess Doric. The temple is followed by a blue cross; a red envelope with a sticker over the flap; and a green square with wavy bits that represent a camera shutter. Oh, OK, must be a Webcam control.

And finally, there are a speech balloon with a pencil over; a blue star; a short ribbon which has partially filled with green; a green tick with ABC above; a right-pointing chevron; a spanner; and a green rubber ball like the one I used to bounce against the walls at school. That's a lot of green. My memories of school IQ tests tell me I should group the blue star and the blue cross together, thereby proving that I've passed Piaget Developmental Stage Three, whereafter I have the ability to think abstractly and to make rational judgements about concrete or observable phenomena. I am still trying to make a rational judgement about the blue star. It's white inside, reminding me of the white gouache I used to depict Rudolph's lit-up nose in my latest cartoon, but perhaps that's not relevant. Would it mean something different if it were indigo, or lemon? Perhaps "star" is a pun on celebrity, and this is a Google tool that rummages the Web for gossip about Amy Winehouse and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

The envelope must be for email; the fact that it's red obviously means it's unsafe, to use only if you don't mind unleashing an email virus. You could send an email asking for a better artist to design the icons. The tick and ABC could be for checking spelling, though I do not often spell-check other people's Web pages. The spanner is to hit the computer with. And in the temple, I pray for enlightenment.

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