Widgit Software

Widgit Symbols Development Project


As well as redesigning and redrawing the symbols, other considerations had to be taken into account to ensure that the new symbols would be widely applicable. These issues include the structure of the wordlists and use of the symbols with languages other than English or where the reader does not understand the language of the text with the symbol. Another key issue to be addressed concerns the care necessary in creating effective symbol supported materials.

Differentiated wordlists

Three levels of Widgit wordlists have been created:

  • Level 1 is aimed at young people and people who will be focusing on a communication vocabulary. The number of alternatives for any concept will be kept to a minimum, and complex items and grammatical markers will not be included.
  • Level 2 will have a larger vocabulary, including more grammatical features, but still with a minimum number of alternatives for any single concept.
  • Level 3 will have all items from the vocabulary. An alternative without the explicit sex-education vocabulary will also be available.

An option in the program will allow the plural qualifiers to be turned off, giving access to the vocabulary, linked to the single image, at any of the levels.

It is also possible to 'hide' symbols so that the F12 key has to be pressed to reveal it. This can be useful with abstract items and 'the' or 'a'. Level 2 vocabulary will have more of these so that words can be introduced as appropriate.

Combined symbols versus one symbol per word

In the Widgit symbol set there were certain symbols that were used to represent more than 1 word e. g. "How much? " "Again please". In reviewing the set we have aimed to reduce this use of symbols to a minimum. There will therefore be more use of correspondence between each word and symbol, for example 'Geography teacher' will be shown by the two symbols. This may not be the case where the concept is one idea as in "wedding dress" and "life jacket"

Simplified language

However carefully the symbols are designed and however well they are taught, it is essential that the language level of the reader is recognised in sentence construction, and that the way the symbols are displayed can be crucial to the readability. The more concrete the vocabulary the easier it will be to illustrate the concepts graphically. Most punctuation marks are not shown in the graphic line and so the symbol reader will not easily see the ends of sentences, unless sentences are arranged on single lines. Long sentences with many symbols will be very difficult to interpret, whereas short sentences with few symbols may be much easier. Long sentences with few symbols will also be difficult to follow because the spacing between the symbols will not make sense graphically.

International Considerations

Writing with Symbols 2000 is currently being translated into a number of languages. In reviewing the whole of the symbol collection there has been the opportunity to remove some symbols that are specifically suitable for use only in the UK. In doing this it appears that each set of Widgit symbols will need a small separate library that contains those symbols, which are culturally specific. One other area that has made the symbols more suitable for an international audience is the removal of the majority of text from the symbols, which is more appropriate for symbol users anyway.

Developing your own symbols in the Widgit style

These guidelines have been written to help explain the new ideas behind the symbols and to help with the construction of any new symbols in the future. The conventions described should allow you to create your own symbols using a drawing package, either starting from scratch or using elements from the drawings already published. An additional pack will be available with greater detail on the conventions and elements will be available, accompanied by graphic images for these elements. If you do design new symbols using these guidelines or using the existing symbols, then we ask that you share your ideas so that they can be added into future upgrades. Access to large vocabularies will be increasingly important as symbol users begin to talk about wider topics and to participate more in society.

Tina Detheridge, Helen Whittle and Cate Detheridge, July 2002

All symbols in this document are (c) Widgit Software Ltd 2002.


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