The relative effectiveness of symbols and words to convey photocopier functions

Michael O'Boyle, C. Howard, V. Eastman, T. Andre, T. Motoyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Two experiments have been conducted to examine preference patterns of inexperienced users for symbols intended to communicate photocopier functions and the relative effectiveness with which keywords, subject-generated symbols and industry symbols are matched to verbal descriptions of various photocopier operations. First, inexperienced photocopier users were asked to draw a set of symbols that they believed best represented 16 designated copier functions, and subsequently a second set of subjects compared these generated symbols with those currently used by the photocopier industry, and gave their preference. Inexperienced users generally preferred the subject-generated symbols, except for those involving the faily complex 'sidedness' functions. Secondly, inexperienced users were asked to match keywords, generated symbols and industry symbols to verbal descriptions of the same 16 photocopier functions. Essentially, keywords and generated symbols did not differ in matching accuracy, while both were more accurately matched than industry symbols. However, the complexity of the photocopier function to be conveyed and the familiarity of the user with a given copier operation did produce several exceptions to this overall pattern. The results suggest that careful ergonomics research can produce symbols that are at least as effective as keywords in conveying photocopier functions. The universal nature of such symbols and their possibilities for cross-cultural use are also noted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-224
Number of pages7
JournalApplied Ergonomics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1991


  • User preference
  • matching
  • photocopier function
  • symbols
  • words


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