Publication details [#4043]

Dent-Read, Cathy H., Gary A. Klein and Robert Eggleston. 1994. Metaphor in visual displays designed to guide action. Bakhtiniana: Revista de Estudos do Discurso 9 (3) : 211–232. 22 pp.


We report a naturalistic study of how metaphor is used in visual displays designed to guide action in chemical process control, flight training, and flight environments. Our research question is whether pictorial metaphor is used to organize information that could be used to guide skilled action. Pictorial metaphor has been analyzed in art and cartoons, but such depictions are not used in adapting action to ongoing events. In pictorial metaphor, an object or action is depicted in terms of a different kind of object to which it bears a resemblance (e.g., a flight path depicted as a highway). Such depiction is potentially important in guiding skilled action under time pressure because the familiar can be used to guide attention to important aspects of ongoing events. We interviewed 20 designers regarding pictorial designs that they had found most challenging. We found that most pictorial metaphors occurred in flight designs. Pictorial metaphors are described for each type of design and analyzed in terms of affordances (i.e., what actions the metaphoric object affords also required in the ongoing event). The results show that pictorial metaphor is currently in use in computer-generated displays and that such metaphors effectively direct attention to real-world information needed to guide skilled action. (Cathy Dent-Read, Gary Klein and Robert Eggleston)