Digitization and The Loss of Iconography
Sue Walsh

Peirce’s Sign Theory or semiotics might be a way around this. But it would mean society would have to accept that some “things” are always represented by the Index (not the object but, something that indicates it is there; a foot print in sand, dark clouds mean rain) or the Symbol (an abstract representation of the object or thing, the nuclear symbol, , ♀, these very letters and numbers we read).
Humans are pretty good at this. Square for stop, triangle for play, bars for pause, arrow in box for send or get, arrow up and bar for eject, circle sections radiating for wi-fi, etc. Abstract road signage with no text at all (mostly outside the U.S.) like yield (give way), do not enter, and red (stop), green (go), and yellow(slow) lights (combined also mean intersection) are another example of wide, accepted use.
The trick is that, designers cannot mess with these conventions once they are accepted. These small, mostly totally futile attempts to reinvent many wheels, fail. But like with type design, we can still do a lot of innovation with a few common symbols.
A Sign (the representation of the actual object, like those Lincoln images) being adapted for use is OK too. The padlock, the sun burst for brightness, the speaker profile for sound, etc. Padlocks, the sun, speakers, will probably be around for some time to come.
My image of Lincoln always includes a top hat!

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