St. Angsuesser

Department of Cartography, Technical University Munich


Icons are small-sized and isolated signs. A usual example of icons is represented by pictograms. Being embedded in maps, icons typically indicate points of interest or other discrete object classes. Icon-based geocommunication can thus be seen as a part of cartographic communication. In a more and more globalized world, geocommunication between different cultures has been intensified. Problems arising from this new situation are traditionally solved with a lowest common denominator approach - often a standardized symbol set that has to be learnt by those involved. Standardization has three main disadvantages: 1. Most standardized symbol sets so far have been developed in western countries. Therefore, it is for people with other cultural backgrounds harder to comprehend and learn them. 2. The plurality of existing geo-objects cannot be adequately represented by standardized symbol sets. 3. Little flexibility is left to accommodate innovative designs, which causes a declination of the artistic component of cartography. As proposed by Angsüsser (2006), individualization strategies should be implemented additionally to solve these problems.


As part of the on-going basic research in this field at our department a "Database for Cartographical Icons" (DB4CI) has been established. It contains a permanently growing number of icons taken especially from printed town plans and leisure maps from various countries. The regional focus is on Europe (especially Germany) and East Asia (especially China). In this paper not only the DB4CI, but also an in-depth analysis of differences between Chinese and German icons is presented. Using the double tetrahedron model introduced at the International Cartographic Symposium on Theoretical Cartography in Wuhan (Angsüsser 2006), all correlates of a sign (producer, meaning, object, sign vehicle, and recipient) and their relations (designation, representation, signification, as well as those of the producer and the recipient) are analyzed. Questions like "Is there a difference on abstraction level?", or "Is there any evidence that Chinese prefer symmetrical icons more than Germans?" will be addressed and all findings are illustrated by examples. Although this approach is mainly an etic one, emic aspects will be included as well. Through the cooperation with Chinese colleagues we are able to gain some insight into their concepts about cartographical icons and the associated usage.


Our analysis attempts to enhance the awareness of differences and possible user (producer and recipient) preferences in test regions. Our findings would make a valuable contribution to further works about the implementation of individualization strategies in cross-cultural geocommunication.