How to do things without words. Multisemiotic visualization in LEGO vs. IKEA building instructions


This study explores LEGO and IKEA building instructions within the broader landscape of multisemiotic qualitative data visualization practices. Building instructions are defined as procedural texts, in which an encoder plans ahead how a practical action is to be undertaken in the real world, and as cognitive protocols, guiding users in the performing of complex tasks by way of rescaling the latter in a sequence of smaller problems, and therefore turning representation into action. The peculiarity of LEGO and IKEA building instructions lays however in the multisemiotic mix through which they perform their referential and instructional functions, which does not comprise verbal language. By way of multisemiotic visualization strategies, LEGO and IKEA building instructions present numerical, topographical, analytical and processual meanings in synoptic, integrated fashion, so as to allow the grasping of articulated data sets on the part of the user. Incorporating Systemic Functional Grammar, classic Social Semiotics and Cognitive Discourse Analysis, this study analyses and contrasts the ideational and interpersonal processes through which LEGO and IKEA building instructions codify empirical phenomena and procedures in such a way as to get unspecialized users to obtain a complete and concrete object from a box of scattered pieces. Attention is finally given to the overarching cultural and epistemological tendency that may be detected behind the fast-growing diffusion of visualization in today’s information dissemination practices, i.e. the spatialization of temporal processes.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v40p117

Keywords: qualitative data visualization; multisemioticity; Cognitive Discourse Analysis; procedural discourse; spatialization of temporal processes


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