Bending Icons: Syntactic and Semantic Transformations of Icons

Alexander Repenning
Center of LifeLong Learning & Design Department of Computer Science
Campus Box 430
University of Colorado, Boulder CO 80309 303 492-1349,


The notion of icons in visual environments is limited by perceiving icons as tacit entities that have meaning only to human beings and not to the machines that display them. This perception leads to visual tools that provide very little support for the creation of related icons representing related concepts. A large number of complex icons can be generated automatically by applying simple syntactic and semantic transformations to more fundamental icons. These transformations can significantly reduce the laborious work of icon designers and programmers. This paper describes some of the essential icon transformations that have emerged from the experience of 25 designers using the Agentsheets system and creating a total of 500 icons.


agents, incremental programming, spatial metaphor, visual programming, syntactic transformation, semantic transformation, flow metaphor, topology, picture extrapolation