All 4 books by Edward Tufte now in
paperback editions, $100 for all 4
Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Envisioning Information
Visual Explanations
Beautiful Evidence
Paper/printing = original clothbound books.
Only available through ET's Graphics Press:
catalog + shopping cart
All 4 clothbound books, autographed by the author $150
catalog + shopping cart
Edward Tufte e-books
Immediate download to any computer:
Visual and Statistical Thinking $2
The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint $2
Seeing Around + Feynman Diagrams $2
Data Analysis for Politics and Policy $2
catalog + shopping cart
Edward Tufte one-day course,
Presenting Data and Information
Boston MA, October 23, 24, 25
Washington DC, November 6, 7
Bethesda MD, November 9
San Francisco CA, December 4, 5, 6
San Jose CA, December 8
Click here for more information about ET's course and to register.
graphic reference symbols

graphic reference symbols

Are there standard graphic symbols, other than flowcharting's "go to" symbol and the traditional hand with the extended, pointing index finger, to denote "see" or "refer to," analogous to a "hyperlink"; if yes, what are they and what do they look like?

-- J.D.McCubbin (email)

The classic general reference for this type material is Henry Dreyfuss, Symbol Sourcebook (1972). So start there. A graphic designer can probably lead you to a collection of arrows. And try Google, searching under several different obvious phrases, including icon design.

I once made a big collection of various designs of "fists," the closed hand with the extended pointing index finger, going back to the 1500s, but never found any use in my books for pointing fingers (too active for such a small task, arrow often works well, a bit self-conscious, excessively cute, might be mistaken for a rude gesture, other more effective and efficient ways available to highlight or point). I have now and then used fists for antic purposes in prankish designs for friends.

Graphic symbols of verbs (more or less the general class of forms here) serve as the content of my redesign of airport signals for moving planes (and one of the cognitive art prints) in my Envisioning Information, p. 63.

The hyperlink pointer is superb; who designed it?

-- Edward Tufte

In 1977 the Live Text system that I developed at the University of Illinois, used a special character set (on the Plato IV terminal) to indicate the text of a hypertext link. When graphic material was being presented (at that time from microfiche) we allowed the hypertext author to define feature identifiers or hints for elements of a graphic that had some link. Point being, it seemed better to let the content author control the nature of visual element in graphic presentations and to automatically visualize the textual display (as most browsers now do).

Many years later, I find it interesting to think of how many good ideas were launched back then. We didn't even have a copy of Computer Lib and Dream Machines (Ted's book didn't come to my notice until a year after I had the system up with three different knowledge bases installed and useable from any of the 600 terminals on the central campus Plato system).

By the way, I am still out exploring the edges ("dream carrier"). I teach the senior capstone at the U.S. Military Academy, Dept. of EE&CS. Now I find myself working with the XML concerns for DOD and maybe using that as a vehicle to improve the user interface of main battle systems.


-- Dr. Frank Mabry (email)

The hyperlink pointing hand and most of the other great icons that we take for granted when interacting with our computers were designed by Susan Kare. Ms. Kare finally won a design award for her work; she was one of the Chrysler Design Awards winners in 2001.

-- Rachel Winchester (email)

You can see Susan Kare's wonderful work at

-- Edward Tufte

What about the musical signo and coda symbols -

These seem to be the best example of a standard for 'goto', however are only known by musicians.

-- Michael Sloan (email)

Threads relevant to typography, book design, and publishing: