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Words to help you think about

pictures, shape and design


A chart is a graphical presentation of information. A map of part of the sea, or of the stars, is called a chart.

In descriptive statistics, charts are diagrams used to present statistical information. Diagrams used to present statistical information include graphs, bar charts, histograms, and pie charts.

Bar Chart, Bar Graph A bar
chart or graph uses rectangles (bars) to represent different amounts.

Histogram A histogram is a
bar chart with no spaces between bars.

Pie Chart A pie chart is in the shape of a circle, divided into slices like the slices of a pie. Each slice represents a share of the whole, and the bigger the slice, the bigger the share.

Pie charts were invented by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, to support her argument that more soldiers died from disease than in battle.


A diagram is a drawing used to explain or prove something. Often it will be just an outline. It may be a figure drawn roughly to show how objects relate, a finely designed outline of an object and its parts, or a fully coloured model of an object with the parts labelled. Diagrams (perhaps called charts) can also be drawn to illustrate statistical data, or to summarise scientific observations.

In geometry, diagrams ( figures) made of lines are used to prove theorems as well as to illustrate definitions. Diagrams can be used in a similar way in economics and other subjects.

See Nathaniel Miller (2007) chapter on "A Short History of Diagrams, Logic, and Geometry" and Julienne Ford (2008) chapter on Diagrams.


In computer art, drawing programs are ones that produce images by drawing lines according to a mathematical formula. The graphics they produce are called vectors. Unlike the images produced by Paint programs, vector images keep their smooth edges when enlarged.

Corel Draw is an example of a Drawing program.


To figure something out is to work it out. This is because figure is a word we use for the symbols (1,2,3, etc) that we use to represent numbers.

In a book (or a dissertation or report) a figure is a drawing or diagram, and a table of figures is a list or the drawings and diagrams in the book.

In geometry, a figure is the word used for shapes and solids. Examples of geometrical figures are triangles, circles, squares, cones, spheres and cubes. A geometrical figure is either a two dimensional space enclosed by a line (e.g. a circle) or lines (e.g. a triangle), or a three dimensional space enclosed by a surface (e.g. a sphere) or surfaces (e.g. a cone).

To figurate is to form, fashion or shape. A figuration is when you draw the form, shape, outline, or contour of a thing. Figurational sociology traces the shape of society by tracing the links between individuals to show how they fit into networks. (See Wikipedia figurational sociology)

Flow Chart

Graph See Cartesian space

A graph is a diagram to shows the relationship between two quantities that vary with one another (variables). For example, people change height as they grow older. A graph can be drawn to show the relationship between age and height. A similar graphing of something that changes with time is the graph of the British balance of trade.

A graph is usually based on two lines, called axes, drawn at right angles. If only positive quantities are being graphed, the two lines will form a capital L shape. A horizontal straight line, called the horizontal axis will run along the bottom. This is also called the x axis. A vertical straight line vertical axis goes up at a right angle from the left end of it. This is called the y axis.

The two lines (axes) are labelled in words and numbers, so that we know what each stands for. Lines upwards from each point on the x axis will cut through horizontal lines from each point on the y axis. The points of intersection are called coordinates. Any point on the graph is identified by the quantity of x and y values corresponding to that coordinate.

We could draw a child's years of age along the page (horizontally, x axis) and height measures up the page (vertically on the y axis). Then, measuring the child on each birthday, we could mark the coordinate at which year and height intersect. A line (called a curve) drawn through these coordinates would graphically represent the child's growth.

If positive and negative quantities of x and y are being graphed, the y axis will need to continue down the page below the x axis, and the x axis will need to continue across the y axis, leftwards. To the left of the the y axis gives negative values of x, below the x axis gives negative values of y.

The graph below of the equation y equals x squared
has negative values of x, but not of y.

The reason for this is that

a minus number squared makes a plus, so

minus x times minus x = plus y

The graph below of the equation y equals x cubed
has negative values of x and y.

The reason for this is that

a minus number cubed makes a minus, so

minus x times minus x times minus x = plus y

Graphic, Graphical

A graphic is a picture or visual representation.

Computer graphics are pictures, graphs and diagrams produced on a computer.


This holy picture of the Orthodox Christian Church is called an icon.

Icon just means an image or likeness

In computing, icon is used to describe a small picture on the screen that you click on (usually twice) to start something on the computer. If you double click (respectfully) the holy icon of the mother of God, she will take you to the dictionary entry for analogy and symbol.

Isomorphic Model

Iso means equal, morph means form. Isomorphic means having a shape that is equal, or a similar form.

When each of two structures has corresponding parts that play similar roles within the structure, they are isomorphic.

If something is a model of something else, the two may well be isomorphic. If, for example, a social theorist says that the family is a model for political society, he or she may be arguing that the family structure contains elements (parents, children etc) which relate to each other in the same way as elements within the political structure such as rulers and ruled.

In this case 'model' is an example of a process or system used in comparison with other systems because they share similarities. John Stuart Mill, for example, discusses the hierarchical family (father at the top, mother and children underneath) as a model of (similar to) the form of a hierarchical political society (political ruler at the top, the people underneath). He contrasts this with a democratic family in which the processes within the family are similar to those within a democratic political system.

However, the concept of model as isomorphism (similar shape) does not include the idea of an ideal shape on which the other is "modelled" (as with a fashion model) which is also an aspect of John Stuart Mill's thinking.

Above includes contributions from Seana Graham


The word logogram was invented in the early 19th century from the Greek words for word (logos) and written (gramma). It was used for a single sign or symbol representing a whole word - such as you might have in a shorthand system, or in some of the world's oldest writing systems.

Middlesex University, 
London, England
Mission to put
students first In the mid 20th century, its abbreviated form logo was used for a simple picture that symbolises a whole organisation, an object or a concept. The 1992 logo of Middlesex University is used on this site as an icon that you click on

Middlesex University, 
London, England
Mission to put
students first The 2003 logo was designed to express a flexible and responsive approach to the needs of students

A new logo was adopted in September 2012

Logos are symbols of identity. They can be related to the totems used as symbols of society. They are also used in marketing and branding


On a table napkin you can draw an outline of the surface of the world around you showing where the different parts are. Your napkin can then be used by other people to find their way around. "Map" comes from the Latin for table napkin. As rich Romans ate their sumptuous meals, perhaps they amused themselves by drawing maps of their houses or cities to guide their guests. "The public baths are around this corner, but if you want to see lions eating Christians you have to go up here".

A map is a representation of the surface of the earth, part of it or another planet, usually made on a flat surface. Making such a map is called mapping. Mapping links the features of the real earth to a symbolic representation of them on the map we are making. This process gives its name to an activity in mathematics.

In mathematics, a map is a linking of the elements (parts) of one set (group) of things with the elements of another set. For example, your fingers are a set of things and so are the numbers one to ten. When you count your fingers, you map the numbers onto your fingers:

    Number One > Thumb on left hand
    Number Two > Forefinger on left hand
    Number Three > Middle finger on left hand
    Number Four > Ring finger on left hand
    Number Five > Little finger on left hand


In computer art, paint programs are ones that produce images by turning on or off an individual pixel. The graphics they produce are called bitmaps. What is happening can be seen by enlarging one of these graphics. For example,

This little green button: measures 14 pixels across and 14 high, including its background.
The pixels are squares of one colour, but, because they are so small, you do not see them. By enlarging the button ten times, you can see the squares. The picture in the middle is just the button enlarged ten times by the browser. The diagram on the right shows the structure of the graphic, including the background. It shows the fourteen pixels across and down.

Corel Paint is an example of a Paint program.


Pattern comes from the same word as the Latin for father (pater). In patriarchal societies the father is the head of the household and the model (or pattern) for everyone to imitate. As one thing imitates another it produces a repeat of the first thing, and a series of repeats is also called a pattern.

    "All the children,
    In the houses,
    They go to the University,
    And they all live in little boxes,
    In little boxes, just the same"
Pattern is thus used in two senses:
    A model or original to be copied, or to serve as a guide in making something.

    Something that is regular and repeated, such as a pattern of behaviour or a pattern of roses on a dress.


"Picture" came from the Latin word for painting, but it is now used for most visual creations, including paintings and drawings, film (the "pictures") and photographs, and images in our minds ("picture this"). It can even be used for words that summons visual images to our minds (a word- picture").

A picture on a computer is usually called a graphic

Short for Picture element

Behind the computer screen in front of you, there is an electron gun that sprays patterns of energy on the back of the screen. As each electron in the energy pattern strikes, it lights up part of a coating made of phosphor, a chemical that emits light when agitated. The amount of screen lit up by each electron bullet is tightly controlled, very small, shaped in a square, and called a pixel. The screen consists of a grid of these pixels, like minutely divided graph paper. The patterns you see on the screen depend on which of the pixels are lit and which are off. Originally this meant screens were black and white (pixels on and off). Colour is now produced by having different layers of phosphor for each of the three primary colours, and three electron guns (one for each colour) instead of one.


Rhythm is a regular pattern of sounds or movements.

In his Music for the Multitude (1939/1947, page 10), Sidney Harrison says it is:

"a quality that pervades the ceaseless process of change going on around us and in ourselves...

It is the to and fro alternation between activity and rest, between departing and returning, between light and darkness, between growth and decay. The stars move rhythmically, the seasons recur rhythmically, we breathe and walk, sleep and wake, are born and die - making endless time- patterns...

And when primitive men found that they themselves could set rhythms in motion ... they may well have felt they possessed some of the creative magic that belonged to the spirits. This, maybe, is why, whenever they approached the gods ... they came with dancing and beating of drums and loud cries."

Rhythm of poems - Eurhythmy - therapeutic rhythms - dimensions


Originally a slab (of clay or stone for example) with writing or an inscription. From this applied to the contents of the slab (the writing).

Tables played an important part in the early history of science. Some of the oldest surviving mathematics is written on tablets of clay and laws that laid the foundations of jurisprudence were written on tablets of stone. Tablet is a French word for a small table.

Now, a table is a list of numbers, references, or other items arranged systematically. The items may just be listed (as in a Table of Contents), but are more often arranged in columns, as in the following example.

Age Groups Numbers Percentages
15 to 29 109   18
30 to 44 218   35
45 to 59 242   40
60 to 74   46     7
Total 615 100

Statistics in the nineteenth century made a great use of tables. See, for example, William Farr's Life Tables and the tables (1 and 2 and 3) used by Emile Durkheim in his book on suicide

Mathematical tables (like multiplication tables) are lists of operations and results the you either memorise, or look up. Such tables were used much more before electronic devices, such as calculators and computers, enabled people to find answers by typing a question.

A matrix is the mathematical term for a table of numbers (called elements of the matrix) arranged in columns and rows.

A computer table consists of rows and columns used for arranging material in rectangular spaces. Often, it can also be used as a spreadsheet for mathematical calculations.

Timetables help us to organise time

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Bar Chart





Flow Chart











Pie Chart




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