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"So, is it art?"

That was one of the questions rattling round London's Arndean Gallery last night - together with others such as "where's the red wine?" and "what's in this canapé exactly?"

Posing the question was Phil Cross, Microsoft marketing manager and UK head man for TechNet - aka cuddling up to developers. The "it" in question was the sort of graphics that gets used increasingly to try and portray the ebbs and follows of much of what IT vendors produce - from program logic to global systems architectures.

Microsoft has taken it into its head that here is, like the Imagine Cup, a good opportunity to offer a prize for something. This time it was for the most elegant, informative diagram or schematic.

OK, so it was arguably no more than an interesting piece of nonsense with which to while away a summer's evening, but it did actually raise an interesting point. Art and symbology have gone hand in hand since the first cave paintings indicated Bison could be caught "here". The art of a few hundred years ago was loaded with symbolic indications to real meaning. So, is the increasingly complex symbolic representation of incredibly complex subjects mark the start of something new?

It did occur to me that they could indeed be the modern equivalent of cave paintings, the figurative equivalent of a verbal "ugh!!". And if that is the case, do they represent a genuinely new form of communication that will grow in richness and subtlety? It is certainly true that the old saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words", can be re-written as "a single page systems architecture diagram is worth a whole bloody book, and then some".

In short, are the winners of the DesignIT awards (Kerry Hoskin for Remote Telemetry Data Collection; and Tim Oldham, who won the DesignIT for a Charity category with Multimedia Distribution for Students with Autism) thought leaders in a whole now form of communication? If so, anyone care to draw where it will lead?

As for the "art" question, it is fair to observe that the punters missed a real bargain. I put my Intel Developer Forum shoulder bag in the gallery window with a mere £175,000 price tag on it, but strangely got no takers - they're all philistines in London, you know. ®

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