In a basic application menu, there are two basic sign interactions taking place. The first, and most apparent, is the linkage of the text command and/or keyboard shortcut (the signifier) to the implied action within the application (the signified). Another level, however, might be the interaction between the command text (“New Tab” for instance) and the keyboard shortcut. These serve as joint signifiers and signified, depending on your reading order or preferred interaction style.

We naturally read in rows within an interaction, which makes the former relationship of command shortcut to command text within a line of text possible. The lifeworld of the user is also important, in that a basic understanding of “tabs”, the “command” symbol, as well as the concept of keyboard shortcuts is necessary to understand the interaction content and functionality. Otherwise these could be seen as a set of actions that will take place one the menu item is selected (e.g. the up arrow, command symbol, and letter T could stand for what will happens when I click that item).

The “Command-T” with the command symbol serves as a symbolic, indexical, and iconic sign. Symbolic, because it is an abstract sign; indexial because it serves within a class of command functions; iconic because it resembles the symbol used on the keyboard.

The denotation of the command symbol: looks like a clover. Connotation: the command symbol represents keyboard shortcuts.

-Jeremy White, Colin Gray, Austin Toombs