Symbol Signs: Helvetica Man and Beyond
By Maria Popova
In 1974, the U.S. Department of Transportation commissioned AIGA to produce Symbol Signs — a standardized set of 34 symbols for the Interstate Highway System. Five years later, 16 more symbols were added to complete what’s become known as “the Helvetica of pictograms” — a 50-piece symbol set so iconic and universally pervasive it has become an integral part of our visual language.
But beyond their practical application, Symbol Signs have amassed a cultish following in the design community, generating derivative work ranging from the quirky to the wildly creative.
Artist Iain Anderson’s symbol-based short film, Airport, was a finalist in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival. And Norwegian designer Timo Arnall created The Adventures of Helvetica Man — a Flickr set paying tribute to the main hero of the Symbol Signs.
A few weeks ago, we tweet-raved about Symbolic Gestures — a wonderful exposé on all the creative ways in which the National Park Service has adapted the iconic symbols to convey a wide and incredibly rich range of contexts.
Download the 50 original Symbol Signs from the AIGA website — they’ve been released into the public domain, free and available with no copyright in EPS and GIF formats — and see what story you can weave.
Whether you get stuck or inspired, it’s worth checking out 1,000 Icons, Symbols, and Pictograms: Visual Communications for Every Language — a fantastic book on, well, exactly what the title promises.
via the wonderful idsgn blog
Published September 2, 2009