Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dude and Dudette

By now everyone's familiar with certain universal symbols that direct us in public places. There are symbols that point us toward services, symbols that forbid us from doing things like smoking, symbols that warn us against dangers, and symbols that help us find what we need. Like this:

Have you ever wondered how these symbols came to be, who invented them?

Me neither, until the other day.

Turns out that these symbols were designed in 1974 through a collaboration between the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation, at the urging of designer Henry Dreyfuss. They were designed for use in situations where people of many different cultures, languages and ways of life would need direction and guidance, and intended to be universally understood.

The AIGA symbols are ideograms - symbols that communicate complex ideas visually without words or language. Some are variations of symbols that have been used for centuries, and are so deeply rooted in our culture that few would question them. Directional arrows, for example. The AIGA arrows are bold and graphic, but for centuries people understood the idea that something shaped like this:

Meant we should walk in the direction of the pointy part.

Other symbols were invented by the AIGA designers, and have become universally understood today. Prior to the debut of these symbols, I don't think anyone would have assumed that this:

Meant "Don't come in here." Or that a circle with a diagonal line through it meant "prohibited." How'd they think those up?

I wonder whether a time traveller from 1900 would understand those two symbols. But it's amazing how, in the years since 1974, we've so easily come to accept and understand the AIGA symbols. That must say something for the skills of the designers, Roger Cook and Dan Shanosky.

Whenever anything becomes part of the establishment, however, we human beings have a tendancy to tweak it, to make fun of it, to get creative with it. The AIGA designs have been subjected to a lot of creative tweakage. Like this:

I'm sure you've seen many more.

The other day, I was touring a new recreational facility, to open in a few months, and I was tickled to see their version of restroom signs.

This is Southern California, after all. Here are the universal symbols for Dude, and Dudette:

I dunno. He looks pretty cool. But she kinda looks like she's wearing Mommy-shorts.


Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

She's wearing mommy shorts with pleats, I bet.

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

man, she is a total loser---how do you put her in a very revealing bikini?

Me said...

Or a mini-skirt! Cool post!

Life with Kaishon said...

I laughed out loud! California just screams COOL to me. Who else would think of that? Clever, indeed : ).

M. Bouffant said...

And a "mommy" style hair-do, as well.

Trannyhead said...

I think she has a skort.

You know - I've never understood some of the road construction signs. Like the one that I guess is supposed to be a guy with a flag? I always think "Beware of the guy wielding a block" when I see it.

JCK said...

I agree! How come he gets to look cool?

I am a Tornado ~ proven fact! said...

One of the many reasons I adore California, it seems to have a unique way of expressing all things.

BUT, Ewwww, mommy shorts!

I would have thought California would have better taste than that. I'm disappointed CA - very disappointed.

Cori G. said...

Mommy shorts...that is to funny! I have to admit that the universal ones confuse me a bit. I'm dyslexic and have been known to walk into the wrong bathroom...hey! what are all of these men doing in here! Maybe the woman's sign should have a big poofy doo. But then maybe some of the guys may think it's a fro and head in the wrong door.