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.