Silhouettes reveal more than you know…

Silhouettes are an amazing thing. Not only does it reveal the shape, curves, and intricacies of shape and form, but it’s also amazing how our brains interpret them and can make sense of them. There’s no better example of this than when we talk about symbols and icons. These graphical representations help us understand and find meaning in the world we live in. You’ve probably even been part of creating them – I bet you’ve drawn a stickman or two in your lifetime! Typically in black and white, these symbols simplify the complexities of life to communicate its essence and help us find our way through the world.

One of the first places I’ve found standard symbols is at AIGA, the professional association for design, which produced a series of icons used for transportation purposes. Ever been in an airport and seen signs to give directions or the toilets? Then you’ve probably seen one of these symbols. The complete set of 50 passenger/pedestrian symbols developed by AIGA are available in EPS and GIF formats…And the good thing about it is they are free to use. Check them out on the AIGA website.

The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), an organization I worked with previously on infographics and map design, also just released a set of 500 humanitarian symbols to use for maps, graphics, reports, etc… all for free. Started in 2008, the project has developed to create more standardized symbology to help humanitarians on the ground in disaster and emergency situations quickly communicate information in a visual way. Akiko Harayama, Head of OCHAs Advocacy and Visual Media Unit (AVMU) said:

After the first set of symbols was released in 2008, we started to receive requests for new symbols from our humanitarian partners, including UN agencies and NGOs in the field around the world. In the midst of a crisis response, relief workers would not have the time or design skills to create usable symbols. Clearly presenting and visualizing this information is the next step and hopefully leads to more effective and timely humanitarian assistance.

Finally, there’s the Noun Project which I just discovered that will make life a hell of a lot easier when trying to search for symbols and icons. There mission is to ‘share, celebrate, and enhance the world’s visual language’.

The Noun Project collects, organizes and adds to the highly recognizable symbols that form the world’s visual language, so we may share them in a fun and meaningful way.

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