A Look at Iconography

As we go through our lives, we often become blind to the iconography surrounding us. That is until we actually need icons to help inform or direct us. When traveling in a foreign country, iconography becomes essential in trying to make one’s way through. As I traveled in a camper van throughout Iceland, I would have been stranded if it wasn’t for this international tent icon which frequently would appear on signs throughout the country.

International sign for tent

Webster’s dictionary defines iconography as a “pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject.” This literal definition doesn’t come close to describing the importance of some icons. As I started to take notice of the icons and signs around me, I realized they provide a sense of safety and comfort. At work I see the familiar “drop, cover and hold on” sign to protect us in case of an earthquake.

Safety First

I also observed the sign to remind you to “cover your cough”. A sign promoting safety and helping to stop the spread of germs. A nice reminder may be the difference between staying in bed with a cold or living your life.

Finally, there is the icon instructing park goers to leash their dog. A sign that if ignored could result in a costly fine.

Leash Law

Iconography can change over time and also evoke strong emotions. Once a simple icon to distinguish between male and female has begun to change. As our society has recognized transgender rights, the sign now begins to convey a message of acceptance.

After my day of observing iconography, I realized that icons create meaning to convey a range of messages. These meanings can transcend language barriers and words. While not everyone may be conscience of iconography or create meaning from them, they are an essential part of our daily lives.

As I think about designing icons, I understand the importance of creating thoughtful and meaningful icons to convey clear and concise messages. Icons can bring users a sense of comfort, understanding, and efficiency to their experience. While we may rely on traditional icons to convey a universal meaning, it is also important to take a step back and evaluate the relevance of traditional icons.

Whatever the project may be, Iconography should definitely be considered in user experience.