Learning to See: Icons and Symbols

Icons and symbols are everywhere — stop signs, bathrooms, a red cross at hospitals, the back and front arrow symbols on your keyboard — they’re everywhere. It’s a way to not only communicate and convey meaning but also represent the capabilities of a product or service.

If done correctly, no words are needed.

To understand how icons and symbols communicate meaning, I went to my local grocery store to find icons and symbols to sketch.

The basis of my selection was anything that was easily understood. For example, the logo for the sushi has a large red circle. That red circle, similar to Japan’s national flag, coupled with the word “Sushi”, conveys that its from Japan.

Fred Meyer’s Sushi

Another example would the Washington’s Lottery use of the four-leaf clover symbol. In certain cultures, finding a four-leaf clover is presumed to bring good luck and fortune aka winning the lottery. Along with a four-leaf clover being green, money is also green which further communicates “Lottery” and winning big.

Washington’s Lottery symbol

For the gluten-free sign, a minimalistic design of a plant is shown above. I find the design’s simple approach brilliant. The minimal design symbolizes purity — freedom of artificial ingredients and preservatives.

Fred Meyer’s Gluten Free Section

Ultimately, icons and symbols are up to the users interpretation based on past experiences. As designers, we must focus on keeping the design simple and schematic. Reducing the details and focusing on basic characteristics will increase both memorability and recognizability.

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