Learning to See Iconography

Today’s DesignLab assignment required me to step outside and observe symbols and icons in everyday life. Luckily for me, the sun was shining on this beautiful morning, and the temperature was a pleasant 63 degrees Fahrenheit when I left my house. I decided to take this lesson to the quaint downtown area of my town.

I started my icon search at the local coffee shop called Unwind. I noticed the cute signage before entering the shop. After purchasing my coffee, I grabbed a business card to use for this assignment.

The logo for this business features a simple icon/logo that was drawn with wispy, script-like strokes. The logo depicts a coffee cup with vapor rising from the cup. This representation of a “cup with vapor” is something I have seen many times before. I think it was a wise icon choice for a coffee shop due to a universal familiarity with the symbolism of this image.

Left: Unwind business card/logo; Right: My sketch of the Unwind icon

The next icon I chose to feature was the “No Trucks” sign. I took this picture alongside a sidewalk going in the direction of a nearby neighborhood. It is common to see this sign on the cusp of commercial and residential space. It is placed to alert trucks that they are not permitted on the narrow residential streets.

Left: ‘No Trucks’ road sign; Right: My sketch of the ‘No Trucks’ icon

The ‘Town of Pineville’ signage features an image of what appears to be a pine tree enclosed in a circle, layered on top of a background picture of attached buildings. This seems fitting given the town name is in fact Pineville. Oddly enough, there do not appear to be many pine trees around town — at least not in my part of town.

Left: ‘Town of Pineville’ sign’; Right: My sketch of the ‘Town of Pineville’ icon

Since I live in The Bible Belt, this icon project would not be complete without an icon or symbol from a church. The cross on the sign below is perhaps the most common icon associated with Christianity.

Left: Gracelife Church sign; Right: My sketch of the Gracelife Church sign/icon

The CPI Security sign below resembles a stop sign. The sign’s text content clearly warns any potential perpetrator that the house is armed with security. But there is also subliminal messaging that is conveyed by the use of red and white colors, and the octagonal sign shape. The color and shape features are very similar to a stop sign. It is clear that there is a symbolic use of the colors/shape to further emphasize a warning to any perpetrator who might consider trying to break in.

Left: CPI Security sign; Right: My sketch of the CPI Security sign

This exercise was a nice change from the typical routine of sitting at my computer all day. Being on the lookout for iconography in the real world made me realize just how many messages are conveyed by use of icons/symbols. Having been exposed to these visual indicators for so long, I forgot how powerful these little symbols are in providing instructions to people. Whether driving on the road, walking down the street, or while deciding where to go to grab that cup of coffee — these icons/symbols are everywhere.

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