Sunday, 17 February 2013

Black and white and read all over

I ♥ pictograms!

I’m fascinated and impressed by the way a three dimensional object or a piece of information can be reduced down to a simple, flat, monochrome graphic and yet can still be universally understood.   It must take a special kind of skill to design one effectively, but presumably the creators go through life without ever receiving any credit.

There’s no room for fuss or detail; it’s art at its most basic, no-nonsense level.  I love the use of blocks and shapes, symmetry and white space.  It's not a way of drawing I'd find easy, with rarely any outlines and no opportunity for subtle shading. 

Some pictograms are just perfect in their simplicity, although I struggled with a few on this leaflet I picked up the other day.


Among my favourites for being aesthetically pleasing as well as symbolic are the brush (for 'solvent-based paints, wood varnishes and enamels') and the bin (for ‘waste, dirt, filth or refuse’).  That rat is pretty cool too.  You'll be pleased to know I had no intention of sending one through the international mail anyway.

I remember a homework project from my Geography class when I was eleven.  It wasn’t quite the same as coming up with a pictogram but the principle was similar - we had to make simple diagrams to represent objects from an aerial perspective.  I didn’t realise how very unoriginal I was being at the time but, yes, I drew this



Miss T didn’t like it and said she had no idea what it was.  She was a harsh teacher in that first year and we were all rather scared of her.  Mind you, when she came back in the second year as Mrs A she had changed completely and was nice as pie…


I’ll be forever grateful to the mysterious Mr A for making her a happy woman and for inadvertently making my Geography lessons a lot more enjoyable.  I hope he enlightened her to a whole series of visual jokes about sombreros.

There can be no doubt that this is a Mexican frying an egg

But maybe the best ever use of a completely stripped down, perfect, graphic pictogram is this Frank Zappa album cover.  Pure brilliance.

For more musical pictogram ideas how about these: 
Rock’n’roll goes hieroglyphical


NB This post was partly inspired by this (Thank you Dr MVM)

16 comments:

  1. Ah...the old sombrero viewed from above. Always a classic. That Uncle Frank album sounds as good as it looks, too, of course. Genius on all counts.

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    1. I'm afraid I'm no fan of Uncle Frank's music... honestly I tried, but to no significant avail! However, I have total admiration and liking for who he was as a person, due in no small part to reading his autobiography 'The Real Frank Zappa Book'. What a brilliant, funny and totally sound man.
      (And that album cover gets me every time!)

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  2. Geographical symbol for a crop circle? Working at the airport and having to deal with many forms of 'colourful' cargoes, I'm confronted by many ingenious and effectively simple pictograms which reflect on how dangerous they are.......not very rock n roll, god I'm boring.

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    1. Not boring at all, flycasual!
      But it must be like knowing another language, if you see them all the time and now just instantly know what they are/mean. I found it quite hard to interpret some of those song titles on the link to the NME page I included, but it got a little easier after a while - though only once I'd really adapted my way of thinking. Weird that!

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  3. Replies
    1. Not a lot by the look of it...

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  4. I find it quite ingenious how they show instructions to put together some article and it is done for a universal audience and nothing is written. A Mexican fishing was another favourite.

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    Replies
    1. Yes they are pretty ingenious, aren't they? Mind you, not that I can always make sense of those ones - although that may have more to do with the colour of my hair ;-)

      (And there's a Mexican eating an ice cream, remember that?)

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  5. My favorite one of these involves a urology clinic in Mississippi.

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    1. I remember it well. Never before have I seen a logo quite so...erm... subliminal?!

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  6. What is the third one along that can't be posted - a snowflake ? Why would I want to post a snowflake ... ? Confused...

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    1. Why would you want to post a snowflake? I don't know... apart from the fact that I'd rather like to receive one ;-)

      Maybe it's not a snowflake but a throwing star? That'd be pretty dangerous. But I've no idea, to be honest, and it's not even included in the key inside the leaflet. Your guess is as good as (and probably better) than mine!

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  7. I'm very childish so am always disproportionately amused by the silhouette of the little man on signs warning you not to cross railway lines or level crossings. He always seems to be walking like he's got damp trousers on. Just me, then? Ah.

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    1. It's just you, Kolley, just you.

      Mind you... now you've said that...

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  8. They don't work sometimes for me - one of those things I can't mail to my son in Norway looks like a lampshade - I'm sure that I could mail him a lampshade... :-)

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    1. No I don't understand them all either. From the photos you've posted on your blog of where your son is, it looks like he could probably do with some extra lamps out there!

      Btw I looked up that lampshade pic and it is in fact nail varnish!!

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