Iconographic design: Signs, icons + symbols

On Abstraction

Abstraction is the reduction of something to it’s essential form. By abstracting something, you simplify it and render it easier for a user to recognize. A solid fill or outline is the simplest form of abstraction.



Also known as ideographs, icons are abstract representations of an image, object, action, function, or program. In order for an icon to be effective, it must be instantly recognizable. An icon that does this well is generally more user-friendly. Iconographer, Susan Kare who designed the world famous Mac icons, thinks of icons more like traffic symbols. Kare’s icons combine form, simplicity and humour.

The San Fransisco Emergency Task Force put together this great instructional set of icons to inform residents of what to do in the event of an emergency:

SF Emergency Icons



For those of you with an intellectual bend, read Carl Jung’s, Man and his Symbols. –It’s a fascinating read!


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