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Symbol Signs: Helvetica Man and Beyond

A man and a woman walk into a sign, or what Helvetica has to do with slipping on ice.

In 1974, the U.S. Department of Transportation commissioned AIGA to produce Symbol Signs — a standardized set of 34 symbols for the Interstate Highway System. Five years later, 16 more symbols were added to complete what’s become known as “the Helvetica of pictograms” — a 50-piece symbol set so iconic and universally pervasive it has become an integral part of our visual language.

But beyond their practical application, Symbol Signs have amassed a cultish following in the design community, generating derivative work ranging from the quirky to the wildly creative.

Artist Iain Anderson’s symbol-based short film, Airport, was a finalist in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival. And Norwegian designer Timo Arnall created The Adventures of Helvetica Man — a Flickr set paying tribute to the main hero of the Symbol Signs.

A few weeks ago, we tweet-raved about Symbolic Gestures — a wonderful exposé on all the creative ways in which the National Park Service has adapted the iconic symbols to convey a wide and incredibly rich range of contexts.

And non-traditional eco getup Green Thing used Symbol Signs as a storytelling device in a brilliant short film for one of their seven green actions, Walk The Walk.

Download the 50 original Symbol Signs from the AIGA website — they’ve been released into the public domain, free and available with no copyright in EPS and GIF formats — and see what story you can weave.

Whether you get stuck or inspired, it’s worth checking out 1,000 Icons, Symbols, and Pictograms: Visual Communications for Every Language — a fantastic book on, well, exactly what the title promises.

via the wonderful idsgn blog

Published September 2, 2009




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