The other day I stopped by my favorite little bookstore, Spoonbill & Sugartown, and found a great book called New Graphical Symbols for Many More. New Graphical Symbols for Many More is “a (Swedish) national development and standardization project aimed at making public symbols more uniform and more serviceable in keeping with the concept of Design for All.” What really got me excited- one of the symbols that all 124 competitors had to create for the contest was a symbol for a public library. I’ve posted scans of all of them below for preview and for educational purposes only.
In my last post I promoted the creation of ‘pictotags,’ user-assigned icons that can help describe characteristics of a book or media object. In the case of that post, the images described the physical location of an object, but I anticipate them being more descriptive in the future. Visual literacy is embedded in cultural histories and mores, so naturally the winning pictograms presented to the Swedes by the competitors will have to make sense to people who live in and visit public places in Sweden. In the age of the inernet and simplified global communication via graphic user interfaces, it becomes more and more challenging to create standards that will translate internationally. How does the designer account for the visual vocabulary of every tourist that might come through Stockholm, and should the designer in the age of global communication be accountable to every possible user?
Creating visual standards is analogous to creating a controlled vocabulary. Can one create a global, visual, controlled vocabulary? It has been attempted before; it was part of Otto Neurath’s ‘isotype‘ vision at the Bauhaus. Arguable, progenitors of the field of infographics like Ladislav Sutnar were striving for the same kind of thing. Will librarians work with graphic designers to make these decisions? How will visual literacies determine the structure of information and information retrieval in the coming century?
For me, this provoked a lot of thought about library identity in the eyes of our users. Enjoy these icons. I’ll be away for the Thanksgiving holiday. More posts after the holiday.
Winning Library pictogram:
The rest of the entries: