Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 2)


Background History Continued…
The notion of an international language fascinated many, but often entailed creating new spoken or written languages. Examples of this include Esperanto, Ido, and Interlingua, but it was not until the 1930’s and the workings of Austrian educator and philosopher Otto Neurath, that using pictures for international communication was thoroughly researched. With the help of illustrator Gerd Arntz, Neurath produced Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education). It dealt with internationally stylised diagrams, charts, text illustrations and public information.

Isotype
Chart from Neurath’s International Picture Language (1936)

Neurath’s work may not have reached his own expectations, but it is a source of inspiration for many graphic designers and has contributed to the development of pictograms and indirectly to the rise of ‘infographics’.

Industry and manufacturing has also played a part in the rise of the pictogram. They started appearing in connection with various industrial products in the late 60’s early 70’s. Among these trend setters were Siemens household appliances, Philips audiovisual equipment and Toyota automobiles. Manufacturers realised the potential of pictograms in their instruction manuals. There was an obvious economic advantage in only having to produce one multilingual version for each product. Corporations also picked up on this notion of multilingual communication through an image. Logos and corporate identities, although not quite pictograms, use the same basic principle. Today car manuals, flat pack instructions and remote controls still use pictorial representations to communicate information. For example Ikea and Hewlett Packard use barely any words in their assembly instructions.

Ikea Instructions

The Olympic Games have thousands of pictograms associated with them. With the summer, winter, and Paralympic games the amount of resources on pictograms is endless. There are not only pictograms representing the individual sports, but also services and facilities and in some of the games, cultural symbols too. The Berlin 1936 games brought forth the first Olympic pictograms and again a set was created for the 1948 London Olympics, but the real push towards pictograms similar to the modern concept, was the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. From that point onwards the design of Olympic pictograms went from strength to strength. Amongst the most famous examples are the work of Lance Wyman in Mexico 1968, Otl Aicher in Munich 1972 and not forgetting the recent release of the London 2012 pictogram set!

2012 Pictograms

Background History Concluded
Ideograms, hieroglyphics and similar symbols lost ground for centuries as literacy increased. Once upon a time there was a stigma attached to pictograms. It was believed by some that pictograms were for people of lesser intelligence or those who were illiterate. More recently, it is language that has become an unwelcome barrier in a fast moving 20th century. It’s popularity throughout history may have changed from era to era, but now pictograms are more popular than ever. Worldwide mobility and international communication have become part of our lives. Pictures have found their way back. Their uses seem endless, but will they meet our expectations and will they withstand the test of time?

COMING SOON…PART 3 – Can style, personality or cultural identity be shown in pictograms?

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2 Responses to Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 1) | Wayfinding_UK's Blog

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review | Wayfinding_UK's Blog

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