Duolingo is an awesome app. But even its awesomeness isn’t enough to get some French to stick in my head for longer than a jour or two. Fortunately I’m already kind of bilingual. I’m reasonably fluent in English and I get icons.
Cavemen were into it too. They just drew pictures of stick figures waving sticks around and everyone got the picture. Ancient civilisations liked the idea of using icons to communicate often complex ideas and messages in a visual shorthand. And when people from different cultures starting hanging out together, airport designers got in on the act bigtime.
Suddenly there was an explosion in baggage collection icons, don’t smoke icons and don’t come in here to wee unless you look like this person icons. And of course that explosion was really just a pop compared to the atomic expansion of iconography that the internet detonated.
Today there are thousands of beautiful visuals making communication quick and easy on the eye. They borrow from universal themes and symbols that we all innately recognise. And they transcend the barriers of language. Which is just as well because at last count there were about 6,909 distinct languages on this planet.
Anyway, BCM creative team Nick Ikonomou and Steve Schollum have been exploring iconography and turning their discoveries into an insightful exhibition. It’s on show in The Crucible from April 14. Come along to the opening tomorrow evening. It should be a good night in anyone’s language.
Peter Goodall is BCM’s Creative Director