Pictograms: a language of images

Since the middle of the past century, the technical development of our means of transport and associated facilities has expanded to a degree that it is becoming more and more complicated to use. People are more mobile than ever before: they travel from one town to another, from one country to another and from one continent to another, and for this they require instructions for use which suit the particular function. This includes a universally comprehensible supply of information which is located in the centres of public transport and not only indicates the routes to and from the transport facilities and provides guidance within those centres, but also gives instructions on how to use the transport facilities themselves.
The worldwide presence of transport facilities, and the internationality of user groups, makes communication by means of the spoken language more and more difficult and is now almost impossible. This is why an additional system of communication which bridges the language barriers is indispensable where rapid recognition and understanding of the different situations is vital. This system of signs is composed of pictograms, although not all the signs now being presented to us accord with the semiology of signs: Not all of the pictograms are icons. That is to say, they are not all meant to be likenesses. There are also symbolic and indexical signs appearing as diagrams, ideograms, and logograms.
The pictorial signs were originally intended to illustrate statistics, but were later developed further and used for a language transmission code.

In my own design work, I proceed on the basis that a pictogram, being a non-verbal means of communication, has to visualize an object or a situation, and thus is different from an illustration which depicts an assumed situation or object and is more or less subject to the criterion of being aesthetically pleasing. The meaningful abstraction of a pictorial process is what is required in the process of communication, expressive figurations are to be avoided.

top left
Manual of the sign system "Guidance at commercial airports", 1969
top right
System of signs for the servicing areas of filling stations of Deutsche Esso AG, 1975
System of signs for sporting and leisure pursuits, 1969
bottom left
Pictograms for systems of information and guidance in various applications, 1968-1990

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© Herbert W. Kapitzki, Berlin 2003
last changes: 8/6/2003