PMG Digital Made for Humans

Graphic Design 101: Symbols

2 MINUTE READ | May 15, 2014

Graphic Design 101: Symbols

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PMG is a global independent digital company that seeks to inspire people and brands that anything is possible. Driven by shared success, PMG uses business strategy and transformation, creative, media, and insights, along with our proprietary marketing intelligence platform Alli, to deliver Digital Made for Humans™. With offices in New York, London, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, Atlanta, and Cleveland, our team is made up of over 900+ employees globally, and our work for brands like Apple, Nike, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Gap Inc., Kohler, Momentive, Sephora, and Shake Shack has received top industry recognitions including Cannes Lions and Adweek Media Plan of the Year.

Today, I’m starting a series of blog posts that focus on the history and evolution of graphic design as we know it today. Today’s focus: Symbols. How are they formed? How do they become ingrained into society? How come sometimes the symbol is more popular than the name of the brand, itself?

First, the pictogram. The pictogram or pictograph is an image that conveys its meaning through its resemblance to a physical object. These date back to ancient civilizations as their early forms of written communication; pictograms are found all over ancient China and Mesopotamia. It makes sense, right? When you can’t get something across to another person, our natural inclination is to draw it.


Communication through pictures is so natural to us that understanding pictograms, like these from the National Park Service, doesn’t take much effort. Let’s see, looks like a guy on skis, so there must be skiing here. That guy’s on some kind of jet ski, so that must be allowed here, too.

Next on the agenda: the ideogram. The ideogram is just one evolutionary step away from simple pictograms. As language progressed, and people became able to convey their thoughts through pictures, the communication of ideas wasn’t far behind.

Check these out. If you asked someone to draw a picture of the action of supplication, assuming that they even knew what that word meant, they would probably be hard-pressed to do it. But here it is in ancient times! (Supplication, btw, essentially means to beg.) We associate this action with getting down on our knees, holding out our arms, asking for something to be bestowed upon us. And so did these people, all these years ago.


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That’s it for today, students. Next on Graphic Design 101: Logos vs. Logotypes, and what happens to them when money is involved.

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