Symbols, Icons, and Indexes, Oh My!

March 9, 2010

In today’s cultures all around the globe, signs are necessary for every person to function well within society.  Most signs are taken for granted because they are needed and are always assumed to be there.  If people actually took the time to study the different types of signs, they’d find out some interesting information about them.  Signs can be broken down into three categories: symbols, icons, and indexes.

Symbols are visual representations of, most often, abstract ideas or invisible concepts that don’t have any direct connection to the symbol that represents them.  Symbols’ meanings are often learned through cultures and are not immediately grasped by most individuals.  The meanings are assigned to the symbols by people or cultures where the symbols themselves do not often have those inherent meanings.

Icons are visual representations as well, but, unlike symbols, they represent ideas, physical processes, or physical objects directly.  Ranging from people being icons for a category to which they directly relate to small, simple visual pictures that represent a software program, icon meanings are found within their own visual display.

Indexes are visual representations of actions or complex messages that need to be expressed in a very simple way in order to be easily understood at a quick glance.  Like roadway signs and the cautionary signs seen in front of parks, indexes directly illustrate a message to the viewer to take some kind of action.

Examples of symbols:

Rolling Stones Logo - Kristi

Russian Communist Symbol - Duncan

All-Seeing Eye Symbol - Nick

Examples of icons:

Traffic Light Icon - Nick

Coffee Cup Icon - Duncan

Phone Service Icon - Kristi

Examples of Indexes:

Radioactive Warning Index - Kristi

Shark Zone Warning Index - Nick

Slip Carefully Warning Sign - Duncan

My Renderings:

Imaginary Army Symbol

Imaginary Army Symbol

Games Icon

Beware of Quicksand Index


Icon: Traffic light sign:

Icon: Coffee cup:

Icon: Radioactive symbol:

Symbol: The “All-seeing eye”:

Symbol: Russian Communist sign:

Symbol: Rolling Stones logo: John Pasche (Initial Designer)

Index: Shark-infested waters:

Index: Engrish sign:

Index: Phone:


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