Thursday, September 5, 2013

Great Resource: Pictograms

The design of clear and iconic figures of visual communication benefits from the study of Olympic Pictograms.  The 1936 Berlin Olympics and 1948 London Olympics saw an early attempt to represent each sport as a drawing, yet that effort reached its most legible and streamlined form with the pictograms of Otl Aicher for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

A good pictogram should look like what it depicts, but it should not look like anything else in order to avoid confusion or other meanings.   In other words, mere visual resemblance, as in tracing a photograph, is not enough. In addition, the design must exclude all other interpretations.  To achieve this, the artist must seek the most representative pose and camera angle, as well as the most stereotypical shapes and proportions to capture the essence of the subject.  Once these decisions are made, the artist rigorously removes all the unnecessary details and keeps the critical few.  As Milton Glaser said, "just enough is more."  The last steps entail a style-check (making sure all the pictograms look like they were drawn by the same hand) and balancing the composition.

A well-designed pictogram meets a high level of universality.  For instance, 
in a pictogram of a soccer player, the depicted athlete could be any person, as opposed to a specific soccer player. Likewise, any observer familiar with the game of soccer, regardless of his language and level of literacy, would recognize the sport of soccer in the pictogram.

This approach to illustration sometimes goes by the label of "reductive illustration," because the artist reduces the amount of visual cues to the absolute bare minimum, in an effort to reach the essence of the design.
More resources on pictograms and related topics:

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