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The Symbol Group is a new International discussion group for symbol-related matters

OUR AIM

We want to promote a deeper appreciation of the symbol in contemporary society, striving for more diversity and international understanding of the power of simple, direct communication.

OUR CORE MISSION 

We will generate biennial symposia using symbol anniversaries to promote the

understanding of symbols in contemporary practice.

FOUNDERS

The Symbol Group founders are Sue Perks (Isotype and Dreyfuss scholar, designer and educator)

Wibo Bakker (pictogram scholar and educator) and Jason Forrest (Editor of Nightingale, pictogram scholar and data visualizer for McKinsey).

 

The combination of our collective knowledge of historic and contemporary symbol culture provides this group with the perfect platform to realize this project and grow the network.

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Sue is a UK based graphic designer, writer, researcher and educator. Her research interests are based around archives and build on themes from her doctoral thesis on the legacy of the principles of Isotype. Sue’s current research is based in the Henry Dreyfuss Symbol Sourcebook Archive at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York.

Sue Perks

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Jason Forrest is a data visualization designer and writer living in New York City. He is the director of the Data Visualization Lab for McKinsey and Company. In addition to being on the board of directors of the Data Visualization Society, he is also the editor-in-chief of Nightingale:

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society. He writes about the intersection

of culture and information design and is currently working on a book about pictorial statistics.

Jason Forrest

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Wibo Bakker is a Dutch design

researcher and educator with an interest

in information design and design history. He has carried extensive research into

the development of visual identities and pictograms. Currently he is visiting associate professor at the School of Design of SUSTech, in Shenzhen, China.

Wibo Bakker

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OBJECTIVE

The Symbol Sourcebook was published in 1972 when the growth in internationalism fuelled an increasing need for symbols to facilitate worldwide communication. Over the last decades, interest in symbols has grown with the rise of a growing global media culture. The primary objective of The Symbol Group is to critically re-evaluate symbol projects such as this to develop more effective visual communication

for the future.

Symbol '22: Symbol Sourcebook @50

Our inaugural event, the online symposium is based on Henry Dreyfuss' Symbol Sourcebook which will take place on 7 & 8 October 2022. You can find more information here.

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7-8 OCTOBER 2022

The Symbol Group’s inaugural online symposium will examine the 50th anniversary of industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’ discipline-defining Symbol Sourcebook, to reveal the legacy underpinning our current fascination with emojis, icons and symbols and explore new symbol applications.

Symbol ’22: Symbol Sourcebook at 50 is endorsed by IIID.

Funding from the Information Design Association has kindly enabled us to run our inaugural symposium and start to create The Symbol Group network to benefit designers, design researchers and students.

HENRY DREYFUSS

Industrial designer (March 2, 1904 – October 5, 1972)

Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) was one of the most successful American industrial
designers from the 1940-1960s, standing alongside other well-known industrial designers of the time such
as Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague and Norman Bel Geddes.

 

His company Henry Dreyfuss Associates designed symbols for their clients from 1950-1965. Throughout his career, he was actively involved with individuals and organisations that wanted to develop and standardise symbols.

 

To highlighta few of his achievements as an industrial designer, Dreyfuss was responsible for the design of John Deeretractor Model A, (1939), The Round, (1953) and the Polaroid SX-70, (1972). As an author he wrote Designing for People (1955) and The Measure of Man (1960). Dreyfuss paid much attention to collecting data to promote usability and making this data publicly available. The universal tractor symbols he designed for John Deere and his work on distance symbols for the Polaroid Swinger camera show his
expertise in symbol design. He was also involved with clients trying to make symbols designed by Henry

Dreyfuss Associates into an American Standard. (See Russell Flinchum, The Man In The Brown Suit).

BACKGROUD AND ORIGINS

The Symbol Sourcebook was published in 1972 when the growth in internationalism fueled an increasing need for symbols to facilitate worldwide communication.

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Henry Dreyfuss with symbols circa 1969 

(Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum)

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Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols

by Henry Dreyfuss

This book is, as its subtitle suggests, ‘An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols’. It was
published in 1972 and has been reprinted many times. It contains an extensive collection of western
symbols. For a long time, it was the classic go-to-book for information on symbols. This may still be

the case. The Symbol Sourcebook is constructed using ‘discipline’, ‘subject’ and ‘form’ to categorize

the symbols.

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Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

This year sees 50 years since Henry Dreyfuss first published his Symbol Sourcebook. The book forms a
comprehensive compendium of international symbols from both amateur and professional bodies. The
supporting archival material (a bequest of Dreyfuss before his death in 1972) is preserved by the Cooper
Hewitt, Smithsonian design Museum, New York, with whom we are collaborating to bring this project to
fruition Dreyfuss’ Symbol Sourcebook represents a triumph of collection, collation, design expertise,
academic understanding, organisation, efficiency, administration and editing. However, when the working
papers and correspondence that went into its design and production are revealed, the book forms the tip
of a huge graphic design iceberg which gives a unique window into the burgeoning discipline of graphic
design in the late 1960s and early 1970s in relation to the design of symbols for a world which was rapidly
becoming consumed by internationalism. The book also represents a graphic realization of the idealism
which existed at that time for symbols to be the way forward for communicating in a world which was
becoming more and more complex as internationalism took hold.

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Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

A selection of pages from the Symbol Sourcebook by Henry Dreyfuss.

All images kindly provided by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum from the Henry Dreyfuss Archive

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“If a system of symbols could be compiled that would be equally recognisable in Lagos and Lapland, perhaps the dream of a universal basic means of communication could be realised.

I believe this is possible.”
Henry Dreyfuss

Henry Dreyfuss with John Deere tractor symbols, 1972

Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

*Image at top of this page : Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum