Exercise: Signs and Symbols

In this exercise you will read existing signs, symbols and images, and then drawing on their visual language create your own symbols.

Choose one of the following concepts:

Danger    Movement    Love    Here

How does existing visual language represent these concepts, for example both ‘danger’ and ‘love’ use red, while ‘movement’ and ‘here’ use arrows. Research the different similes and metaphors that are in common use. Document them through drawings, collecting examples and mind maps.

Now create an alternative symbol to represent at least one of the concepts.

Pencil and paper is the fastest and most practical way of working out your initial designs. You may then want to develop your idea further using computer software.

I looked at many signs around the area where I live and have tried to divide these signs into the above headings. I have also looked at some images I had made to see if any fitted into the required genre. Some of the signs could have been placed in more than one category, I felt.


I bought a lovely little box yesterday which contained small cards representing the hand symbols for sign language, here in France.



sing_language_phrasesIt also contained signs for some phrases. As someone who is profoundly deaf I have never learned sign language because I have always been able to use technology to allow me to hear. However I am very interested in anything which might help my fellow deaf sufferers.

A really interesting article in The New York Times Magazine talks about this centuries craze for redesigning everything (1). It states:

a clever redesign, one that addresses the right problem in an intelligent fashion, improves the world, if just by a bit.

With this in mind, I looked at all the designs I had photographed and those I had sketched in order to see where I could go with creating my own symbol which could fit into one of these headings. I was not sure whether I would try to ‘improve’ on existing symbols which exist under the above headings or create something completely new which does not already exist. Either prospect seem arrogant! The latter would require extensive research to ascertain if such a symbol exists anywhere in the world.

I was also influenced, in my thinking, by my time in Africa. I was faced quite often with trying to represent my ideas or instructions without the use of language. Many to those with whom I worked were illiterate.


cars will be towed away because it is dangerous to park here
unexpected danger





Road narrows
Dangerous to walk here
You do not have priority











The colours here are mostly red, white and black. Different shapes are used including circles and triangles. I was interested in exploring danger sings that did not exist or that I had never seen. Here are some from my sketch book.


I didn’t think my sharks looked dangerous enough!!


Now having read about Margaret Calvert, the british road sign designer, I am not sure that I will be able to match her genius. I asked a couple of friends, one who has done quite a lot of logo design, which they thought was the most explanatory.  I had two votes for the ‘noise’ one and two for the ‘volcano’ one. I might do the noise one although I see it already exists.


school children may be running about here
cycle paths


Drive slowly children playing














Most of what I found for Love were red hearts. I created those below myself. I find those with red hearts really mushy. I wanted to create something more aesthetic.


I like the mother and child image best to express that love between a mother and her child. I may develop this idea on the computer for my final image. Meanwhile here is what I created in charcoal:




parking meter area
parking meter area here
Doggy poop scoop here
swimming facilities here


hard hats required on site










Beds available here
no dogs during school hours, except on leads and wearing a muzzle



no parking here









Having examined many symbols, many of them public symbols I thought I had something original in the noise symbol in my log book. However I discovered that this is a well known symbol. My volcano one was also well known. So I decided the only way to go was to ‘invent an amusing symbol. I decided to make a symbol forbidding wellington boots in the house! I thought this would amuse my grandchildren. They continually run in and out of the garden bringing some of the garden with them all the time.

My preparations work is here:


I then tried to create the boot symbol in the design software. Here are the steps I took.

step 1
step 2






step 3

I started in InDesign with a filled red circle. I placed a white circle on top of this. Then I imported this into Illustrator.

I found it extremely difficult to control the curves created with the pen tool. So I decided to redraw the boot and then add the red bar using a filled rectangle. I am dissatisfied with the result but my design software skills need a great deal of honing.



a second attempt to improve the boot!!



I am not sure if this is an improvement but I have learned how to change anchor points from curves back to straight lines!

boot_symbol_8_smFinally I went to the web and picked up a stencil of a boot. I brought it into Photoshop and cut out the boot, put it on a transparent background and saved it as a png file. I outlined the boot and filled it with black. I then copied it into the illustrator circles. I added the red cross rectangle and this is the result. I am happy with this.


  1. Log In – New York Times. 2016. Log In – New York Times. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/13/magazine/design-issue-redesign-craze.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_ma_20161111&nl=magazine&nlid=70766087&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0. [Accessed 12 November 2016].