How would a set of “ideograms” for sustainable design look like?
In the following weeks I will be posting here in the blog, a series of environmentally themed ideograms inspired by Ottl Aicher’s work for tourist board of the town of Isny, in Germany . I will be looking at energy generation technologies, passive and active design techniques, recycling, waste reduction and social sustainability.
Here is the first set. Large scale wind turbines installed onshore and offshore.
I am not going to describe the images because they are able to explain themselves. And this, for me, is the key difference between an Ideogram and an Icon. Icons can be shorthand for many things, they symbolise an idea or intention, and depending on the complexity of thing being represented they might need to be supported by written language which expands the message which the icon is specifically representing.
The ideograms, by presenting a “situation” can convey what they are meant to represent accurately. The arrangement of different elements within their canvas makes sure that the viewer gets enough information so that vocal or written language is not necessary for their interpretation.
I am releasing these graphics and the ones to follow on a Creative Commons licence for free use. If you would like to receive a copy of these vector files, just sign up for our newsletter (we only send it twice per year).
The acronyms’ post, got me thinking about the role and effectiveness of the different icons and symbols that are used in sustainability reports.
They all convey information visually and as such have the potential of communicating information unconstrained by verbal language barriers. Well designed icons can work as way-finding tools within a document or a complex schematic drawing.
A common use of icons in a report is to serve as markers to identify certain chapters or sections, for example the helical compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) representing ‘energy saving’ or the wind turbine (as seen below) representing ‘renewables’.
Icons like these are an excellent tool to quickly place the reader into context. They work well when defining large categories but what happens when you need to describe a specific technology or a process that consists of several steps or elements? How to draw, for example, an icon for a ground source heat pump or rainwater irrigation system?
Ottl Aicher, the designer of the influential 1972 Olympic games pictograms wrote: “A symbol is like a term, an appeal, and not like a description. It is more compact, a conclusion without flourish and coincidence.” This is exactly what icons like the CFL bulb do, they become a statement.
But a process needs a description and creating a successful iconic image that would represent a process in a recognisable and graphically economic form is a challenge. The best solution, I believe, is actually found in Aicher’s later work.
In 1979 he embarked on a set of drawings for a poster series commissioned by the tourism authority of Isny, a small German town in Bavaria. These ‘ideographic drawings’ (depicting people, animals, plants, buildings, recreational scenes and the landscape in general) created ‘reportage’ on the town*. The expressive quality of these graphics, is spectacular. By just giving them a glance they can convey their main message, but when look at closer, the original message becomes a whole story, which makes them truly fascinating.
Here we have forests, but not any forest we can make out the types of trees by the texture of the tree trunks, in the bottom left corner we can see tall pine trees, casting their shadows under the afternoon sun (since the light is falling down the west side), We can hear the sound of the water from the stream below the wooden bridge in the center image, thanks to those delightful bubbles of foam. And we can also hear the clacking sounds of the heavy beer glasses, so called Maßkrüge, as they connect with each other in the busy beer-garden (center top). I could go on talking about these images but I’ll invite you to look at them yourself.
1. Wind icon images, from left to right:
– Wind icon. Will County Green.
– wind turbine icon. GL Stock images.
– Wind Energy Power Symbol. Change agent.
– Vector wind turbine icons. Colourbox.
– Energy icon wind. The Whitehouse.
2. CFL icon: The Noun Project from The Noun Project collection
3. Isny pictograms: Otl Aicher