Glyphs – Road to International Understanding

Glyphs rise above language and culture

warning sing at the factory
Warning signs in the Ukrainian language

Glyphs are the graphical symbols that are more or less universally used. Typical are the plus and the minus signs in mathematics.  Margaret Mead, the American Anthropologist, suggested them as a means of a new international language.  As a “Graphic Designer,” I like the particular meaning of Glyph as a symbol that is supposedly independent of language and culture.  The Ancient Greeks had a word for most of today’s needs.  The glyph is a Greek word meaning carving. Glyphs should carve a road to international communication.

Visually perceptible figure with a particular meaning used to transmit information independent of language. ISO 22727

Glyps are Good for You

Language often stands in the way of useful cooperation and understanding between nations of the world.  The idea is to promote international understanding by breaking down language barriers through the use of glyphs.

There are 3 aspects to Glyph or use of a symbol for design purposes;

Meaning: The message the symbol is intended to convey.
Function: The purpose of the information to by conveyed by a graphical symbol.
Image Content: The visual elements of the graphic symbol.

Example of Meaning, Function, Image Content

General Warning Sign

Meaning: General Warning sign, it is used to alert the user to potential hazards.

Function:  All safety messages that follow this sign shall be obeyed to avoid possible harm.

Image Content: A black ‘exclamation mark’ inside a yellow triangle with a black triangular band defines a safety sign that indicates a hazard.

Web Design and Graphic Elements

Although many web design graphic elements are not registered with the International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO).  The manner in which I use graphic elements in my designs are consistent with the idea of symbols that are independent of language and culture.

Some examples that gyphs found on websites both mobile and desktop are as follows the home icon, search icon and hamburger navigation menu.  These icons have some implicit agreement but it is by no means prescriptive. However when considering visual communication it is important designers are aware of the conventions


The glyph does not take sides.  It is not even “non aligned”.  It is rather on everybody’s side, and its greatest potential is in the promise of universal realisation of shared interests.

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