Love You, {Helvetica} Man

Poster for the release of the Symbol Signs, 1974

I love simple symbols and icons for their ability to communicate clearly and recognizably across language and cultural barriers. I guess this is why The Noun Project, with its growing library of icons, has become one of my new favourite resource sites.

I did a bit of digging recently to find out a bit more about some of the most “iconic” of icons. The first set of 34 Symbol Signs, which we all recognize from airport signage, were designed in 1974 (with 16 more being added in 1979) to standardize transportation communication.

From the AIGA site:

This system of 50 symbol signs was designed for use at the crossroads of modern life: in airports and other transportation hubs and at large international events. Produced through a collaboration between AIGA and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), they are an example of how public-minded designers can address a universal communication need.

Prior to this effort, numerous international, national and local organizations had devised symbols to guide passengers and pedestrians through transportation facilities and other sites of international exchange. While effective individual symbols had been designed, there was no system of signs that communicated the required range of complex messages, addressed people of different ages and cultures and were clearly legible at a distance.

Helvetica Man

It turns out that the clean-cut, hardworking man who stars in many of these symbols, who eventually became known as “Helvetica man” (after the typeface that shares his simplicity and ubiquity), lives a very colourful life. I’m not one for gossip, but you can find out Helvetica man’s personal life in this video and these shots. The paparazzi spare no man.

The next time you see Mr. Helvetica, give him a nod and thank him for what he does, day in and day out, to make this world a better place.

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