Signs and Symbols

This exercise focusses on reading existing signs, symbols and images and then drawing on their visual language to create new symbols. A symbol is usually a combination of graphic elements that represent something to us… a picture that tells a story. Kenneth Burke describes humans as a

symbol-using, symbol making and symbol misusing animal

Symbols can be used to exploit the most unconscious level of human desire and enables people to identify, organise, classify, embody and make sense of the world. Shapes and symbols have subliminal effects and are used to draw in the eye, add value to context and portray meaning.

We were given four different concepts to explore and before focussing on and developing my chosen concept of ‘danger’ I took some time to research how the other three concepts are visually represented.




I decided to look into the concept of ‘danger’ in more depth and made a Pinterest board of examples of how danger is represented visually. I then collected some examples of existing signs and symbols which represent or warn of danger and from these generated a palette of colours that are associated with danger.



Before working on some sketches for possible design ideas for an alternative symbol for representing danger I made a mind-map of all the information I had gathered.


For my initial designs I sketched a few ideas on paper.


I experimented with three main themes… the first was the Chinese symbol for danger, the second the image of a spider and third a bow and arrow. I liked a lot of the ideas that I had but was concerned that they were more illustrative than symbolic. My friend observed that they had quite a tribal feel to them and I thought several of the designs would work better as tattoos than as a symbol. My friends were also quite divided on which one I should consider developing further. In the end I chose to work with a more conventional triangular structure and place some elements within it…. I felt that the arrow was quite a strong shape and can be associated with a weapon and lightening, both of which are associated with danger.


My final colour choice was to use red and black which I felt were the most widely associated with the concept of ‘danger’. I chose just two colours in the end as one of the characteristics I feel is important in a symbol is simplicity.


I found this exercise very interesting and my research developed my understanding of different ways of using visual language. However, I found the task of designing an alternative symbol quite difficult and frustrating. The signs that currently exist to represent danger are very well established and moving away from these conventional symbols had the result of creating designs that invited the audience to try and find meaning rather than be delivered it. ‘Danger’ is a concept that has very wide scope and I would have found the task easier if it had been more specific to a certain type of danger.


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