Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols
This exhibition started on May 13, 2023 and is on display until September 02, 2024.
There were 87 objects in this exhibition but right now we can only show you 82 of them. Some objects may not be viewable because they were on loan; this might be due to issues involving image rights or simply because there is no digitized image for the objects.
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Symbols are important communication tools in our daily lives, constantly evolving based on new needs and users. Symbols have the power to instruct, protect, entertain, connect, and even divide us. They formed some of the first written human expressions and today animate our digital chats.
From 1969 to 1972, the visionary designer Henry Dreyfuss (American, 1904–1972) oversaw the making of the Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols, a manual that compiled and categorized thousands of symbols in use internationally. The publication was celebrated as an "event with worldwide ramifications, very much in keeping with the man who created it—a man who not only sees change coming, but helps to usher it in."
Dreyfuss understood how symbols functioned for people. He and his industrial design team placed symbols on products and services where we now take them for granted—on airplanes, cameras, telephones, tractors, and more.
Anticipating the everyday use of symbols in our current digital era, the Symbol Sourcebook helped to elevate the importance of symbols and increase their number in our world. Though it was published over 50 years ago, the Symbol Sourcebook is still used by designers today. The origin story of the Symbol Sourcebook—told for the first time here through primary materials from Cooper Hewitt’s Henry Dreyfuss Archive—has inspired us to look at symbols now and explore their evolution and future.