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No smoking and no speaking signs
Basketball pictogram of the 1972 Olympic Games by graphic designer Otl Aicher

A pictogram (from the Latin pictum 'painted', 'picture' and Greek γράφειν gráphein 'write') is a single symbol or icon that conveys information through a simplified graphic representation . A pictogram can consist of an iconic representation of objects, scenes, abstract symbols, numbers or text elements. A pictogram is typically integrated into a pictogram system.

Archaic forerunner of writing and new visual form of communication in modern times

Pictograms are also called the images of old picture writings (pictography). They are the forerunners of various scripts , such as cuneiform , and have later developed into logograms , such as the characters of the Chinese language (and the Kanji characters of the Japanese language borrowed from them ) or the hieroglyphic script , which is a pictorial script and the oldest written one Form of ancient Egyptian language is. In many of the simpler characters, the figurative origin can be easily recognized.

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Meanwhile, the term pictogram is used for the graphic information signs or warning notices at airports and in other public buildings, in traffic, and for the iconic graphic images in instructions for use or on technical devices.

Otto Neurath (1882–1945), an Austrian social philosopher and economist , can certainly be described as the father of this new visual form of communication . Together with the graphic artist Gerd Arntz, he developed Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education) in 1936 , a visualization system with which complex relationships are to be shown in a simple manner using pictograms in an internationally understandable manner.


For the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo , the Japanese graphic artist Katsumi Masaru designed a system of symbols to identify sports .

Otl Aicher , the design representative for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, further reduced these pictograms, which were still very figurative up to then. He also developed a complex routing system for Munich Airport that is internationally understandable. In cooperation with the ERCO company , countless pictograms were created to illustrate everyday life.

The invention of the personal computer with a graphical user interface has triggered another flood of pictograms, which are referred to as icons . Even emoticons such as the smiley are pictograms.

In the age of globalization and internationalization, pictograms are used in a standardized form to convey information independently of the language or as quickly as possible (as traffic signs ) or to warn of dangers as hazard symbols.

Common symbols for sunshine (sun with halo), clear night (crescent moon and stars; inverted), cloudiness (cloud), type and intensity of precipitation (rain: oblique lines, drops; snow: ramified crystal) are used to represent weather conditions - observed or predicted , Point cluster), thunderstorm (lightning), fog (horizontal lines), frost temperature (snow crystal + liquid thermometer). These symbols are entered individually in tables, but usually positioned as a group on maps, possibly expanded to include temperature information and additional text (e.g. storm). These pictograms are subject to certain modifications by design in order to be quickly recognizable, but also to correspond to the appearance of a media company. In TV broadcasts, the falling of rain or snow, the twinkling of the stars and the billowing of the fog are sometimes shown in motion.

On the other hand, on the originally manual entries of observations in weather maps of the meteorologists, internationally common symbols that allow more precise information for wind direction, speed, degree of cloudiness, and precipitation are much more stable over time.

The International Organization for Standardization ( ISO ) has created a collection of pictograms ( ISO 7001 ) and basic design instructions as well as methods for testing the quality of pictograms (ISO 9186), which are intended to reduce the use of non-standardized and non-interculturally understandable pictograms.

With the commissioning of the Vienna Central Station, the ÖBB developed new pictograms that differ slightly from those recommended by the International Union of Railways (UIC). As before in white on blue and with rounded corners. The Vienna subway as part of the Wien Linien, on the other hand, draws pictograms in black and white in a square frame.


Pictograms are often used to pass on information that is supposed to be language, writing and culture neutral. An example from Brazil shows that this does not always work: The drug thalidomide (former trade name Contergan) is used there against leprosy. To warn of the teratogenic effects, a pictogram is printed on the packaging (a pregnant woman with a crossed-out belly), which is apparently repeatedly misinterpreted as a label for a contraceptive or abortion agent. As a result, newborns are repeatedly born with the characteristic malformations.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Pictogram  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Symbols  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Pictograms  - collection of images, videos, and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ÖBB develop new pictograms , ORF.at, August 17, 2015.
  2. Christina Müller: Brazil relies on thalidomide. In: www.pharmazeutische-zeitung.de, edition 31/2016. Retrieved April 1, 2017 .