SYMBOLS CONSTRUCTIONS reviewed in Kwintessens

Question: how do you create expressive communication? Answer: through a combination of colours, shapes and symbols. As a graphic designer or communication designer it is always a difficult choice, which is often made on the basis of gut instinct, without really knowing why.

SyCo_LargeThe book SYMBOLS CONSTRUCTIONS reviewed in Kwintessens, Flemish design magazine. 4th trimester 2006 by Bie Luyssaert.

It is a feeling. Inez Michiels, in collaboration with the organisation CITY OF 8, has made a detailed study of universal symbols and their universal colour coding. The results of this research are collected in a book entitled Symbolen Constructies. 597 Universele symbolen. (Symbol Constructions. 597 Universal Symbols), which establishes meaningful links between image and colour. It looks at a total of 597 symbols: traditional and modern images. The researchers looked at advertising, packaging, logos, illustrations, propaganda, art from around the world. The symbols themselves are religious, mythological, sociological, political and so on.

code 000:000 - blue-on-blue
code 000:000 – blue-on-blue
Code 111:111 – yellow-on-yellow

This collection aims to provide an aid for language specialists, social scientists and graphic designers aiming to communicate through images, to enable them to choose colours on a rational basis, without relying on gut feelings alone, and in the certain knowledge that their choice of colour will emphasise the message.

The book itself breaks down over 8 colours: blue, black, green, purple, orange, red, white and yellow. Each colour has a code (blue 000, yellow 111). For the code, two colours are always combined, to give, as is the case with DNA, a code of 2 x 3 characters. A variety of symbols are arranged per colour code (i.e. 64), and these often relate to each other. Thus the earth is blue on blue (000.000) and this also covers cube, space, plain, plateau, patriarch, ground, floor, tile, sand, mass, etc. The opposite colour coding often uses opposing symbols. Under yellow on yellow (111.111) you find sky, divinity, dot, time, pointed, outside, etc.

Imagine, then, that as a graphic designer you have a project to do on a bank. You start asking yourself about all the things a bank stands for. A bank keeps your money SAFE. It also gives you an opportunity to make your money EARN MONEY, thereby offering you financial freedom.

Picking up the book you will notice that money can’t be found in the alphabetical list, but you will see possible synonyms in the banking context, i.e. capital. Capital is green on green (010.010). Other symbols to be found there include nature, cross (+), a snake, a stream, an apple. These symbols all have a possible connection with money and capital, and particularly with making it yield a return. A lot of money is green in colour, such as the American dollar or American Express card. The cross is also a plus sign, a positive value, as money can be. The snake is often a symbol of fruitfulness, for yield. A snake can also be the curve of a trend on the stock exchange. The stream can refer to fluctuations in cash flow. An apple can also be something for a rainy day. These symbols can assist you further in the process of composing an image.

code 010:010 green-on-green
code 001:101 black-on-red

If you want to show your customer, the bank, how safe their institution is you can emphasise stability. For stability (not in the book), you need good foundations. Foundation can be found in the book under the code green on white (010.110). Other symbols in this group: the well (always ensures a fresh supply), property (a certain basis for money, a safe investment), roots, bank, safekeeping (with a safe as the symbol), etc. These symbols, and their colour combination, can also help you further on your way.

And you can spend a little more time searching through the list of symbols. At the lecture given by Inez Michiels on 4 november, when the book was presented at the Book Fair, they illustrated the symbols using a whole series of examples from web sites, campaign images, bank logos, etc. And they were briefly able to show that cartoons also make use of these codes, such as Tintin. Tintin dresses in white on blue, while his enemies are often in black on red.

Under white on blue you find symbols such as hero, giant, tower, shine, ascend, etc. Black on red gives symbols such as blind, dragon, two-headed, prostitute, mafia, devil. You say, then, that Hergé sees Tintin as a knight fighting a two-headed dragon.

In addition to lectures on the possibilities of this book and the research underlying it, Inez Michiels has also given lectures and lessons specifically for students of graphic design, in which they make an analysis of form and colour. For example, among other things, there is a series of lessons on the significance of graphic shapes and textures, and their relationship with colour.