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The Noun Project Uncovers the Designers Behind Our Universal Symbols

The Noun Project is a free, public, visual dictionary of the international icons and signage we all take for granted.

The Noun Project Uncovers the Designers Behind Our Universal Symbols

Pop quiz: who designed the instantly-recognizable, universal symbol for “recycle”? Yeah, we didn’t know either — until we consulted The Noun Project, a brilliant site that’s part design utility, part history lesson. Not only can you download any of these icons and symbols for free, the site also pops up a neat little factoid for each one. (“Recycle” was designed by Gary Anderson in 1970, by the way.)

Edward Boatman launched The Noun Project via Kickstarter with a simple goal: to build a site for “sharing, celebrating and enhancing the world’s visual language.” Apparently it was an idea the web was waiting for, because Boatman has already received more than double the project’s original budget of $1500. (The site itself looks great too, thanks to Scott Thomas, who also designed our very own Co.Design.)

The just-plain-usefulness of the site is obvious to anyone who’s ever used CopyPasteCharacter, a similar compendium of typographical symbols. But the addition of historical tidbits is what makes The Noun Project more than a handy utility — it’s like a design-history wikipedia to lose yourself in. The biohazard symbol was designed by Dow? Who knew?

Load more? Don’t mind if I do!

Not all icons have designer credits, but many do.

“We think a visual language that can be understood by all cultures and people is a pretty amazing thing,” says Boatman on the site. “We also think our symbols and the objects or ideas they represent are works of art worth celebrating.” We couldn’t agree more. Is there a symbol for “high five”? I guess ? will have to suffice.

[Read more at The Noun Project]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.