Universal Symbols For Verbs, From Headbanging To Hallucinating

The world of icons suffers from a shortage of symbols for verbs. An Amsterdam-based design collective is trying to change that.

The world of icons is suffering from a shortage of verbs. Nouns tend to be easy to represent as tiny graphic illustrations–there are icons symbolizing everything from Star Wars characters to diamonds and microphones. But it’s harder to use just one image to convey the movement inherent in a verb’s meaning.


The Artificial, an Amsterdam-based collective of designers, artists, and self-confessed geeks, is trying to increase the verb population in the icon world. With their new project, “To [Icon],” currently being funded on Kickstarter, they’re attempting to create a place for verb iconography to have a home. They’re designing more than 600 cleverly simple, flat icons for verbs from “to submerge” (a submarine) and “to hallucinate” (a pair of shrooms) to “to be” (a bumblebee) and “to grow” (a mustache). Their Kickstarter is raising funds for building the To [Icon] website, on which six sets of 100 icons each will be available for download and ready to use.

The project was born out of The Artificial’s own needs in designing user interfaces. “We often need icons that represent action, that work well together, and that render well at toolbar size,” Gerwitz tells Co.Design. “We found ourselves producing icon sets and including a few whimsical ones to keep things interesting.”

The icons are fun for non-designers, but they have a practical application, too–Gerwitz hopes they’ll be useful to UI designers for regular product and app design work. “Since we can’t help ourselves but to include some fun ones, we also hope people will invent fun ways to use small graphics that work together,” Gerwitz says. “Perhaps in infographics, or on buttons, or maybe they’ll make cookies and share them with us.” Or, maybe they’ll be entered into the Emoji library, making it even easier to tell elaborate stories using little pictograms.

To support the To [Icon] Kickstarter and learn more, go here.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.