Symbols and signs are graphic representations.  They serve to identify objects, such as telephone but they often convey more abstract information, for example  peace dove      This sign does not just tell you it is a picture of a bird, but it represents peace.

The origins of the meanings given to such symbols lie within different societies' cultures.  Tradition reinforces these symbolic connotations.  As a child grows up, she learns to recognise the sign or symbol, not just for what it visually represents, but also for its deeper meanings.

Signs and  Logos

These usually give information of a practical nature.  They represent a type of shorthand in the form of a sign, for example     (smoking forbidden).

Signs play a very important role in our lives.  Think of traffic signs - you do not have to be able to read to interpret road signs.  Logos are another form of sign.  The business world uses them as badges of identity for themselves and their products.  To ensure that only they may use their logos, companies register  them as trade marks ( ) such as the Microsoft Windows logo and Nike use of the swoosh.

More and more non-commercial entities and charities that want to be instantly identifiable,  use a logo to create awareness, such as the 'Aids Red Ribbon' used for the awareness campaign.


A more recent addition to the sign and symbol family is the icon.  This graphic applet improves user-friendliness in computer use by doing away with the need to typed- out instructions for the user.  It also helps in recognising what that particular function is for- an example is the yellow folder, which looks exactly like the physical manilla  folder used to store hard copy (print documents).


Symbols go beyond conveying information.  They suggest qualities on a more abstract level.   They depend not only on the eye or ear receiving the image or sound, or the brain decoding just what had been seen or heard.  They cause the brain to dig into one's feelings and attitudes that have been accumulated in the mind - all the past experiences and associations that go to create a response to a symbol.  Often this response to a symbol is on an emotional level.  These emotions can range from feelings of pride and patriotism (as evoked by national symbols), to feelings of fear, for example the skull and crossbones.   Negative feelings can also be aroused by such symbols as the swastika.

Seemingly ordinary things like birds, animals and colours have, over the years, been given symbolic meaning.  In the case of animals, the symbolic qualities derive from actual physical attributes, such as the lion, a symbol of strength and courage.

The way in which colours acquire symbolic meanings is not so clear.  Each culture has its own traditions and folklore and through the ages, colours have been given extra meanings.  In Western cultures, white is a symbol of purity (brides wear white as a symbol of purity), green a symbol of growth and black is associated with death.  However, the Chinese associate white with mourning.

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