Symbols – Recognize the Meaning?

The language of symbols present in daily life, so omnipresent, we hardly consider them… until. Until you don’t get the message.

Textile Care Symbols
Woman’s hands holding clothes label with cleaning instructions.

Put your sweater in the washing machine and clothes dryer and find it now fits your cat? Did you ignore the check engine light this afternoon when you went shopping? Did you signal your waiter for the check and pay cash or swipe your credit card?

Gesture for calling waitress
Calling the waitress

How many times today did you observe the Bluetooth symbol on your laptop or phone, the barcode on packages from FedEx? Did you notice a young dog tap underneath the chin of an older dog? What does it all mean?

These are the symbols and gestures of daily life. They make life easier, safer. The international symbols for washing (Textiles – Care labelling code using symbols), keep your clothes looking their best. Packaging symbols ensure fragile goods reach their destination in one piece and that perishable goods stay refrigerated. Drivers in Germany get the same information from their dashboards whether their car comes from Munich, Detroit or Tokyo.

automobile dashboard symbols
Car dashboard symbols

International standards for symbols define their shape, meaning, color, position, size, use and other attributes. For example, ISO 19018:2004 Ships and marine technology – Terms, abbreviations, graphical symbols and concepts on navigation, contains terms, abbreviations and graphical symbols, which are to be used in maritime navigation onboard ships.

ISO 9241-960:2017 Ergonomics of human-system interaction – Part 960: Framework and guidance for gesture interactions, gives guidance on the selection or creation of the gestures to be used in a gesture interface. It addresses the usability of gestures and provides information on their design, the design process and relevant parameters that are to be considered. In addition, it provides guidance on how gestures should be documented. This document is concerned with gestures expressed by a human and not with the system response generated when users are performing these gestures.

ANSI J-STD-710-2015 Audio, Video and Control Architectural Drawing Symbols, provides a standardized set of architectural floor plan and reflected ceiling plan symbols for audio, video and control systems, with associated technologies such as environmental control and communication networks. The common set of blueprint icons represents all facets of pre-wire and installation of electronic systems, products and devices in residential and commercial environments. It also includes descriptions and guidelines for the use of these symbols.

ISO 3758:2012 Textiles – Care labelling code using symbols Textiles – Care labelling code using symbols, establishes a system of graphic symbols, intended for use in the marking of textile articles, and for providing information on the most severe treatment that does not cause irreversible damage to the article during the textile care process, and specifies the use of these symbols in care labelling.

The following domestic treatments are covered: washing, bleaching, drying and ironing. Professional textile care treatments in dry and wet cleaning, but excluding industrial laundering, are also covered. However, it is recognized that information imparted by the domestic symbols will also be of assistance to the professional cleaner and launderer.

Symbols provide a means of communication for such a wide range of uses, there are literally thousands of standards for symbols. Search the ANSI webstore by keyword or document number or download this Excel workbook listing current standards pertaining to symbols.

An ISO technical committee, ISO/TC 145, Graphical Symbols, defines internationally accepted requirements for designs, colors, content and shapes of graphical symbols.

Standard exit sign
Exit symbol

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