Unit 2

How can we use symbols to make a point?


Anonymous uses the Guy Fawkes image as its symbol

Symbols give groups something to rally around. Symbols are words, shapes, colors, images, sounds that represent something else. Whether held up at a protest, used online, part of more complex communication, or integrated in physical space, symbols are short-hand for the ideas that people hold.

If a symbol is shorthand for a set of ideas or people, one way that design is political is by using symbols to help make a statement. This can be to lift up the work of the group or to alter the understanding of the original.

In this unit, you will alter, apply and/or appropriate* an existing symbol in a particular context or application to express an opinion on what is being symbolized.

Start either with a set of ideas and beliefs that you want to work with and find a symbol associated with this or choose a symbol that is relevant to your professional or personal life.

“You’re in a place that’s safe for black people. A big part of what [Marcus Garvey] wanted to say was come together under this flag and feel safe. “ Christopher Johnson, 99% Invisible

Week 3

Show and tell

We’ll look at some ways symbols can be applied. See the PDF of the lecture.

Activity: Symbol debrief

Working silently at a table with three or four classmates, make a list of the associations you have with the symbol(s) you chose. You may do this on paper or in Google Docs.

Share with the group. What are your opinions of the symbol? How might shifting medium, application, context, audience, time (future/past), etc, help to comment on? Do others at the table have additional or differing understandings of the symbol? How many meanings can you draw out?

For Week 4

Alter, apply and/or appropriate* your chosen symbol in a particular context or application to express an opinion on what is being symbolized. Opinions can include ‘agreeing with’ the associations that the symbol has and wanting to express those sentiments in a new work, for a new audience, in a new medium, etc.

This can be a prototype or rendering if an actual item is not producable. It can be a landscape, a building, a 3D object, an animation, a graphic work etc… Context and format are primary concerns.

Consider how the means of production has changed how symbols can be distributed.

*Appropriation was an intentional act by 20th century artists, but has become more controversial as cross-cultural appropriations have raised questions around who should be able to comment on whose work, etc. I am not asking you to ‘cuturally appropriate’ symbols unless that is territory you choose to venture into.


Week 4

For Week 5

Refine and present

Additional Bibiliography