»Comparing apples
and oranges is my
daily bread.«

Juli Gudehus

»signs of life« | method workshop

Pictograms may be the most remarkable sloggers in the field of design. In human history they belong to the oldest cultural achievements. Without them we were screwed nowadays. The allow us to orientate, they help to handle devices, they are familiar or mysterious, they are abstract or detailed. Right now they gain an enormous power as no interface works without them. The smaller they can be, the better. What do they do with us, what can we do with them?

»Thou shalt not make unto thee any image«, the Bible says. The Western Christians don’t take it that seriously though. Long before compulsory school attendance, biblical stories were painted on the walls inside of many churches for the benefit of the illiterate. Today more people seem to be literate than ever – and reluctant to read much. At the same time without schooling they develop the skill to read innumerable icons every day: on screens, traffic signs, products, and elsewhere. Each of them communicates a message: warning, commandment, information, identity and many more. 

In the course of this method workshop we meander through various cultures, times, and contexts. Can we distiinguish the ladies’ room from the men’s room in Poland? Can Indians in our country? Is it possible to transfer a longer message with several short ones? The Egyptians successfully gave a good example. In our culture the swastika is a Nazi symbol, in Asia it signifies luck. How come? The East German traffic-light man is a pop star. Oh – signs can become famous? can grow old? have something like grammar? 

We have a look at formal relations and at various forms of comparable messages. We examine the effect of mapping values, we play with degrees of abstraction and complexity, we change proportions and arrangements, we restage contexts and we watch how the meaning of pictograms can dramatically alter.


Practical tasks alternate with theoretical digressions and short presentations. The participants work in groups, in two and on their own on black and white icons that I bring, that they bring and that we botanise together.


Increased perception of the individual daily surroundings with their many and diverse messages, senders and recipients. Enrichment of the own visual vocabulary. Insight into the potential of image concentrates. Basic understanding of their applications, achievements, advantages, and perils. Knowledge of using pictograms in the own creative work. Inspirations for the design of icons and icon families. Broadening of one’s own horizon exceeding the own culture and time.


I am looking forward to come to your university, studio, institution, company. Just send me a mail so we can arrange details and dates.

Only now I noticed that in our canteen there are three different pictograms for the emergency exits. And I am in the 7th semester already!

Diatra, master student, Pforzheim

I liked the timing. And I laughed quite often. I was amazed and also a little bit soothed that even professional designers do not necessarily do everything well and consistantly. And I found interesting to see results of other groups of this workshop.

Alexander, bachelor student, Augsburg

It strikes me how much information you can pack into such a small image. I somehow thought there was only one certain kind of them. But it turns out to be a really wide field. I see now: you can get started at very many points. The many different possibilities of how I work with symbols myself and how I can get my own perspective, that really sparked me. And I feel motivated to go more of my own way.

Lea, bachelor student, Augsburg

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