A History of Symbols

Their Meaning and Their Function as an Aid to Civilization and Commerce

J.D. Reeves
24 min readNov 20, 2017

“A sign is something by knowing we know something more.” — Charles Sanders Peirce

Signs and symbols have become ubiquitous in our modern lives. Their simplified vernacular has all but receded from our awareness in many circumstances, merging with our subconscious as we navigate through day-to-day life. Modern symbols are transcendent, transcultural, and transmedia. Symbols have many purposes, most of which can be distilled down into three overarching categories — to identify, to describe, or to create value. While we mostly associate symbols these days with trademarks, and therefore commerce, early symbols obviously served an entirely different function — to organize order from chaos. This is the distinction between graphic design and fine art. Art is often more along the lines of expression, a visual manifestation of the artists’ thoughts, feelings, or convictions, whereas design is more accurately defined as visual communication. The graphic design mark is a mark made with a purpose beyond inherent beauty. Of course, if the marks are aesthetically pleasing then the message is more likely to be transferred to the viewer. But some of the historical marks that may often be viewed as fine art are actually more correctly aligned with the term “graphic design”even though the term wasn’t coined until 1922. To view marks made with the intent of communication as graphic design is to open up an entire lineage of marks to investigate. This topic seems manageable at first, due to the simplicity and rarity of early markmaking, but with the advent of typography and the printed word, graphic design explodes in the Middle Ages, proliferating beyond our ability to keep complete record of it all. But in regards to the symbol, the timeline is long and nuanced.

A quick note before we look at the timeline, an interesting way to frame the history of symbols is as a long bend toward simplification. The best symbols are clear and unique, but also refined and exclusive of the non-essential. As symbols progress into letterforms (which become the very set of 26 characters that comprise the words on this page) it is clear that they must be easily distinguished. But also that, if I was writing them by hand, it would be much quicker for them to be simple (which they are). So it is important to remember when looking at the history of symbols that viewing it only as a progression of reduction may be an over-simplification in itself, but the strongest symbols always omit the non-essential.

To look at the history of the early symbol is essentially to look at the advent and evolution of early handwriting. And while written language is essentially a collection of symbols, it is important to make the distinction. All written communication is symbols, but the term ‘symbol’ categorizes many marks extending out beyond written language. In the beginning though, the two timelines are one in the same. It is in this prehistoric era in which symbols were not functioning as an aide to commerce, but rather to help make sense of the world itself.

Sumerian Cuneiform

From the prehistoric symbols made by the Cro-Magnon people of France and Spain, to the early record-keeping symbols used by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, the meaning and function of many early symbols is up to speculation. It’s clear that these people were trying to make order of their world, to preserve a thought, or to create a likeness. Some believe that they were trying to possess power over the animals they were depicting in their marks (which makes some sense for a hunter-gatherer society), or perhaps they were simply trying to create likenesses of the very things that consumed their mind. It is hard to know the meaning of prehistoric symbols for the very reason that they are prehistoric. History has to be written for us to make sense of what people and civilizations were doing, but there is obviously no history written about people who were in the embryonic stages of creating those very writing devices. What we do know is that the early symbols were what we now call ‘pictographs’, that is, they were symbols “representing a person, animal, plant, or inanimate object” (Craig 11). As an aside, the term “petroglyph” is often also used to describe these markings. The difference between the two terms is that one describes medium (petroglyph means carved into stone), while the other denotes subject matter (pictograph means resembling an object). The function of a pictograph is to evoke a mental image of something, which in turn leads to an audible utterance. Thus, pictographic symbols were the first step in journey toward a written language. As societies evolved and became more complex, so too did their visual communication. Pictographs began to transcend their representation of objects or things and started to express more meaningful and complex subject matter, such as actions or ideas. With ideographs, “the simplified drawing of the sun need no longer represent only the sun; it could also mean day or time. Or the symbol of a foot could also mean to stand or to walk” (Craig 17). So while symbols were evolving not only in terms of what they represented, they were also evolving in terms of their practicality. The Sumerians discovered that they could write more quickly if they abandoned the idea of drawing shapes, instead focusing on simplification and abstraction. This style was called cuneiform, which means “wedge shaped” due to the fact that they wrote by pressing a wedge shaped stylus into wet clay. The Sumerians also took these symbols a bit further by letting particular symbols represent both an object or idea, and also a spoken sound, a syllable. This “represented a major step toward the development of alphabetic writing” in which “one sign represents one sound” (Craig 16).

Another people group utilizing both pictographic and ideographic symbols was the Egyptians. Their hieroglyphics also began as purely visual but later evolved to take on an audible denotation as well. As an example, the pictograph representing the form of an owl could represent either the owl itself, a characteristic of an owl such as wisdom (ideograph), or the dominant consonant sound (syllable) in the Egyptian word for owl. In order for the reader to know which use was intended, hieroglyphics relied on something called a determinate. (This factor was what made hieroglyphics essentially unintelligible until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Without the clarity of a determinate, hieroglyphics read like nonsense).

The evolution of pictographs to Roman letterforms

To skip ahead a bit in the timeline, our Roman letterform symbols that we use today are very similar to Etruscan, Greek, and even Phoenician symbols which borrowed from Egyptian and Sumerian forms. The Greek’s contribution to the timeline was the addition of vowels to the consonant-only Phoenician symbol set. With that addition, “all the pieces were in place” because “any spoken language could be written with a phonetic alphabet” (Craig 28). With the Etruscan contribution of writing left to right, and the Roman solidification of twenty-three of the twenty-six (U, J, and W were added much later) characters we use today, we essentially arrive at our present-day form of writing. And as mentioned earlier, the symbols we use are much more simplified and quicker to write than pictographs of bison or Sumerian cuneiform.

As stated previously, to only talk about the history of symbols in terms of their place in the written word is to limit the history of symbols. While symbols were the basis of written language, there also exists a separate history in which symbols were functioning more closely to how we think of them today. Symbols can serve 3 purposes: to identify, to describe, or to create value. The history of symbols beginning as true symbols and then evolving into letterforms is primarily the timeline of symbols serving to describe. Often now, while we do see our Roman alphabet as symbols, we may more accurately think of symbols in terms of their ability to identify, or to create value (symbols as trademark). Another interesting, but separate way to look at these two timelines is to take a deeper look at the way symbols were organizing their meaning. One could look at the history of written language symbols as one in which the symbols were serving to define and separate. In effect, these letterform symbols were most meaningful and successful when they were connected with one powerful and specific meaning. But in the alternate timeline, the one of symbols functioning as trademarks, the most successful symbols are the ones that unify and pull together various meanings. Perhaps the strongest symbols in this timeline, are the ones with the most meanings successfully built in.

The timeline of symbols as identification marks is one as lengthy and intricate as the one for symbols as descriptors. In the beginning symbols may have served multiple roles, but in more recent eras when some symbols became solidified as letterforms, the distinction was easier to draw in terms of their specific function. While the evolution of symbols as letterform basically becomes less interesting around AD 100 (since the letterforms have changed very little since), the discussion of symbols as trademarks remains interesting as it is evolving by the minute (although one might add the recent development of emojis to the discussion of symbols as a visual language). The modern trademark symbols discussed before, that are so omnipresent in our day-to-day life had their origins in maker’s marks and cylinder seals from centuries ago. A look at that timeline will bring us up to modern day.

Mason’s marks

Dating to as early as 2000 BC, mason’s marks have been found in ancient structures such as tombs. As Jens Müller states, “These abstract line graphics, each with its own specific characteristics, referred to a particular family or workshop” (8). This is clearly a precursor to our symbols and logos of today. Later, with the organization and advancement of societies, came a shift from nomadic hunting/gathering to increased trade and commerce. With these new advancements, as well as the ownership of property, visual identification became necessary. The practical implications of these symbols were clear; one, to indicate propriety, and two, to allow identification of the maker of things “in case problems developed or superior quality inspired repeat purchases” (Meggs 9). It’s not difficult to draw a thread connecting this very concept to our modern day signs and signifiers, which serve exactly the same function as the latter description. In regards to the former description this is likely how trademarks began, as an indicator of ownership, probably “a simple sign to show that a weapon belonged to a particular man” (Mollerup 15). It makes a lot of practical sense — as societies began to form, people started to make money and own things, and symbols developed as a short-hand way to say “this is mine”. Trademarks used in this particular way have existed for at least 5,000 years with one such example of identification symbology being the Mesopotamian cylinder seal. To create these seals, etched symbols were rolled across damp clay tablets, impressing their designs in an effort to prevent forgery. The earliest seals were engraved with images of kings, animals, or mythical creatures. It’s clear to see that although these symbols were existing simultaneously with the Sumerian cuneiform, they were serving a completely different function. These symbols were not solely communicating a meaning, but rather functioning as an indicator of propriety. In continuance of this timeline, Roman bricks and soaps were often stamped with the name of their maker, and also with their place and date of manufacture. This practice was “labelling as we know it, and employed visual devices as the kernel of commercial identity” (Hyland 8). The use of symbols resumed much in this same fashion as the market society advanced.

Greek monogram

One notable way in which symbols manifested was the monogram. ‘Monogram’ in the original Greek was defined as ‘single line’, but today the term is typically used in reference to a design comprised of someone’s initials. Dating back to the first century AD, the Greeks referenced monograms, which have undoubtedly endured due to their inherent simplicity in communication. The monogram was often used as a form of signature for emperors and kings throughout history, in much the same way that we may initial a contract today. In the same way that our lawyer or banker might highlight a place for us to initial, early notaries would prepare a document by making a horizontal line, through which signatories could draw their personal monograms. One interesting aspect about monograms was the fact that they were often used in place of an actual signature as an accommodation for illiteracy. These monograms were much like our best trademarks today, in that they simplified information into visual shorthand that transcended culture and language. As early as the fourth century, Romans suggested that monograms were intended to be recognized rather than read, effectively shifting them from a symbol that describes to a symbol that identifies. This function parallels our trademarks today in that “more people can recognize the Coca-Cola name mark than spell the name. Very few can explain what the name literally stands for” (Mollerup 24). This stands as an example of a functional symbol, one that is simple, meaningful and communicative. This is why you will often still see monograms at the top of a wedding invitation you may receive. They are simple and communicative, and therefore timeless.

Livestock brands

Perhaps a step beyond monograms is the concept of branding. The term ‘branding’ has a modern connotation to creating a public perception of a company, but historically the term is in reference to literally creating a brand mark on a piece of property such as livestock. Owners of animals “branded them with a single initial letter, or several interwoven letters, to identify the farmer or farming community to which they belonged. Here we see elements of simplicity as well as duplicability, with branding irons being capable of reproducing the identical symbol on multiple animals. In regards to the timeline, Egyptian tombstones depicting animals with brands date back to as early as 3000 BC. In the year 1346, English horses in the Hundred Years’ War carried the imperial brand (later known as the king’s mark), which is still in use today by the British Ministry of Defence (once again pointing to the longevity and timelessness of a simple mark). Specifically in the United States though, branding has been taken to new levels, with rules and registrations. American livestock brands are comprised of letters, numbers, and figures, with their surface area on the livestock not to exceed twenty-five square inches. Just as the ancient ceramics and tools were branded to show propriety, so too were these living creatures. And later, in the Middle Ages, soldiers would also regularly be branded with the emblems of their warlords, extending this practice to the human body itself. And some of the rules of branding (the way it shows cadency) tie into another symbolic form from the Middle Ages, heraldry.

Heraldry, with its origins in the Crusades, was a symbolic language used for identification on clothing, shields, and flags. Because the identity of the knights was often shielded by armor, heraldic marks used on the battle paraphernalia aided in their identification for both their allies and enemies. The graphic devices utilized animals such eagles or lions, symbolizing power along with colorful motifs and insignia of supremacy. The symbols were often in the form of crests, shields or coats of arms, following specific Heraldic design rules. Essentially a precursor to today’s brand guidelines, heraldic rules designated the design of lines of partition and the shapes (ordinaries) on the shield. They also guided decisions such as the colors used, the materials used, and the cadency marks (which denoted a man’s lineage). As Mollerup writes, ”heraldry offers a body of thought and terminology that is relevant to the creators of modern trademarks.” Namely that, “simplicity is preferred both in concept and in technical execution” (20).

Traditional Japanese mon

Overlapping on the timeline, elsewhere in Japan, mon (meaning “signs” or “emblems”) came into popularity. Having a similar function to heraldry, mon initially identified the imperial family and its hereditary military commanders. But beginning in around 1600, mon were adopted by all people in all social standings. The symbols were based on stylized depictions of plants or animals and typically contained within a circle. Much like European coats of arms, mon were handed down from generation to generation and also followed a specific set of rules. Later, mon began to be used as identifying marks for family businesses, essentially functioning as logos. A good example is the logo for the automobile manufacturer Mitsubishi, which is comprised of an abstracted combination of the mon of the two founding families. A great symbol is not only clear and simple, but also conceptually meaningful and this is a great example.

While the mediums and aesthetics of symbols evolved a bit from early history through the Middle ages and Renaissance, the essence and function of the symbol remained basically the same. The marks were used as identification, with simplicity, clarity, and reproducibility being the hallmarks of a good symbol. As the function and role of commerce remained steady so too did the function and role of symbols. The indicated propriety or somehow otherwise identified the object to which they were adhered to or embossed within. They communicated quality or social status. Their evolution carried on steadily and without substantial interference until the second half of the eighteenth century. With this new era of industrialization, nearly all areas related to commerce underwent change. Companies began to expand their product line and geographic reach. More people began to move out of rural areas and into urban areas, which in turn led to different consumer behavior and a new class of customer. These factors all increased the supply of goods such as food, furniture, and clothing items. And because of this, it became more important than ever before to distinguish yourself as a company or manufacturer. The need for a symbol as an identifier to unify your company image behind was evident. And while the aesthetics of abstraction and clarity should have been paramount, many business owners still had a partiality to coats of arms and heraldic-type symbols as a holdover from the prior era. It seems that, for whatever reason, the gatekeepers of symbolic function in this era tended towards more elaborate, realistic depictions. Perhaps it was the desire to be unique and visually set apart from your competitors, or perhaps some sort of longing for extravagance and ornament not previously available to people of the countryside. Or maybe it was just easier to “upcycle” as in many cases in which a family’s coat of arms would become their first logo.

Pelikan symbol evolution from 1878 to 1962

One example is that of Pelikan, a German stationery manufacturer, of which the founder registered his family crest, the pelican, as the company trademark. With the transition into the Industrial Revolution taking companies into new territory, it’s no surprise that logos were essentially an afterthought. It seems that there was no hand-wringing over what the symbol was communicating about the company, or how easy it would be applied to various mediums, or how clear the symbol would read at various sizes. Symbols were just something that emerging companies needed, so they simply just started using something. In terms of aesthetic, it’s interesting to note that in the late 1700’s, civilization was still closer to illuminated manuscripts than to the shiny, polished, minimal logos of today. So perhaps we should not have expected too much from them in terms of simplification. And at that time, a coat of arms might’ve been the closest thing, at lease functionally, to a symbol that they knew of. As Jens Müller writes that “[f]ollowing in the tradition of trade guilds’ coats of arms, a logo was always intended to create a clear, eye-catching link with the advertiser and/or its products” (11). So to start off the era of industry with symbols resembling or derived from coats of arms is a logical place to start.

Bass abstract triangle logo, 1875

It wasn’t until much more recently, in the late nineteenth century, that companies began to recognize the commercial power and value of their symbols. In 1875, a red triangle joined together with the signature of the word ‘Bass’ was registered as a trademark, the first registration of its kind. Up until this point, there were “very few examples of abstract, non-representational signs” (Müller 11). So it is interesting to note that the first company to view their mark as worthy of being registered as a trademark, was also a mark that stood apart from the others visually at that time. In this mark and moment, “we see the beginnings of an important formal distinction between the use of maker’s marks as symbols of product value and as mere conveyors of information” (Hyland 8). It becomes clear here that viewing your symbol as unique and purposeful also leads to treating the aesthetics and composition of that mark with much more purpose and intent. With this registration of the Bass trademark, commerce began to shift into a heightened awareness of and regard for their symbol. Increasingly, the symbol became an image to unify around, rather than an afterthought based on visual holdovers from yesteryear.

Symbols up until now have traditionally been largely influenced by their visual culture. One could debate the merits of that since great symbols should transcend time, culture, and place. The job of the symbol is not to act as some reflection of where we are, or who we are. The use of good symbols can of course aid in that function (and one could argue, any function), but we are not talking about fine art when we talk about symbols. If the role of the symbol is to communicate, then some are better than others. As mentioned before, the timeline of symbols is a bend toward simplicity which, one could argue is a bend toward stronger function and better communication. While symbols will probably continue to evolve in some way, at some point it seems, certain symbols do reach some sort of ‘resolution’. So throughout the timeline of their history, it is important to look at places in which they reflect the visual climate in which they are created, and some places in which they serve to advance that visual culture. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the majority of symbols seem to be reflecting the visual moment of Art Nouveau. One needs to only look at the GE logo (created in 1890) in both its initial and even its current state, to see the influence of the contemporary visual climate on the symbol. The curvaceous and ornate motifs characteristic of the Art Nouveau movement are the prominent visual attributes. So while we do see here a shift away from the coat of arms style, and at least a more considered and current approach to the design of symbols, we do not yet see a consistent attempt for timeless or austere design. One cannot blame those making symbols in this era, (or any era, really) for allowing visual culture to infuse their design styles. But it is only when designers began see symbols, and graphic design as whole, as its own standalone form of visual communication do we move into a new era of true commercial symbol design.

GE evolution

In 1907, as the world was coming down from the Art Nouveau moment, a man named Peter Behrens designed a trademark symbol for a company called AEG. Up to this point, companies would take their symbol, apply it however and whenever they saw fit. There was no real concept of a cohesive corporate identity. But Behrens changed that, by not stopping at the symbol design itself, but also considering its application. He applied the symbol to all print work, products, and architecture for the AEG company, this giving us the birth of the era of corporate identity systems. No longer was a symbol just a symbol, it was now the predominant and guiding visual element which complete brand identities were built around. This brought about a change in perspective for not only companies, but for those who design symbols. How would an ornate, Art Nouveau influenced symbol look in a small newspaper ad? How would it look on a stamp? The need to disseminate corporate identity and therefore various symbol applications led us toward even more considered symbol design. Competitive companies could no longer afford to use impractical, dated, ambiguous symbols in the twentieth century business climate.

With the influence of the De Stijl and Bauhas movements of the early twentieth century, logos began to shift toward a more Modernist style. With the driving idea behind De Stijl that reducing elements to pure forms aids in establishing harmony and order, and the preference of simplified forms by Bauhaus movement in resistance to ornate German blackletter, it is easy to see how Modernist sensibilities began to develop. The tide of visual culture always seems to be an ebb and flow, and coming out of an era of busy, intricate designs landed us on the doorstep on Modernism. At this point, the budding discipline of commercial art began to differentiate itself from fine art by “turning to abstract shapes and skillfully intermingling them with geometric forms” (Müller 11). In the same way that painting had to look at the rise of photography and ask “what can we do that photos cannot?” so too design left behind figurative images in favor of abstraction. This trend toward austerity and communication as the primary hallmarks of symbol design ushered in what many view as the golden era of symbol design. A close associate of the Bauhaus movement, Johanne Molzahn compared symbol design to engineering, saying “function dictates form” and that “the creation of a brand is not so much an artistic problem as a technical and scientific one, involving both wit and imagination. Just like a machine, an aesthetically pleasing form is no more than the result of perfect construction combined with the objective of achieving the best performance” (Müller 11). Molzahn’s philosophy shows a clear and overt break from fine art and essentially a Modernist manifesto, to seek out solutions, never personal expression. These ideas clearly and immediately manifest in work from symbol designers like Wilhelm Deffke, working in Germany in the 1920’s and modeling early Modernist tendencies. And while there were early adopters of this philosophy and style, it wasn’t until the 1940’s and onward, that Modernism began to play a widespread and major role in the creation of symbols.

Paul Rand logo design

Sensational and prolific Modernist designer Paul Rand, writing at the height of his career in 1947, expressed his design manifesto in the first chapter of his book,”Thoughts on Design.” The book, which in itself exemplifies the virtue of saying more with less, has one chapter that specifically deals with the topic of the symbol in advertising. Rand writes that “it is in a world of symbols that man lives,” and that “the symbol is thus the common language between artist and spectator”. He also draws a distinction between design and fine art here, saying that the communication between himself and the spectator is “a condition with which the easel painter need not concern himself”. Rand obviously doesn’t use the term Modernism (as he was actually in the very process of embodying and defining it), but does write on the topic of simplification, saying “it is not true that the symbol has to be simplified in order to qualify as a symbol. The fact that some of the best symbols are simplified images merely points to the effectiveness of simplicity but not to the meaning of the word per se” (13). So while its clear that simplicity was important, it was not the goal. Communication was the goal and simplicity was just a means of arriving there. This is the crux of modern symbol design; communication is paramount. Rand wrote in the opening chapter of his book, serving as a sort of thesis, “Graphic design … is not good design if it does not co-operate as an instrument in the service of communication” (9).

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s as designers and ad men worked in bullpens on Madison Avenue, Modernist style symbols proliferated. In contrast to the ornate symbols from decades prior, Modernist symbols were geometric, two-dimensional, stylized, highly influenced by Swiss design, and often abstract. Designers recognized that symbols no longer needed to describe the thing they were representing. They didn’t even need to make sense. As long as they were bold, memorable and versatile, they could be leveraged well into a visual identity system. Designers could create a strong logo and then allow the brand and company to give it meaning, not the other way around. With the increase of global commerce, the unified company image consisting of a symbol, colors, typography, and imagery was more important than ever before. Another important development in this era was the introduction of brand manuals, solidifying symbol designs the were previously in flux with variations for different locations and applications. And so Modernism continued on its march toward austerity and clarity. But with austerity and rigidity can come monotony. An early 1970’s issue of Print magazine titled ‘The Triumph of the Corporate Style’ highlighted just how homogeneous design had become. The issue featured samples of brand identities for several companies, stating that while they were “orderly, well structured, and undeniably clear”, they were also quite “lifeless and watered-down”. The issue‘s introduction concludes with the line “The 1970’s was marked by the rise of the Corporate Style in communications design and the subsequent enfeeblement of imaginative activity” (Poyner 25).

For the first time in decades, if not centuries, the bend towards simplicity in symbol design began to take a detour in the form of post-modernism. Designers like David Carson and Wolfgang Weingart began to do work that was not only visually disparate from their Modernist precursors, but also came from an entirely different motivation. Post-modernist design philosophy shunned the idea that design was not about personal expression and sought to reinvigorate the industry with their personalities and soul. Design of this era became messy, chaotic, and unorganized, perhaps as a direct reaction to Modernism, or perhaps due to digital design and the complexities it allowed, or perhaps both. The overall tone of design shifted to be more rebellious, less corporate, less Swiss, and even less legible. Symbols with 3-D effects, drop shadows, and gradients became more prominent, since designers and companies were now liberated by advancements in both design and printing technology. If Modernism was a time to impose rules upon symbol design, Post-modernism was a time to question and indeed, to break all of these rules. A thought provoking quote from Weingart serves as a good overview of Post-modernism, “What’s the use of being legible, when nothing inspires you to take notice of it?” (Poyner 20).

David Carson logo design

In the timeline of symbols, following Post-modernism we are essentially caught up to our current moment. With Post-modernism’s brief detour from simplicity, it seems we are increasingly back on track toward it. Symbols were once just painted or printed, but now have to be designed for a broad range of requirements; anything from billboards, and large movie screens, to small menu icons on mobile phones and the URL bar of websites. This demand for symbols to function well in so many various applications will most likely be the defining factor of our time, in regards to symbol design. In this digital age, some of our more prevalent symbols we interact with daily need to be simple and straightforward; the battery symbol on our phones, the “hamburger” menu icon in the top corner of our mobile websites, the save symbol in our word processors. There is no room here for personal expression, for intricacy, for embellishment. There is also little to no room for culture, for place, for time. These symbols are about clarity, communication, and immediacy. This is what is meant by the bend toward simplicity; symbols on our road signs are not places for ambiguity.

The Noun Project, an online resource for symbols

The overall takeaway from the history of symbols is a march towards communication, and therefore towards simplification. Cave paintings depicting animals became letterforms, which later became the Roman alphabet. This is a whittling down, a simplification into 26 symbols, essentially representing every sound we can make with our mouths. And in this same way, our symbols of commerce and society have simplified over time as well. Simple symbols help us make sense of a complex world. Perhaps the more complex it becomes, the more simple our symbols need to be. It is interesting that although our advanced screens and printers now allow for more possibilities than ever before, the strongest symbols of our age are the most minimal in presentation. As Hyland writes, “the simplicity of the symbol lends itself to ubiquity with its propagation through print, mass production, television, and the computer screen” (11). It is interesting to think that perhaps their ubiquity is the result of their simplicity. In many cases, symbols are no longer merely serving to represent the quality of the thing they represent, but are often seen with inherent quality in themselves. Because the function of symbols is to help us make sense of the world, they are bound to evolve. Their relationship with their surroundings and moment are inextricable. But the best symbols transcend time, place, and their maker, identifying, describing, or creating value for the thing they represent, ever-bending towards the perfect intersection of meaning and clarity.


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