Symbol is one of the newest publications from Laurence King, released last month in May. Curated by Pentagram partner Angus Hyland with writing by freelance writer Steven Bateman, the book visually explores a catalog of symbols, removed from all context, and organized by their most basic form. Symbols are categorized in two groups: abstract, which includes subgroups such as circles, squares, stripes; and representational, which includes everything from water and trees, to books and architecture.

The entirety of the book is littered with over a thousand symbols, but an introduction by David Gibbs – writer, editor, and communications strategist – provides deep insight into the title of the book. He explores the history of symbols, discovers how they’ve evolved, and determines what they mean today. He goes on to clarify the differences between a symbol, logo, logotype, wordmark, thingamajig, etc…

The catalog of symbols include a caption indicating the client, country, designer, date of design and a brief line on its meaning. Although the symbols’ meanings are removed when reduced to their simplest form and placed alongside similar forms, the short sentence in the caption usually provides an “Aha!” moment and adds some clue of the designer’s intentions.

Inserted between the catalog of black and white symbols are deeper descriptions of a select numbers of logos which includes a short history of the logo. The case studies also show the symbol’s application and provides a greater context into the meaning and broader branding of the mark. These case studies provide what’s intentionally missing from the rest of the collection.

I was particularly happy to see several pages of three dimensional and architecture-related logos. As you may guess, clients for these types of symbols are mostly companies in the architecture and construction industry, community organizations, and cultural organizations with iconic buildings – among them the Nouveau Theatre de Montreuil and the Centre Pompidou. A side by side comparison of the logo and image of these buildings (Aurelie Gasche and Delphine Cordier’s logo for Dominique Coulon’s Nouveau Theatre de Montreuil and Jean Widmer’s logo for Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s Centre Pompidou) shows how the designers abstracted the forms of the buildings into a simplified yet symbolic logo, integrating the architectural aesthetic and visual brand into one cohesive identity. It’s magical, isn’t it?

Although the book doesn’t show us anything new or progressive, Symbol is an excellent archival resource – with a huge index of the symbol’s designers, clients, and sectors – and is a worthy addition to any designer’s library.

Check out more spreads on Laurence King and see the work of book designers & Smith. Also see videos of a lecture by Angus Hyland on ‘Symbol’ at the Design Museum in London.


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