The terrible events in Paris last week highlighted for me the opportunity that good design and symbols play in our society.
Symbols that can be made in a moment (sometimes) but can leave an enduring visual legacy in our hearts and minds.
The French graphic designer and illustrator Jean Jullien who created the powerful #peaceforparis symbol told Wired magazine:
“It was done on my lap, on a very loose sketchbook, with a brush and ink,” he says. “I didn’t do any sketches. It was a reaction. The first thing that came to me was the idea of peace, that we needed peace. I was trying to look for a symbol of Paris, and obviously the Eiffel Tower was the first thing that sprang to my mind. I just connected both of them. You know, there wasn’t much work process behind that. It was more an instinctive, human reaction than an illustrator’s reaction.”
For me it shows me once again the difference between a logo and a symbol. A logo is corporate and sends a very specific message about the corporate essence of any organisation. But a symbol, a symbol sums up a reaction to a movement that can be unleashed across the world today in a moment.
It can be the visual rallying point that people will follow and rise up to.
It shows me that visual design can transcend language. In fact I would say that design is an international language that transcends language barriers.
Why have I written about this? I have the same feelings about the cross. For me the cross is an enduring symbol that has endured the test of time, transcended many cultures and languages. For those of us who follow Jesus who died on that Cross it is a symbol of our faith, a symbol of the now and not yet nature of what is to come. It represents hope, that he paid the price for all our iniquity and sin through his death and resurrection.
While the Paris peace symbol is popular at the moment, it will no doubt fade into history. But the cross will endure well beyond my life time.
(Note: There are terrible terrorist events going on all the time. I didn’t comment on them but I don’t want us to forget them either.)
Symbols are powerful, but the ideas behind them are more powerful.