3 minutes reading time (632 words)

How ancient symbols can benefit modern design

How ancient symbols can benefit modern design

I love symbols. I love the prevalence and permanence of the symbols in our world. I love that some symbols are transitory. I love learning the stories behind their design, and I love discovering and saving symbols that might otherwise slip away.

Over the past three years, I've created a digital encyclopedia of symbols. I've gathered together more than 650 ethnographic and mystical symbols from cultures all around the world. I've categorized and redesigned them in a consistent and modern style.

I want to offer creatives the chance to use my research to inspire their own designs. That's why I'm crowdfunding to launch Symbolikon, a digital library of ethnographic and mystical symbols that is the result of years of intensive study and hard work.

I'd love for you to support me in reaching my goals. But first, let me tell you why I think this project is so important.

There's no such thing as immaculate conception when it comes to design. We create based upon our own personal knowledge, our cultural experience, and we build on the work of designers that have come before us. We stand, often, on the shoulders of giants.

It's easy to think that inspiration plus imagination equals creation. However, before inspiration comes curation. You have to get your ducks in a row; you have to plan your research, do your due diligence. You have to know where you're coming from to get to where you're going.

It's easy to imagine the designer who comes across an interesting glyph while perusing travel websites, planning her next holiday. Perhaps she likes the look, and uses it in her next design project, for a company producing medical supplies. Now imagine that aesthetically pleasing glyph is an ancient symbol for death. That'll be embarrassing for the brand - and the designer - somewhere down the line.

That's why I believe that an organized, categorized, digital library of symbols is so valuable.

When I first started studying symbols, I was frustrated. I couldn't find images or information in an easy-to-use digital format. In my research, I often needed to procure rare print books, and speak to anthropologists and symbology experts. I had to constantly pull together large amounts of disparate information.

That's why I've done the research, the organization, the curation. For you. I want my research to save you time and to benefit your design.

The Bluetooth logo is the perfect example of how ancient symbols can inspire modern design.

Bluetooth was developed by Swedish company Ericsson. It's named after Harald Blåtand (Blue-tooth in English). Blåtand was a Viking king, known for his negotiating abilities. Ericsson thought that this historical ruler had a lot in common with their new technology, which was also a great communicator. The symbol that we all understand to mean 'Bluetooth' is simply an amalgamation of the Nordic runes 'H' and 'B', Harald's initials.

The logo is the perfect combination of modern design and historical context. It's a match made in heaven. The design team have created an instantly recognisable symbol for a modern technological innovation which, for anyone interested in investigating, provides a deep backstory that enhances and enriches understanding of the product.

This is what I believe can be achieved when creative artists investigate ancient symbols and incorporate them into modern designs. I want people to be inspired by symbols — whether it be creative designers, tattooist, artists, or even interior designers.



When launched, Symbolikon will provide non-restrictive licences, meaning that symbols can be downloaded and used commercially with no constraints. I don't want anything to get in the way of your creative process. I want to inspire you to love symbols as much as I do.


Michela Graziani is a designer based in Rome. For further information on Symbolikon and to pledge to the Kickstarter, visit the project’s website.

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