ICON’t tell what it is…

This morning, I was perusing an article on NPR about humanitarian icons. The short of it is – UNOCHA (United Nation’s Humanitarian Agency) has created 295 icons to help convey useful information. 295? Wow! That does seem excessive. Why not create a new icon language and stack a few icons together to communicate? Oh wait, isn’t that how we already chat with each other via emojis?

At any rate, I thought it might be fun to see if my 16 year old daughter could guess a few of them. And then see if we could create an emoji equivalent.

distribution site.PNG

Something to the right? No, it’s a distribution center. Perhaps it’s emoji equivalent could be a delivery truck and a department store?


How about this one?


Bully? Well, she got this one. Harassment. I thought it was a person handcuffed being yelled at by someone. Not sure that I nailed the emoji equivalent.


OK – what does this one mean?


Press this button? Not exactly. This one represents coordination. I personally thought it meant to look here. Handshake emoji perhaps?


Then there’s this one:

community engagement.PNG

Rotates clockwise? Good guess. I had no idea. This icon means community coordination. Emoji:

community coord.PNG

OK this one has to do something with a calendar…


My daughter’s best guess? “Not today?” That would have been my guess too. Just means calendar. Why the X?


Needless to say, these icons and emojis need some sort of translation. It can’t be easy to make something understandable when you have multiple languages, different levels of education, cultural considerations. I applaud their effort to attempt to create a common icon library. They might consider making a memory game where you pair the meaning with the icon.

But it had me thinking – there already is a language that spans culture barriers – Sign language! What if we make sign language our Babel fish? (That’s a reference from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – A living fish which, when placed in your ear, will live there and translate any form of language for you.) Just might be interesting to see what the sign language experts would create for an icon library.


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