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There Are No Words

Pictograms pack a powerful punch.




Who has time to read anymore? In today’s hectic, fast-paced world, people rarely have the inclination to stop and scan verbose signage, no matter how enticing they may be.

Enter the pictogram. Since ancient times, when literacy rates were near zero, shop owners have relied on icons to depict the products and services that they offer. This worked just fine, until the advent of the printing press (and schools) fostered a mass population of readers who demanded more detailed information. Since then, signs have become increasingly wordy and densely packed with prose.

Finally, it seems, the pendulum is swinging back.

Thanks to the social media generation, who rely less and less on words (or, thanks to abbreviations required for easier texting and Twitter’s character limitation, can even agree on things such as spelling and grammar), designers have the freedom to use fewer words, or no words at all. If a design seems cluttered and crammed, instead of sacrificing the central image and increasing the font size, designers have the very real option to eliminate the words and focus on the sign’s core message. That message is often better conveyed by the graphic anyway.

It’s one thing for a dentist’s office to display a giant tooth, or chiropractors and optometrists to use pictograms, but when even off-premise signage gets in on the act, you know it’s a more than a trend.

Snapchat’s recent Times Square takeover was a wordless exercise in branding at the highest level. Brightly colored panels, juxtaposed with images of models and the occasional logo, seeped into the viewer’s subconscious, unencumbered by text. If Madison Avenue executives with six-figure media budgets consider words to be superfluous, who are we to second guess?


Everyone is familiar with the old saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It seems that, more and more, in today’s crowded, chaotic marketplace, one picture may very well be worth all the words.




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