Universal Symbols – Key words, definition and basic shapes of symbols

February 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Posted in research, symbols | 2 Comments
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consistant meaning.


human beings.







All forms of communication are based on symbols and any system of symbols can form a language. A symbol represents a concept. Every word in a natural language is a symbol for some concept or relationship between concepts. Symbols are similar to signs, in that they embody a concept or thing. However, there are differences. Signs are objects or ideas that point to something clearly and literally. Symbols are similar, but their meanings are deeper. Symbols are always more than they appear and reflect something more profound than the surface appearance. Symbols usually have several layers of meaning. The more profound the symbol, the greater the complexity, and the more layers of meaning. Interestingly enough, some of the most potent symbols are constructed with the simplest visual form.

Universal Symbols

Symbols have three possible types of association – universal, cultural and personal. The most effective symbols often embody all three.

Universal Shapes and Symbols

Universal symbols resonant with all human beings. They tend to be consistent in meaning across culturals and time periods. These basic forms, according to Jungian psychology, are part of the collective unconscious – that part of our unconscious which is common to all, and connects all human beings. Universal symbols have the most impact as they communicate directly with our unconscious. Images that incorporate these types of symbols are often very potent because they embody the essence of an idea or concept in a very powerful manner. By bypassing rational thought and going straight to the emotion-centers or unconscious the message is delivered with great impact.

Cultural Symbols

Five basic shapes consistently appear in the art of many cultures – the circle, square, triangle, equidistant cross and spiral. These universal shapes have similar meanings in many cultures perhaps because they are representative of basic human archetypal energies. The circle symbolizes wholeness and unity. The square indicates form manifest, stability and solidity. The triangle represents harmony, vision, and dreams. The equidistant cross represents relationships and the integration and balancing of dualities, and the spiral reflects life, beginnings, growth and evolution.

Cultural Symbols

Cultural symbols may have quite different meanings in different cultures although there is often a great deal of overlap. Many of our world cultures have common histories and therefore share the symbolism inherit in these histories. Examples are the symbols of all the world religions.

Personal Symbols

Personal symbols are created by our individual experiences within our environment. We often share personal symbols with other people. We all make associations with events, interactions and things in our direct experience and this library of associations becomes our personal symbology.

The process of symbolization is deeply rooted in the human psyche. Many branches of study concentrate on specific aspects of symbology, human cognition, and the underlying meaning of language systems. Information Design is primarily concerned with the symbols of visual communication, but also includes other forms of communication such as auditory and sensory.

References-Introduction to Information Design




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  1. Great JOB Hye-Yoon!!! I had sooooo much fun reading all your research , IM SO EXCITEd we are gathering all this really cool information and ideas and going to analyze them together. I really loved the info u got. OMG the goats looked so funny and wow that perpetual storm is crazy…maybe they could harness that energy for something ..

    • I think the goats image is the best. That is THE most mysterious picture to me.

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