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How Bathroom Stick-Figures Became Universal Symbols

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iStock

The classic male and female bathroom symbols have been under a lot of scrutiny in recent years, but it doesn’t look like they’re going away any time soon. While the crude stick-figures may not be the most clever, accurate, or progressive examples of bathroom signage, they have earned the distinction of being the most universally understood.

The rise of international pictograms began in Vienna in 1924. The city’s Social and Economic Museum was looking to convey their data in a way that could be easily comprehended by every visitor, so they replaced numbers with pictograms. This new technique, called the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics, was so effective that it quickly gained popularity around the world. Government organizations and other museums were commissioning the Vienna institution to create charts and graphs for them. The system was eventually renamed Isotype (International System Of Typographic Picture Education) and a visual dictionary of over 4000 universal symbols was compiled.

One of the most successful applications of global pictorial language was bathroom signs, but the figures we recognize today didn’t become widespread until later in the 20th century. In the mid-1960s, the British Rail became one of the first railways to implement a standard design style for all signs in their trains, stations, and restrooms. This was around the same time that mass tourism and an increasingly globalized economy were making universal signs more important than ever. In the '70s, the U.S. followed Britain’s lead by adopting a comprehensive sign system for their public transportation networks. The American Institute of Graphic Arts was commissioned to develop a set of pictograms that would be used to identify elevators, escalators, babies’ changing rooms, and public lavatories in transit locations around the country. Thirty-four such symbols were created (today we use 50), and they’re still as easily interpreted today as they were 40 years ago.

Accurately representing the entire male and female population with a pair of pictograms is almost impossible, but the standard signs are still clear enough to transcend cultural lines. Drawing men as basic stick-figures and women as stick-figures sporting skirts is a common experience for children throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. This may be one reason why the pictures elicit a conditioned response. Even in cultures where most women don’t wear skirts and most men don’t wear pants, the imagery is common enough in some of the larger nations to make it a recognizable symbol around the world.

There are still many countries that use their own bathroom sign systems (much to the frustration of foreign visitors). In Poland, women's lavatories are indicated with a circle while men’s are branded with a triangle. Lithuania bathroom signs use an inverted pyramid for men’s rooms and a standard pyramid for ladies. Perhaps such symbolism is more neutral than what we use in the States, but it’s not very helpful to foreigners facing a bathroom emergency.

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The Force Field Cloak
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Design
This Glowing Blanket Is Designed to Ease Kids' Fear of the Dark
The Force Field Cloak
The Force Field Cloak

Many kids have a security blanket they bring to bed with them every night, but sometimes, a regular blankie is no match for the monsters that invade their imaginations once the lights are off. Now there’s a glow-in-the-dark blanket designed to make children feel safer in bed, no night light required.

Dubbed the Force Field Cloak, the fleece blanket comes in several colorful, glowing patterns that remain invisible during the day. At night, you leave the blanket under a bright light for about 10 minutes, then the shining design will reveal itself in the dark. The glow lasts 8 to 10 hours, just long enough to get a child through the night.

Inventor Terry Sachetti was inspired to create the blanket by his own experiences struggling with scary nighttime thoughts as a kid. "I remember when I was young and afraid of the dark. I would lie in my bed at night, and my imagination would start getting the best of me," he writes on the product's Kickstarter page. "I would start thinking that someone or something was going to grab my foot that was hanging over the side of the bed. When that happened, I would put my foot back under my blanket where I knew I was safe. Nothing could get me under my blanket. No boogiemen, no aliens, no monsters under my bed, nothing. Sound familiar?"

The Force Field Cloak, which has already surpassed its funding goals on both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, takes the comfort of a blanket to the next level. The glowing, non-toxic ink decorating the material acts as a gentle night light that kids can wrap around their whole body. The result, the team claims, is a secure feeling that quiets those thoughts about bad guys hiding in the shadows.

To pre-order a Force Field Cloak, you can pledge $36 or more to the product’s Indiegogo campaign. It is expected to start shipping in January 2018.

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Pantone
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Design
Pantone Names 'Ultra Violet' 2018's Color of the Year
Pantone
Pantone

Time to retire your green apparel inspired by 2017’s color of the year: The color experts at Pantone have chosen a new shade to represent 2018. As The New York Times reports, trend followers can expect to see Ultra Violet popping up on runways in coming months.

The decision was made after Pantone scattered a team around the world to search current street styles, high fashion, art, and popular travel destinations for the up-and-coming “it” color. The brand describes the winner, PANTONE 18-3838, as “a dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade.”

Fashion plays a large part in the selection of the color of the year, but Pantone also considers the broader socio-political atmosphere. Some may see Ultra Violet as a nod to our stormy political climate, but the company’s announcement cast it in a more optimistic light.

“Complex and contemplative, Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now,” it reads. “The vast and limitless night sky is symbolic of what is possible and continues to inspire the desire to pursue a world beyond our own.”

The color is associated with some of music’s greatest icons, like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright also had a special attachment to the color and wore it when he was in need of creative inspiration. When it’s not sparking artistic thinking, purple is sometimes used to promote mindfulness in mediation spaces. So if you’re feeling stressed about whatever the new year holds, stare at the hue above for a few seconds and see if it doesn’t calm you down.

[h/t The New York Times]

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