Symbol Design Standards

Believe it or not, you really do need to be familiar with each of these specifications. Why? Because while many of these documents may have been targeted at a specific industry, in reality the symbols resulting from there guidelines can and should be used in many other industries; even ones you might not suspect at first. Knowing about all of these rules will make you a better symbol designer or specifier.

Yes, collecting these documents is expensive, but necessary. Any design department or firm should have a collection in its library. I have personally spent nearly $2,500 on a subset of them, the list below totals over $5,000,  the full collection of all the international symbol standards is in excess of $10,000, and that doesn’t include the various research reports about symbol comprehension that I have not yet finished locating and cataloging.

Scary-Long List of Symbol Standards

If the list below doesn’t impress upon you the difficulty of properly researching and understanding the best practices for symbol design, then you should study the list I am compiling to track what else I need to locate and read in my quest to improve usability through better symbol design and usage:

Excel Workbook of Symbol Standards (updated 2010-07-30)

Minimum Required Symbol Standards:

  • Symbol Signs (; $0 for symbols, $30–$60 for used book with usage guidelines, if you can find it)
  • Symbol Sourcebook (Henry Dreyfuss; $55)
  • Pictograms, Icons and Signs ($32)
  • Official Signs & Icons 2 (; $250)
  • ISO 17398—Graphical Symbols—Test Methods  ($104)
  • ISO/IEC Guide 74:2004—Graphical symbols—Technical guidelines for the consideration of consumers’ needs ($65)
  • ISO 7000/IEC 60417—Graphical Symbols for Use on Equipment (; $500 + $150/yearly)
  • ISO/IEC 804196—Basic principles for graphical symbols for use on equipment ($318)
  • ISO/TR 10488—Graphical symbols incorporating arrows ($104)
  • ISO 7001—Graphical symbols; Public information symbols ($157)
  • ISO 22727—Graphical symbols—Creation and design of public information symbols ($110)
  • ISO 9186—Graphical symbols—Test methods ($190)
  • ISO 3864—Graphical symbols—Safety colours and safety signs ($318)
  • ISO 7010—Safety Colors and Safety Signs ($190)
  • ISO 20712—Water Safety signs and flags ($324)
  • ISO/IEC 9995—Keyboard layouts ($457)
  • ISO/IEC 11581—Software Icons ($428)
  • ISO/IEC 13251—Graphical symbols for office equipment ($249)
  • ISO/IEC 18035—Icons for multimedia applications ($98)
  • ISO/IEC 18036—Icons for Web browsers ($65)
  • ISO/IEC 24738—Icon symbols and functions for multimedia link attributes ($98)
  • ISO/IEC 24755—Screen icons and symbols for personal mobile communication devices ($110)
  • ISO 2575—Road vehicles, Symbols for controls, indicators and tell-tales ($157)
  • IEC/TR 60878—Graphical symbols for medical equipment in medical practice ($250)
  • ISO 15008:2009 Road vehicles—Ergonomic aspects of transport information and control systems—Specifications and test procedures for in-vehicle visual presentation ($92)
  • ISO 2575:2010 Road vehicles—Symbols for controls, indicators and tell-tales ($157)
  • ISO/TR 16352:2005 Road vehicles—Ergonomic aspects of in-vehicle presentation for transport information and control systems—Warning systems ($220)

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