Graphic Design Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for Graphic Design professionals, students, and enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What do you call these simple, basic types of graphic elements that are used in infographic commercials, and the like? They are vector based, look like pixel art, but have smooth edges, and are icon-like but not icons. The example below is only a pallet of assets used in the short animated film Japan: The Strange Country. Anyone know what one might call these?

Here's an example:

enter image description here

share|improve this question
up vote 7 down vote accepted

In the field of computing, 'icon' is certainly the most popular term for it. I believe it has been used in this field since the early 1980s when the first mouse-controlled graphical user interfaces emerged (Xerox, Apple)

Outside the digital world, these simplified and standardized graphics have been called pictograms / pictographs since long before this (19th + early 20th century according to Oxford English Dictionary)

The use of pictogram sets goes back to the late 1920s/1930s when Austrian economist/philosopher/teacher Dr. Otto Neurath (1882–1945) developed his Vienna Method of Pictographic Statistics (Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik) together with German modernist artist Gerd Arntz (1900–1988). It later became ISOTYPE, the International System Of Typographic Picture Education. The idea was to provide a standardized method that translates statistical data into self-explaining visual information, which would contribute to the continued education of the people …

The methodology was applied in education, museums, books and magazines. Later, the Summer Olympics of 1936 in Berlin (aka the Nazi games) were the first Olympic Games to feature standardized pictograms for each discipline. This all paved the way for the modern use of simplified and standardized pictograms in public space everywhere... You come across Neurath/Arntz whenever you read a book about information design. There's also lots of info on the Internet nowadays. Here's a website with all the pictograms by Gerd Arntz:

Isotype pictograms

share|improve this answer
+1 This is most interesting. Nicely documented Dawg! – George Profenza Feb 6 '13 at 11:27
+1, for more on this: The Noun Project is an awesome modern take on the idea (plus a great, huge ever-growing source of really nice Creative Commons pictograms and icons), and for the history side, research group Isotype Revisited collate research and sometimes organise exhibitions of the Neurath/Arntz originals. – user568458 Feb 12 '13 at 0:05

Looks like Emoji to me, or very similar at least


share|improve this answer
Yes, thanks; I was going down the 'icon' path for a while, but I think it's, indeed, something else like it. They are certainly not constrained to these small size limitations. – J.O'Ly. Feb 4 '13 at 21:10
Looking further into it, The Emoji / Pictograph is pretty much what it is. I am seeing slight variation in size with Emoji / Pictograms after looking around. – J.O'Ly. Feb 4 '13 at 22:35

Generically, they are 'icons'.

The style could be described as 'flat line art'.

share|improve this answer
Now I do want to make clear that this is just a pallet of assets used in the video above. I apologize for the small sizes. Flat line art also seems to be more towards the detailed side of things. Google images brought up more artistically detailed examples. – J.O'Ly. Feb 4 '13 at 21:12
@J.O'Ly. yea, I wouldn't say there is 'one' term to describe the style. – DA01 Feb 4 '13 at 21:18
I think the icon thing is pretty spot on, after all. It's so darn close, I don't think there's another name for it outside of Emoji / Pictograms / Icons. I will report back if I find out! Thanks! – J.O'Ly. Feb 4 '13 at 22:35

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.