Is anyone aware of any resources for Icon design etymology, or the history of icon design? I'm talking about icons like Wi-Fi/Ethernet/Bluetooth status indicators, add, save, and similar simple images explaining actions or status. Like you might find in the Glyphicon set, for example.

We're working on a project and trying to come up with useful or novel illustrations for some non-standard actions, and in some cases there aren't any decent examples to use as inspiration. The idea came up that if there's a good anthology or even articles on icon history, it would be useful as a reference for the design process. As an example, the Wikipedia page for Bluetooth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluetooth) explains the history and design of that icon well and clearly.

  • I don't have an answer for you but that'd be a great idea for a blog...research the history of common icons.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


I'm afraid I cannot help for recent icons but for the historical part of your question, I have given a brief presentation about the history of pictograms before. Obviously, starting at the Egyptians may be a bit of a long shot depending on what you are trying to accomplish. I'd advise looking at the work of Gerd Arntz as a starting point.

Gerd Arntz was working on Isotype. Isotype was founded by Otto Neurath and from what I recall was used in a museum in order to communicate information to people who were illiterate.

Other leads include Blissymbols, a pictogram language still used nowadays for children with disabilities and the Olympic pictograms.

EDIT: Here are the references I had used to build a presentation in 2011, hopefully everything still works :-)


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