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Designing with Hanzi Pictograms and Ideograms

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Hanzi, or Kanji in Japanese, and Hanja in Korean is a type of writing system invented centuries ago. It makes use of pictograms + Ideograms to convey ideas or meaning. Languages such as “Chinese” can be interpreted as a blend of Hanzi (the system) and local Chinese culture.

Here are some interesting examples of Chinese Hanzi based PICTOGRAMS:


Definition of Pictograms: Creation of symbols based on visual representations

You might be asking, what does this have to do with multimedia/graphics design?

The Hanzi writing system was originally drawn from nature, or the interpretation of nature through pictorial representations, commonly known as “drawing”. Take a look at the image below:


Sometimes simplicity to “communicate” just works. The image above shows the Hanzi writing character for “human” is easily interpreted and conveyed through simple means of 2 brush strokes, now let’s look at how ideograms plays into this in terms of “design”.


Definition of Ideogram: Creation of symbols based upon “ideas” and “meaning”

Let’s analyze what this means, take a look at the image below:


By combining the pictorial interpretations for “human” and “mountain” from Hanzi, the result is a ideogram: “deity/higher being”. The idea behind this is based off of Chinese cultural folktales, meaning someone living higher than the average person, a deity/god. Most Chinese writing has evolved way beyond simple pictogram characters shown at the start of this post, but the concept shown here can be applied to modern day graphic designs perfectly.

Modern day examples of design based on PICTOGRAMS:

Modern day examples of design based on IDEOGRAMS:

Hopefully by reading this, you will have a better understanding of my interpretations on “design”, an overused word these days. Remember that the Hanzi writing system was invented thousands of years ago and was based upon Pictograms + Ideograms. If such concepts can drive and evolve images into languages, imagine its effect on your own modern day designs. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.


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