Pictograms, Icons, and Illustrations

Pictograms – Otl Aicher Munich Olympic 

One of the most famous pictograms of all time is 1972 Munich Olympic Pictograms by Otl Aicher. It is amazing how he captured the dynamic movements of various sports in such a simple and clean manner.

Grid System


The consistency of the pictograms was possible thanks to careful use of the grid system. Otl Aicher used on grid system to create more than 700 pictograms. These pictograms were created decades ago, but still applicable and modern. His grid system consists of square and triangle, which enhanced the energetic angle of the pictograms still consistent and align as one whole system.

A pictogram’s quality is articulated in its simplicity.

You can find more Otl Aicher’s pictograms here. The pictograms are categorized into 9 categories: Sports, Communication & Media, Health & Hygiene, Security, Shop & Gastronomy, Culture & Leisure, Services, Transport & Traffic, and Miscellaneous. Here are some of my favorite health & hygiene pictograms.

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 9.37.45 AMScreen Shot 2018-01-27 at 9.38.06 AM

Icons – The Noun Project

To see how pain is visualized by different graphic designers around the world, I searched different keywords about pain on The Noun Project.


Even though there is a commonality (thunder-like shapes or sharp lines) in how pain is portrayed, the individuality of different pains is not visualized in precise or detailed manner.

Illustrations – Widgit-Health Communication Book

Due to the complexity of medical situations, it is very difficult to portray medical terms and situations in a very simple manner such as pictograms and symbols. Therefore, an illustration is a better style of visualization.

A British company called Widgit Health uses simple illustrations to help communications between patient and providers. The slideshow below includes English, Dutch, French and Polish version of General Questions sheet.

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  • Pain is often visualized as sharp lines, thunder-like shapes, and frowning faces.
  • Sometimes, pictograms and icons are too simple to encompass the complexity of medical situations.
  • Color is very powerful, which can add depth of meaning.

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