Visual Signifiers of Cultures

In looking at different writing systems I tried to explore what visual signifiers made something look like it belongs to a certain culture. Through a series of experiments below I came to the conclusion that something looks like it belongs to a particular culture when it appears in a stylised manner – It may incorporate patterns, lines or shapes into a symbol. This may also include geometric as well as more fluid-like lines and shapes.

I chose an english word and then tried applying characteristics of selected languages to the visual word. I chose the word “huh” as there was a recent study and article written that  said “huh means the same thing in every language”

Each sketch in this experiment seems to be very representative of a particular culture. The characteristics of different writing systems were also combined to form a cross-cultural identity. I tried to apply these experiments into a design of some kind and discovered that the initial “english” word started losing it’s linguistic meaning.

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The word “huh” designed to look Arabic in calligraphy. The forms start resembling middle -eastern architecture, perhaps a mosque.

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With a diacritic added the form turned sideways looks like a person’s face in profile.

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Other observations of these experiments show that materials and colours  further solidifies it’s cultural meaning. The gold enhances the arabic feel. The sense of arabic also changes one’s approach to the forms. Someone may not attempt to read them until they knew it is was english. They are meaningless to non-english speakers while english speakers might assume they are not readable and so make no effort to find linguistic meaning. Arguably this may render the style Asemic.

Application of Arabic patterns

Arabic patterns are much more geometric than European patterns. They use particular kinds of repetition and rotation in that they and are often formed from rotation with 5 or 6 repetitions.

Arabic pattern (6-time rotation)

Here is an experiment I did with 6 rotations and repetition

Huh pattern1a

Some other rotation experiments

To make it more culturally meaningful I applied a middle eastern colour palette


Further exploration into this area and experiments carried out have shown improvements in execution, however these are not shown as they are the basis of further exploration for future projects.