This project started as an exploration of street signs during my time in the Netherlands. I was trying to figure out the logic behind why some signs were purely in Dutch, others in English, while some in both Dutch and English. After two weeks of research, and because I hadn’t been successful in cracking the mystery, I embarked to investigate whether there might be a better way of communicating with people across languages and cultures, without using words.

If we dissect the concept of language, it can be described as a combination of symbols which represent a phonetical sound, which are rearranged to form words that denote objects and concepts. Without these pre-agreed upon symbols, the words would have no meaning, which is what occurs when one attempts to read text in an foreign language.



  1. The first step of this experiment was done by giving a volunteer #1 a group of words and phrases that need to be conveyed to volunteer #2, who would have to work out the meaning. The phrases could be anything from “push to open” to “Harry Potter”.

  2. After a few rounds of this exercise, the visual vocabulary that was invented was documented and combined in a mini dictionary.

  3. Posters were created that combine these symbols in different ways to create signs. 



I’ve compiled this dictionary as a little leaflet to help with understanding the posters. The idea is that it would act as a translation guide (or google translate) which one would use to understand street signs while in foreign country.

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Try deciphering the posters on your own, but if they’re too difficult, here’s a cheat sheet.

  1. Push to open

  2. Do not don’t disturb

  3. Train is open

  4. Not for sale, so don’t disturb

  5. Train is not for sale (in case you were wondering)

  6. The Harry Potter train is open for boarding!

Next steps

  1. To define symbols for abstract concepts such as “and” and “but” .

  2. To research a more scalable system that enables combining more than 3 symbols to create legible signs.