Would you use an iconic language for better visual communication?

Using visual elements as a system of communication is called visual language. In this system,  symbols and images convey meanings. Instead, apart from Chinese and rare other languages, most written languages today use phonetic systems that represent sounds rather than meanings. For example, English, French, and Italian use the Latin alphabet, Russian, Ukrainian, and Serbian use the Cyrillic alphabet. The letter M does not mean anything per se but represents (in general) the sound /m/, as in the word “me.”

The history of visual languages is rooted in the ancient world. Hieroglyphs, cuneiform writing, Chinese characters, and other writing systems tried to represent the oral language partly through stylized drawings called pictograms and ideograms. In modern times many projects attempted to resuscitate the idea of representing the meanings instead of the sounds of a language: some were born to be handwritten, and so were too abstract. Others were designed for basic needs, and so were not very powerful. Still, others were not international but based on local languages. The KomunIKON project is developing IKON, a new intuitive, international, and precise iconic language to help people reduce communication barriers in written communication by bridging gaps left by previous projects.

KomunIKON wants to help different institutions, companies, and creators to tell their stories through icons.

We are a team of over 30 people who are motivated to make this project grow. There is a management team, linguistic team, graphic team, development team, communication team, and legal team. Our goal is to create the world’s first fully functional icon-based visual language whose ultimate beneficiaries are: children aged three-to-eight years old who are learning to read, illiterate adults, migrants, tourists, people learning foreign languages, users of AAC (Alternative Augmentative Communication) and their relatives, video-gamers or any other users of global platform (Airbnb, ebay, …). Agencies from the communication market and organizations from the education field can easily choose to use our IKONS for advertising, on websites or in a shop. Actually we are working on the application of IKON in language learning.

IKON is much more effective than previous visual languages allowing us to express many more things. To do that, IKON has morphology, the study of the forms of words (e.g., verbal tenses, gender markers). It aims to have a free syntax (free word order) adaptable to the word order of different languages. It tends to have one icon for each meaning, but in some cases synonyms also exist. That is, IKON might have two or more different icons to depict the same meaning. The linguistic reason for those synonyms is that, in some cases, it will be better to have different representations of the same concept because some people or cultures might better understand one versus the other. For example, the laurel can be understood as a symbol of peace in some cultures but not others. That’s why “peace” can also be expressed with icons such as a dove or the lotus.
In light of that, IKON fully features linguistic structure and precise meanings, having the potential to build whole sentences.

It’s international because it’s understandable across different countries and languages!

Our mission is to develop a complete visual language of icons to improve visual communication between people, beyond linguistic barriers. The slogan we use is: Say it in icons! Our values are respect, open and constructive communication, playfulness, passion, perseverance, multiculturality, and lateral thinking. Our KomunIKON app allows you to have one-on-one communication using only icons. You also have the option to keep the word-by-word translation in one of the available languages, to facilitate the understanding. KomunIKON is developing an international fundraising campaign in order to finance the start up phase of the project. You can support us by purchasing in our shop the KomunIKON products, such as t-shirts, mugs, and other objects with iconic sentences.

Across the world, we all use emojis, gifs, and many other visual communication forms in our daily life already. But IKON is different. 

It’s inclusive, which means as much as possible respectful of diversity (gender, sexual orientation, ethnic group, skin colour, etc.)!

It’s human-centered because humans are represented in many icons (like ‘I, you, mother, father,’ etc.)!

It’s precise because each icon has a well-defined meaning, as in a dictionary!

It’s complete because all important meanings should be representable by at least one icon so that people can express themselves as they can in any language!

It’s uncensored. As with any other language, IKON does not ban vulgar or violent words; the ban can be in forums or specific environments, not on the language itself. We don’t want an Orwellian Newspeak!

All the icons are designed following an evolving document of graphic guidelines.

In light of that, IKON is a suitable candidate to improve the comprehensibility of a message for a multilingual audience that cannot read (or fully understand) that message by adding some icons. The audience can include children, migrants, tourists, and illiterate or disabled people. IKON has the power to iconify your sentences!

Ludikon game

Our team also developed a game called Ludikon in which you can test your abilities to guess the meaning of icons and iconic sentences. We presented this game many times to language learners from around the world at the Polyglot Gathering, the Polyglot Conference, the SciLang conference 2022 hosted by Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, and other events.

Guess the meaning:  

Sentence 1
Sentence 2

Share your guesses with the KomunIKON team! Or contact us if you think we can help you tell your stories through icons or to learn more about the meaning of these icons and sentences.

Andriana is a Slovenian-Macedonian living in Switzerland. She has a bachelor’s degree in information systems and a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy. In her role she provides business analysis, programming, and sales. She speaks Slovenian, Macedonian, English, German, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and Bulgarian.

Laura Meloni

Laura is an Italian living in Sardinia. She has her master’s degree in Linguistics. Her role includes semantic analysis and she speaks both Italian and English.

Cesco Reale

Cesco is an Italian living in Switzerland. He is both a math lecturer and communicator. He is a member of the World Polyglot Gathering committee and a UN representative of the World Esperanto Association. He speaks more than 10 languages.

Edgar Walthert

Edgar is Swiss living in The Netherlands. He is a Graphic and Web Designer and is also a co-founder of letterspace.amsterdam https://letterspace.amsterdam/). He speaks German, Dutch, and English.