When everyday symbols become art

The IEC power symbol at MoMA

By Janice Blondeau

It’s not every day that the work of the IEC enters the realms of visual art. The IEC 60417-5009 power symbol is an exception. It is being exhibited at MoMA in New York as part of the "This Is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good" exhibition.

power buttom
The standby button is one of the most popular graphic symbols for use on equipment

Design in the digital age

According to MoMA, the exhibition takes its title from British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, who lit up the stadium at the 2012 London Summer Olympics opening ceremony with a simple tweet: “This Is for Everyone.”

One of the most popular of many

The power symbol, or more correctly the standby button, is one of the most popular graphic symbols for use on equipment, enjoying global renown.

As of March 2015, there are now 1 272 standardized graphical symbols from the IEC and ISO which form a multilingual Dictionary of graphical symbols, in English, French and Japanese. It is available at www.graphical-symbols.info.

Graphical symbols on equipment

IEC Subcommittee (SC) 3C: Graphical symbols for use on equipment, prepares International Standards regarding methods and rules for graphical symbols for the human interaction with equipment, including basic design rules for graphical symbols and the design of graphical symbols for particular applications.

Early beginnings

TC 3 is one of the first Technical Committees created by IEC. In the field of installations, systems and product engineering TC 3 deals with information structures, documentation and document content, including graphical symbols as well as graphical symbols for use on equipment.

About the exhibition

Is design in the digital age – so often simply assumed to be for the greater good – truly for everyone? From initial exploratory experiments to complex, and often contested, hybrid digital-analogue states, all the way to “universal” designs, This Is for Everyone explores this question with works from MoMA’s collection that celebrate the promise – and occasional flipside – of contemporary design. The exhibition runs until the end of January 2016 in the Architecture and Design Galleries, at MoMA, New York.

Gallery
IEC_60417_5009_Standby_Symbol_800_800 The work of the IEC enters the realms of visual art
power buttom The standby button is one of the most popular graphic symbols for use on equipment
MOMA_exterior_iStock_000022406301Large The symbol is exhibited at MoMA as part of the "This is for everyone: Design experiments for the Common Good" exhibition