For a while now, as I’ve been working on symbols and icons, I’ve been thinking of opposites. The on/off icon switches we see throughout our digital lives. Am I on mute? Can you see my screen? These little yes/no binary icon changes to alert us in minuscule ways to our state of being. Each state is paired with it’s opposing force and we learn to recognize each as we build a library of shared acceptance. A common understanding if you will.
The concept of dualism as expressed by the yin and yang in ancient Chinese philosophy would say that each needs a counterpart in order to be whole. But there are symbols in our lives that do not seem to have an opposite and perhaps without both sides, we cannot have understanding. We’re only seeing one half of the picture.
This absence has always bugged me in particular around one symbol — the peace symbol. Now my annoyance probably has more to do with my nihilism and personal experiences than anything else. But coupled with a tendency to be a videogame completionist and being a designer, every time I see a peace sign, I wonder, where’s the war sign? Where’s the sign for those of us who see the dark?
Learning more about the origins of the peace symbol — probably via 99 Percent Invisible — finally gave me the push to create an opposing icon, a war sign to provide balance. Using the same flag semaphore base as the original, I’ve created a war sign.
The original peace sign uses the semaphore “N” and “D” for “nuclear disarmament” while this war sign uses the “N” and “W” for “nuclear war.” A grim thought, I know.
The peace sign was designed to express an element of despair while this war sign definitely has a more aggressive stance, even with the same “N” shape in place. Instead of drawing the eye down, it moves to the right and conjures an explosive element. It almost reminds me of the safety and hazard symbols used in science and transportation.
With the world at war for the last 20 years (or even longer depending on your framework) and the U.S. government continuing to keep the AUMF on the books so that it can declare war (without declaring war) any time it wants, we live in a time of war. Sadly, we need a symbol, a war sign. Perhaps with a symbol for both sides, we can gain an understanding of the whole and how each works in concert with the other.
Note: I’m certainly not promoting war. Don’t be silly. Quite the opposite in fact. I just think that denying war or keeping it invisible doesn’t work. Finally, despite a bit of intellectual meandering above, I’m realistic. This symbol will probably get used more by metal bands than anyone else. And I’m okay with that too.
You can download the war sign here.