March 11, 2014 Mitchell Derrey

As a visual communicator, one of the first things I notice about a new place is what non-verbal communication style a region implements. This became more apparent to me on a business trip to Spain.

As soon as I landed in Barcelona, I instinctively knew exactly where to go, pick up my bag, and get a cab to the hotel even though Spanish was the dominant written language on the signage. 

Most of what we regularly see in airports and other public spaces in the United States are a standard set of symbols designed in 1974. Created in an effort to unify communication in a shrinking global community, the Department of Transportation produced a set of 50 universal symbols. Most of us see these images, recognize their meaning and immediately understand the symbolism.

However, as soon as I got settled at the hotel and began exploring, those familiar icons were nowhere to be found. Instead, I started to see quite a bit of visual subtleties that really differ from some of the more standard icons we usually see in the US. I began to interpret these icons very differently from the creator’s intent, based on my American pop-culture upbringing.