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2020: A year defined
by symbols

Greenwich Design

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In a year that gave us new rules and redefined the way we live, we recall the visual symbols that defined the Covid-era for us.

Last month, the OED announced not just one ‘Word of the Year’ but an expanded list of words for what they described as an ‘unprecedented’ 2020. According to their report, most lexical innovation this year happened as a reaction to the pandemic.

Coronavirus, self-isolation, lockdown, support bubbles, superspreaders, circuit breakers, Zoom-ready and unmute are just a few of the words that have become part of our day-to-day chat thanks to Covid-19. That got us thinking about the design equivalent: visual symbols, icons and infographics. Who’d have thought a year ago that observing a mask sign on a shop door or standing obediently on floor tape marking the 2-metre line would become second nature?

So then, here in no particular order, are our top visual symbols of the Covid-era:

The Coronavirus

Let’s start with the virus itself. How could such a cute looking thing cause so much damage? We think the BBC version looked particularly friendly for a nasty and potentially deadly virus. If we’d been commissioned with designing it, it would have looked more like this:

coronavirus visual symbol

With the new, more virulent strain of Covid currently dominating the news, we’re pleased to see that the visual representation looks a bit more scary than its predecessor.

Directional Signage

One Way System! Social Distancing In Operation! Keep Your Distance: 2m! Stand Here! When your local Co-op starts enforcing a more stringent queueing system than Disneyland, you know directional signposting has come into its own.

Social distancing visual symbol

The Face Mask

Ahh, the infamous facemask. Are they effective? Should we wear one, should we not? No, yes, no, er, yes please. The guidance may not have been clear but by mid-July, there was no mistaking the facemask sign as we dared to venture out into shops and restaurants again. At least this little guy’s getting some use:

Face mask visual symbols

The Mute Button

Is it just us, or was “You’re on mute, mate” one of the most overused phrases of 2020? Even after a year of video calls, this is an icon that apparently some of us still need to familiarise ourselves with.

Mute symbol

Wash Your Hands!

Who’d have thought that soap and hand gel would become such a hot commodity? It’s at times like these, we appreciate having Milton for a client – our stash of antibacterial products has not gone to waste.

Wash your hands symbol

Rainbows In Windows

The rainbow became a tribute to the NHS and key workers, and a symbol of hope for things to come. As the colours in windows faded and the days grew shorter, Christmas was cancelled and we found ourselves in lockdown once again. Nonetheless, with two approved vaccinations now being administered across the UK, hope is once again on the horizon!

NHS Heroes in window

The NHS Logo

Often linked to the rainbow images, the NHS logo was deservedly everywhere. Children all across the country began to equate the NHS symbol with a superhero’s badge of honour – one wonderfully positive visual association that came out of a long, challenging year!

NHS heroes

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