Symbols for the Future: Contextual Products

By Danielle Williams /
Chief Design Officer

So you might have noticed that cheers studios cares a lot about combining design and technology. This is because we view these two portions of a project to be equally important and intertwined. Not just because we have a designer and developer on the team, but because whether we are working for a tech company or a lifestyle brand, cheers creates holistic experiences that work (technology) and lets consumers understand how it works (design).

We believe that one of the best examples of design and tech coming together can be seen through symbols.

As a little background lets chat about a commonly confusing topic in design: icons versus symbols. Honestly, does a great job describing the difference: Icon is used to represent a particular category of an object, even animals. Symbols are signs that have become known internationally, because of their association with an object or phenomenon over a long period of time.

Seems pretty simple, but I'm going to suggest that perhaps an icon can evolve into a symbol more quickly than in the past. Because of how design standardization has become evident in technology, time plays less of a factor. Just check out the symbols below.


JoeBlau icon


If you have a mobile phone, which by 2020 most of the world's population will, you know what these symbols mean regardless of language. I wouldn't say that we've had these concepts like airplane mode for a "long period of time," but I would say that A LOT of people have experienced this icon, elevating it to a symbol status.

That all being said, let's think about the future for a moment. We are always going to have new technology emerging, meaning new icons and symbols will follow suit. Right now, we have a very interesting opportunity to watch an icon become a symbol.

Joe Blau, a Design Engineer in San Francisco, has proposed a new symbol to represent the process of a contextual product. According to Joe, Contextual Products, "which are a combination of hardware and software, capture one or more sensor inputs and perform mathematical calculations resulting in one or many intuitive decisions." One of the most well-known examples of a contextual product is the self-driving car. From Uber to Helsinki buses, companies are using this technology more and more every day. Which is why Blau's symbol that meets a demand for a growing technology is so exciting.

Blau's icon illustrates the idea of being aware of a total environment and focusing a reaction. A.K.A Context.

You can check out more of this thought process on his blog here. But overall, I think this should be a real contender for the future symbol of contextual tech.