November 18, 2001 6:56 AM   Subscribe

How the biohazard symbol came to be (from NYTimes Magazine)...
posted by Miyagi (12 comments total)
as a designer who used to produce saftey signage I have a huge ammount of respect for those who design such universaly recognisable symbols.
It always used to freak me out when clients would want biohazard or radioactive hazard warning signs "urgently" I imagined them using some scrap of paper with "radioactive" written on it in felt tip pen taped to a door or something
posted by eyere at 7:58 AM on November 18, 2001

Interesting article (I would have like a little more detail though. I've always wondered about the biohazard symbol. It always looked so alarming - even if you didn't know what it meant.
posted by stevengarrity at 8:04 AM on November 18, 2001

Nice article, but now im having second thoughts about getting it tattoed to my ass...i mean, it was not meant to be used sartorially. I dont want a mean letter or anything.

I think the biohazard symbol is the coolest of all the others it really kicks the crap out of the radioactive symbol.
posted by AntonioCr at 9:38 AM on November 18, 2001

From the article:
I ran into a peculiar situation one time a couple years ago when someone was putting on a seminar on biohazards. As gifts for the participants, he devised a beautiful tie with little biohazard symbols all over it. This got me upset, and I sent him kind of a nasty letter saying this symbol was not designed to be used sartorially.''
Wait until he finds out about the Biohazard coffee mugs, rock group, roleplaying game company and toys.
posted by rcade at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2001

Also record label as well.
posted by syscom at 9:51 AM on November 18, 2001

I'm surprized this came about in such a 'mechanical' (for lack of a better word) manner. It really is a beautiful, and fearsome design. I also always thought it had a kind of 'organic' look to it, in comparison with the radioactive logo which is obviously a picture of an Atom 'radiating' stuff out.
posted by delmoi at 11:06 AM on November 18, 2001

I have dim memories of my old friend Paul Arthur, a leading light in the field of pictographs (he invented the ones used at Expo 67), talking to me about the biohazard pictograph. I seem to think he was trying to improve on it, though I don't know why. Anyway, his best idea was... a skull and crossed test tubes!

Very clever, but not quite as iconic. (I have lots of criticisms of the existing biohazard pictograph, but if I'm gonna kvetch about symbols, I'll start with the wheelchair pictograph and its twee, uptight stickman with a tadpole head, but we can leave that for another day.)
posted by joeclark at 4:31 PM on November 18, 2001

icons, shmicons - we're all just a bunch of meme worlds... static and highly disposable, we don't grow or mutate much, but ideas and understandings are the organic part of human species - constantly growing and evolving

don't y'all think that the fact that nuclear radiation has been a big issue during the last half century, and that it has a three-leafed/triangular shape has anything to do with the fact that this biohazard symbol is recognizable?

otherwise it looks just like a random tattoo or some graffiti...
posted by gkr at 4:53 PM on November 18, 2001

You can make your own ANSI-standard safety signs for free, print 'em yourself or have Electromark custom-manufacture them for you. There are actually dozens if not hundreds of "common safety hazard symbols" -- ANSI has a list but there are always new or less common hazards to add -- so joeclark's friend's symbol might have some use somewhere.

gkr, communication is simply mutual agreement on the meaning of arbitrary symbols (sounds, gestures, etc.).
posted by dhartung at 7:27 PM on November 18, 2001

A guy who lives in my apartment complex has the biohazard symbol on his forehead. I've always wondered how you managed to get a job with a tattoo like that. Piercings, ok; tattoos, fine; but a biohazard tattoo on your forehead? Scary.
posted by stoneegg21 at 9:29 PM on November 18, 2001

I'm glad they didn't settle for the symbol on the right.
posted by pracowity at 9:50 PM on November 18, 2001

Is it just me, or does the Biohazard symbol make you think of the Klingon empire?
posted by jpburns at 5:45 AM on November 19, 2001

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