Rachel Grate
April 18, 2015 6:45 am

You know that old phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words? It’s true: Sometimes reaching for an icon of something is just the quickest way to communicate. That’s why the emoji keyboard on our phones is so well used. In fact, we’re already beginning to use emojis as much as actual text in our messages. And that’s the inspiration for an awesome new dictionary that translates every noun into pictures instead of words.

The Noun Project is taking the first step to creating this visual language. Its mission is to create an online database with pictograms representing nearly every noun you can imagine, and some verbs too.

“The thinking behind this is that visuals are kind of the one language that everyone can understand regardless of race or ethnicity or cultural heritage,” Edward Boatman, founder of The Noun Project told NPR. “So I thought building this visual dictionary would be a universal resource for people around the world to use.”

Not only is the Noun Project great for people who want to create amazing designs without having to shell out cash for InDesign or Photoshop, it’s also an amazing tool for people who communicate better with visuals. For instance, it’s used by the Autism community, because children with autism often communicate better with visuals than text. People with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), as well as people who have lost language ability due to cerebral palsy or after a stroke, have also benefited by using the illustrations to communicate.

Boatman was inspired for the idea after reading a book about Professor James Murray, the man who compiled the first Oxford English Dictionary. So Boatman thought he would do something similar in an age when the Internet has made crowdsourcing even easier: gather people together to define words. Only this time, instead of using other words, they use icons.

What’s also lovely about Boatman’s mission is how inclusive it is. With mostly black and white icons, there’s no issue of a hauntingly one-race representation like with emojis. If you search “Family,” for instance, there are over 400 results which portray all sorts of families—a lesbian couple, a single mother, and even simple abstract portrayals of a house and a heart. Here are just a few of them:

The variety of representation is thanks in part to the diverse range of people involved. Designers from across the globe have contributed, and anyone can use their work for free as long as they give the designer credit. (If users don’t want to give credit, they can pay $1.99 an icon or a small monthly subscription fee, part of which goes back to the designers.) There are all kinds of designs in there, everything from traffic signs to an an icon of a drone delivering pizza. (If only!)

These images probably won’t compete with how commons emojis are, but they’re definitely useful for any design needs, from making slideshows to animated videos to personal websites. And, bonus: The Noun Project’s interface is designed to stream the icons directly to these other apps.

Image via Dream Icons/Noun Project

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