Hard News in the Icon Age

Sylvain Boyer founded icons times, which he claims “is quite possibly the first iconographic news aggregator.” It provides a new way to read the news by representing each breaking story as an informative icon. Icons times presents a series of icons evolving over time and topics, creating a new language and a new way to read news. I was intrigued by Boyer’s concept and skeptical of its viability, so I asked him to explain:

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icons times reports breaking news and the latest happenings from around the world. What gave you the idea to do an aggregation site using icons as your “headlines”?

It comes from the term “signage information,” that’s generally used to describe the road signs. I wanted to apply this design process not only for signage information but for all the global information to create a “signage global information”

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Who designs the icons? And, with the example of say, “Technology” don’t you run the risk of repeating a lot of them?

All the icons are custom made by myself, this is a quick execution to follow the breaking news. I try to be focus on global information but that’s true that currently they are a lot of techno and business news, with all the merging company and new digital products. Unfortunately that’s the is the sign of our time, we are most preoccupied by the launch of a new iPhone that the Syrian conflict.

I’ll be honest as nice as it looks, I’m skeptical that you can maintain a continual news presentation using icons alone. Do you have any similar concerns?

I share your skepticism, I left a comfortable position in a nice branding agency to devote myself to this project. Alone, I don’t go very far, they are so much headlines in one day, that’s why I just launched a crowdfunding campaign in hope to finding a funding to recruit designers who will join me to this project. I really want to transform this experimental project in a concrete information tool.

 

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Sometimes the icons may be too simple. An example of one that fits that bill is “Employee Killed in Fall . . . ” showing a falling man that looks like the icon for MadMen.

Frequently, the news are very hard. So I used converging ideas, converging signs, especially when the subject is hard to treat as the employee falls at JP Morgan Building. The man was a vice president, an important man who fall from the top of his building office, I found that there was a link between the fiction of the Mad Men movie title and the terrible reality of this news.

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Icons are meant to simplify, what about more complex issues. The Scarlett Johansson piece is cute, but it seems to trivialize a serious story. Would you agree?

This is the difficulty of this exercise, it’s hard to design a true interpretation of the news with a minimal design. That’s right, some icons work better than others.

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Have you tested icons times on the public? If so, what’s been the response?

I launched icons times last year over a period of one month in parallel to my professional activity in Publics, during this month I had 50,000 visitors, I received good feedback from the public and professionals of press and digital. Today I officially launch icons times and hope to cover more news, but I have to restart from scratch because I lost all my starting audience.

What is the ultimate goal of your concept? Greater literacy?

Global information isn’t static, it’s in motion, it traveled through aggregators, news websites and social networks. But it’s difficult to circulate an article with associated images, especially through social networks where characters are limited. The main goal of icons times is to “package” the news by a design process to navigate easily through media but also through new devices whose screens are becoming smaller than smaller, icons are ideal for small surfaces.

Today icons and logos are everywhere. When you use your phone, your car, in the street, on our clothes … Icons are part of our daily lives. This century that begins is, I think, the century of icons and logos, we’re entering in the age of icons.

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Additional Resource
Learn even more about the history of design with Steven Heller’s Evolution of Design. Covering everything from advertisement to clip art to topics you didn’t even realize had a lengthy design history, this is the collection of your favorite columnists’ work.

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