3 Classic Icon Families

And why they matter

Helena Zhang
7 min readJun 1, 2020


More in the iconography series:Foundations of Iconography7 Principles of Icon Design5 Ways to Create a Settings IconIcon Grids & Keylines DemystifiedPixel-Snapping in Icon Design

Icons communicate so much with so little. When they’re successful we hardly notice them—a pedestrian sign, a back button, a notification bell. I’d like to examine a few enduring examples that have not only solved the design problem at hand but further left an imprint on the way we approach design as a discipline.

It has been a joy to redraw the icons for this article.

Olympics Games Event Icons

Tokyo, 1964. People all over the world come together for the first Olympics in Asia. Here more than ever, a communication system was needed to bridge language barriers.

To answer the challenge, designers Masasa Katzumie and Yoshiro Yamashita developed a standardized system of 20 event icons, as well as 39 general information icons. This was by no means the first time Olympics events were represented visually, but prior icons were more illustrative than schematic.

Katzumie and Yamashita represented each event using negative space and simple shapes, the circle motif reminiscent of the rising sun of the Japanese flag. It’s wonderful how much movement is conveyed, and how, as viewers, we are able to complete the image.

My reproduction of the boxing, soccer/football, and volleyball icons from the 1964 Olympics

Since that pivotal moment, every Olympics Games has iterated on the icon system, each applying a new style to reflect the culture of the host city. The original icons from 1964 have been refreshed and animated for the now postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

My reproduction of the judo icons from Munich 1972 (left) and Beijing 2008 (right)

Here are the judo icons from Munich 1972 and Beijing 2008 side by side. Munich’s icon follows an orderly, isometric grid while the…



Helena Zhang