Archived copy for reference only


Graphic Design / Interactive Design / Fine & Applied Arts / Parkland College

Graphic Design Exercises
Illustrator: Symbols

(Archived from 2019)


To learn to the role and function of symbols and icons. To learn Adobe Illustrator production techniques by example. To learn drawing techniques by recreating the art below:


In 1974, the U.S. Department of Transportation commissioned a series of symbols intended for use at airports and other locations where there are language and cultural barriers. Although these symbols are considered "generic" today, no one can deny that they are universally understood and function very well individually as well as in a group. Such is the power of a well-designed symbol.

In this exercise, we will re-create the original male/female symbol in Adobe Illustrator in order to study its form. Then we will deviate from the original and create alternative designs. Keep in mind that these symbols need to be universally understood and be reproducible large and small, in any color and on any material.


setting up the file

  1. download starter files
  2. view slides for inspiration
  3. launch illustrator
  4. file > new "" (as template)
  5. practice Adobe's navigation keyboard shortcuts (space; space+cmd; space+cmd+opt)
  6. file > place "transportation.gif" (what makes these symbols unified as a group?)
  7. delete "transportation.gif"
  8. file > place "symbols.gif" (as template)
  9. new layer "art"; lock others

draw original symbols

  1. view > outline (cmd+Y)
  2. new layer "guide"
  3. draw vertical guide dividing the male figure; lock layer
  4. start by drawing half of the male figure (use as many common elements as possible, align as needed
  5. view > preview (cmd-Y); fill with black
  6. copy figure, reposition for female figure
  7. use the flip tool to flip the object (opt+click on guide, choose vertical flip, click COPY)
  8. window > pathfinder: unite as needed
  9. re-use as many elements as possible for the female figure
  10. draw the other suggested variations on the "symbols.gif" template
  11. print a b&w laser proof with your name and the exercise number on it for grading

invent a new variation

  1. in your sketchbook, do thumbnail sketches of other possible variations
  2. scan in your sketch, then trace over it in illustrator
  3. print a separate b&w laser proof with your name and the exercise number on it for grading
  4. revise the design based on feedback


  1. submit b&w laser proofs with your name and the exercise number on it for grading
  2. file your graded proof in your Process Book for individual review

Last updated: 5/7/21