A one-line obituary in People magazine caught my eye: “Gilbert Baker, 65, who created the iconic rainbow flag to represent gay pride and the LGBTQ community, died in New York City on March 31.” Without the clause describing his enduring creation, I doubt you would have known who he was, and until his obituary, never knew the name behind the symbol.
I think about the thousands of other people who have contributed to our visual world in an anonymous way. Someone created the first emojis, all the state flags, the seal of the United States, graphics for Air Force One, the Peace Sign, the universal symbol for handicapped access and millions of other graphics that are so much a part of our world that we do not even notice them. There is a person behind the elephant and donkey symbols for the political parties, someone who standardized the first smiley face icon, laid out the mast head for the New York Times and Playbill and who sketched the first baseball team logos decades ago.
The symbols created by Baker and thousands of others have the power to unify (and divide) us, to engender emotion, to convey our values and to aid in making the world function more efficiently. We may not have the artistic talent to leave our mark in this visible and lasting way, but we can do more to pay attention to all that graphically surrounds us. Even if it is through a silent tribute to an unknown creator, consciously pay attention to the symbols that have colored our world.
*People magazine, April 17, 2017, p. 30