Symbols are on my mind at present as I am involved in a rebranding exercise for a charity. How to find a graphic device that symbolises its work with disabled people? With the standard disability sign of someone in a wheelchair? But then many people with a disability don't use a chair, so as shorthand it only excludes.
So I have equal measures of sympathy for both sides in the campaign to replace the current road sign warning motorists of elderly pedestrians (Third Sector, 7 January). It shows two stooped people using walking sticks - not an accurate reflection of citizens of the third age, say the charities that work with them. Having just been to the park with my children and my 92-year-old friend, Frieda, I can see their point. Frieda was up there on the roundabout, swishing to and fro on the swings with the best of them. But then she's hardly average, as her leopard-skin leggings betray.
It is tempting to think that the problem comes from trying to lump together two entirely different groups. But their needs are not so different.
I couldn't help noticing, for example, that on the way home, as we crossed the main road, Frieda clung on to my right arm as tightly as my four-year-old on my left.
One answer might be to have a little more faith in words. The performance of our schools in the basics of English is reputedly improving, while the rest of us have been buying in our hundreds of thousands Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss's marvellously entertaining guide to good grammar and punctuation. So the slide towards everything being an acronym, a text-message abbreviation or a symbol seems finally to be facing a challenge.
Words are our most precious resource. They can convey a thousand times more meaning than any symbol. And they allow us to reflect the diversity and richness of human experience with a good deal more subtlety than one catch-all piece of visual shorthand.
For my rebrand, at least the way forward appears to be back to the dictionary.
- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.