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<Graphic Building Blocks
 you can buy>

By Daniel Will-Harris 

7-7-98 - In design, the sum is greater than the parts. And yet, the parts are the building blocks of the sum. Is it a catch-22? Not necessarily, provided you have the right parts, and use your own experience and talent to create the sum.

I’ve found one of the most useful collection of “parts” from a company called Ultimate Symbol. They offer simple, useful, high-quality black and white EPS symbols that cover a huge variety of subjects and styles.

These aren’t traditional “clip art.” They’re more like simple symbols, icons and dingbats. I think of them as “graphic building blocks.” I rarely use them as-is, instead, they inspire me to put them together into new forms, such as logos and illustrations. It’s hard to describe images this simple and useful, so I’ll show some instead.

Here are some of the images from Design Elements, and what I did with them. I was looking for a symbol that reminded me of a hurricane and saw this:


After a lot of experimentation, it morphed into:


The H then becomes the logo, and the “eye of the storm.” The typeface is Nyx from Adobe.

I was next looking for a symbol that reminded me of a kind of compass rose. I found this symbol.


I translated it into this logo:


The typeface is Bitstream Chianti which I’ve customized into a new typeface called “Compass.”

In another case, a simple gear graphic:


Gave me the start and inspiration for this new logo:


The typeface here is Craze from FontHaus.

In each of these cases, the original symbol was an important starting point, but the final graphic is distinct and original. I’ve found the Design Elements CD to be an invaluable source of inspiration and a great starting point for many graphic projects.

Now, Ultimate Symbol offers four useful CDs, jam packed with symbols, icons and other great bits and pieces. All graphics come in EPS (and WMF for Windows users). The files are cleanly rendered, so they’re easy to edit. Because they’re vector files, you can scale them to any size without loss in quality.

ultimate-symbol-design-elementsDesign Elements - This is my favorite because it has the widest range of topics and styles. The CD contains eight volumes: 1) Stars, suns, moons, and zodiac (419 images); 2) Flourishes, accents, and typographic devices (312 images); 3) Borders and rules (276 images); 4) Motifs, shape, designs, and devices (470 images); 5) Printer’s Ornaments (357 images); 6) Pointers and arrows (406 images), 7) Circular Designs (375 images); and 8) Shapes, designs and geometrics (449 images).

ultimate-symbol-signs-icons Official signs and Icons contains almost 1,500 images of highway signs, those little “international” symbols of people doing things, and places (you know, like the kind you see at airports and wonder, “What is this supposed to mean?”), transportation symbols and international icons for electronics--like the labels you see on computers, copiers, and cars.

ultimate-symbol-natureNature Icons - These wonderful, simple silhouette images includes 634 images of all kinds of animals: birds, insects, fish, whales, sea life, seashells, foliage, trees, flowers and mushrooms. While most of the images are simple silhouettes, such as this hummingbird, there are also some “modern” interpretations, and a few ethnic stylized images.

WebPage Graphics is their newest offering, with 16,000 GIF, JPG and sound files. While there are thousands of buttons and lines and icons, I was less impressed with this title because the graphics tend to be specific (by necessity). While I found the sound files interesting, I rarely add that kind of file-size overhead to sites. CD does come with .EPS and .PSD souce files so you can customize the graphics. Even so as a designer I can’t see myself using any of these graphics because I believe that web sites should be custom designed--I’d be much more likely to use the Design Elements CD to build my own buttons, icons, etc. specifically for a site. That said, if you want something fast, but slick, and are willing to use canned designs, then you might find this useful.

The Ultimate Symbol CDs aren’t inexpensive--Design Elements costs $249.95 (you get a price break if you buy more than one title)--but they’re a good investment, and can pay for themselves with a single inspiration. Check out their web site where you can download 50 sample images and get first-hand experience with these fine products.



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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved