Behind the Scenes: Give Me a Sign

Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols looks at the fascinating histories behind many of the symbols that instruct, protect, entertain, empower, and connect people. The exhibition is inspired by designer Henry Dreyfuss’s Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols (1972). This remarkable book compiled and organized thousands of symbols in use around the world. From the founding of his industrial design firm in 1928, Dreyfuss and his team designed symbols for products and services where we now take them for granted—on airplanes, cameras, telephones, and more.

Join us to discover how the Symbol Sourcebook has challenged us to look at the importance of symbols now and explore their evolution and future. Tour the Give Me a Sign exhibition and design your own symbol with curator Emily M. Orr. Explore selections from Cooper Hewitt’s Henry Dreyfuss Archive with former curatorial fellow Arpie Gennetian in the Drue Heinz Study Center. Enjoy this unique opportunity to dive deeper into design history through drawings, writings, and more!

About the Program

  • Program Length: 90 minutes
  • Interactivity Level: Medium. Participants will move through different areas of the museum. During the tour portion, they will be invited to design their own symbol (optional) through an interactive feature in the exhibition.
  • Intended Audience: People curious about design, graphic symbols, and design history. No previous design or design history knowledge is required.


Arpie Gennetian is a fine artist, graphic designer, and design historian. She holds a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and she recently received her MA in History of Design and Curatorial Studies from Parsons School of Design/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. As a Curatorial Fellow at Cooper Hewitt, she worked on the exhibition Give Me A Sign: The Language of Symbols. In addition to her continued studio practice and independent research, Gennetian is now working at the intersection of design history and education as a part time lecturer at the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons School of Design.

Photo portrait of woman with brown, curly, shoulder length hair wearing a dark, gray-blue shirtEmily M. Orr is Associate Curator and Acting Head of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She holds a Ph.D. in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art/Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Her exhibitions at Cooper Hewitt include Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols (2023-24), Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer (2021-22), Botanical Expressions (2019-21), and Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s (2017). She has published on a range of design history topics and is the author of Designing the Department Store: Display and Retail at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Bloomsbury, 2019) and co-editor and author of E. McKnight Kauffer: The Artist in Advertising (Rizzoli Electa/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2020).


  • Location: The program will take place in person at Cooper Hewitt (2 East 91st Street, New York, NY). The areas covered are fully wheelchair accessible. The program will begin in the Great Hall located on the first floor of the museum. The exhibition is also located on the first floor. The Drue Heinz Study Center is located on the fourth floor, accessible via stairs or elevator, with special access. Read more about accessibility at Cooper Hewitt.
  • What to Expect: Participants will meet in the Great Hall and break out into two groups. Guided by educators, one group will start in the exhibition and the other group will start in the Study Center. The groups will alternate after 45 minutes. The program involves moving through gallery spaces and standing to view objects; wheelchairs and portable stools are available for those who can’t walk or stand for long periods of time. This program includes access to all museum galleries on this day, before and after the program.
  • Accommodations: For general questions, please email us at If we can provide additional accessibility services or accommodations to support your participation in this program, email us or let us know when registering. Please make your accommodation request as far in advance as possible—preferably at least one week before the program date when possible.

Health & Safety Measures

Please visit Cooper Hewitt’s Plan Your Visit page for up-to-date information on health and safety guidelines.

Special Thanks

Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols is made possible with generous support from the Marks Family Foundation Endowment Fund.