Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols examines the fascinating histories behind many of the symbols that instruct, protect, entertain, empower, and connect people. As important communication tools in our daily lives, symbols are constantly evolving based on new needs and users. They formed some of the first written human expressions and today animate our digital chats.

This exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of Henry Dreyfuss’s Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols (1972), a manual that compiled and categorized thousands of symbols in use internationally and helped to elevate the importance of symbols and increase their number in our world. The origin story of the Symbol Sourcebook—told in the exhibition for the first time through primary materials from Cooper Hewitt’s Henry Dreyfuss Archive—has inspired us to look at symbols now and explore their evolution and future.


Symbol Sourcebook 2024

In the collaborative spirit of the Symbol Sourcebook, which Dreyfuss intended to expand with the creation of new symbols, visitors are invited to design symbols and participate in creative activities in-gallery and online to co-create a Symbol Sourcebook of 2024. Share your symbol designs with us by posting them on social media and tagging @cooperhewitt with #SymbolSourcebook2024.

Verbal Description Audio Tour

Experience an audio-only version of Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols. This audio tour is designed to be an independent experience for blind and low vision visitors. Listeners will be able to hear all of the information presented in the exhibition, along with in-depth verbal descriptions of the images and objects on display. The tour also provides directional information to help listeners find their way through the galleries.


The exhibition was curated by Emily M. Orr, Associate Curator and Acting Head of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, with Adriana Burkins, STEAM Program Manager, Bronx Children’s Museum, and with support from Cooper Hewitt Curatorial Fellows Arpie Gennetian and Uttara Nanavati, and former Interaction Lab Director, Rachel Ginsberg.

Exhibition and graphic design by Studio Matthews.


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

Featured Image: (Detail) Poster, Henry Dreyfuss Symbol Sourcebook 1972, 1971; Lithograph; 45.7 x 61.3 (18 x 24 1/8 in.); Designed by Henry Dreyfuss (American, 1904–1972); Published by McGraw Hill Book Company (New York, NY, USA); Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 1972-88-1-28; Photo by Matt Flynn; Image © Smithsonian Institution