Deke’s Techniques 191: Building a Universal ISOTYPE Man with Strokes in Illustrator

191 Building a universal ISOTYPE man with strokes

First, don’t panic that I’ve suddenly skipped from episode 105, “Op Art Experiment 1a:Inflated Checkers,” all the way up to 191 in a single week. You didn’t miss 86 episodes in between. It’s just an adjustment in the numbering convention. I previously counted the free videos (the ones posted on this site) and left out the ones that are only available to members of But given that it’s a new year and Deke’s Techiques is now officially in its third year, I decided to do the rational thing and catch up with the numbering system. And so here we are.

Second, the topic of this week’s video: How to create the universal pictographic man symbol in Illustrator. By which I mean, the one below:

The universal symbol/pictograph for man, explained

And the way we’ll be creating this man is, dare I say, innovative. Rather than drawing him as a series of path outlines, either tediously with the pen tool (gawd!) or as a collection of rectangles and circles that you combine from the Pathfinder panel, I’ll show you how to construct the guy from the Appearance panel by heaping on a series of strokes and a single fill.

Watch the video. And then, if you’re in the mood for a step-by-step companion, see Colleen Wheeler’s deliciously diagrammed post from yesterday. Many of you will be able to follow the directions just by looking at the figures.

And by the way, our man is useful for more than just pointing dudes to the men’s room. The original intention of ISOTYPE (introduced in the video) was to replace the written word—which makes sense to only those people fluid in a specific language—with universally understandable pictographs. For example, you might use our man as part of an insightful infographic:

A graph of the population of the United States of America over the last decade

In this case, our man symbol represents all genders: men, women, and ‘tweens alike. Plus, I created it in Illustrator, which was enormously painful but ultimately successful. I think I should document this in a future technique.

This video includes a follow-up on creating a mate for our man entitled, “192: Building a Universal ISOTYPE Woman with Strokes,” which is available at this very minute. And Colleen will document all the steps in depth tomorrow.

Update: Colleen has now awesomely written up the ISOTYPE Woman symbol technique. Click the link to view it.

Next entry:Turning Universal Woman into Universal Martini, or Happy Hour Courtesy of Illustrator’s Transform Ef

Previous entry:Creating a Universal Woman Symbol in Adobe Illustrator without Drawing At All

  • Trouble with Woman; Preview Setting

    I was able to build both the man and the woman while following the videos on, and had a real blast doing it. However, I hit a snag toward the end, around 9:05 of the second movie. When trying to copy the woman layer to the paths layer, a strange thing happens: only the original straight line copies up. The result is the man on the left and a single line where the woman should be.

    My guess is that there is a preference setting somewhere that is causing this. I am using Illustrator CS6 on a MBPr running OS X 10.8. Does anyway have any idea of what is happening here?

    Also, another question while I’m here: Is there a setting in Illustrator that will have the preview option automatically checked while working in any of the dialog boxes?

  • No way to activate all previews by default

    The setting for the Preview check box is saved on a dialog-box-by-dialog-box basis. So once your turn it on, it stays on for all static commands and a few dynamic ones. Unfortunately, Transform isn’t one of them. It always comes up with Preview off.

    If you find a solution to this, lemme know. It drives me bonkers.

    Meanwhile, you have me stumped on your first problem. (Boy, I’m a lot of help.) I’ve tried flipping a bunch of switches but I can’t replicate your result. No matter what, when I duplicate the line that is the woman, all of her attributes duplicate with her.

    All I can think is to reset the prefs (quit Illustrator and mash Cmd-Shift-Option when you restart).

  • Wishing for sticky Transform preview

    I’m no help, either, except to say I feel your pain about the unsticky Preview checkbox in the Transform Effects dialog box.

    When you moved Woman to a new layer and she became a stick, could you reestablish her by applying the Woman graphics effect?


  • I have no love for the preview checkbox.

    The only workaround I’ve ever found for the preview checkbox involves buying software that essentially automatically checks it for you whenever that dialog box comes up.  Not really much of a solution.

    The reasoning I’ve been given is that if you’re managing a resource-intensive effect you don’t want to risk immediately bogging down the system by generating preview data on the more complex transforms, but I can’t imagine that it’s impossible to come up with other solutions.  (Besides, in the world of 64-bit Illustrator that should be much less of a concern.)  We just need to ask for it to be added as a new feature more often, I guess.  I envision channeling our inner children for this one: “Is it fixed yet? Is it fixed yet?”  They’ll be annoyed in to coding a solution in no time!  Unless, of course, someone at Adobe threatens to turn our software around and go home.

  • Thanks!

    Deke, thanks for the scoop on the preview option behavior; that is indeed good to know.

    I reset my prefs as you suggested, and got the same behavior with the woman while copying. If this is something you might want to look into, send me a direct message and I will upload my file to Dropbox and give you a link to it. if not, I may go ahead and redo my steps again, when I have a spare moment.

    Take care!

  • Dear Adobe: 1) preview box stickiness, 2) ability to name…

    ...items in the appearance panel. Spending time with Man, Woman, and tomorrow’s project (Cocktail, naturally) I would to be able to name entries in the Appearance panel. You know, so when I want to change Woman’s skirt into a martini glass, I know which stroke I need.

  • Second-class citizen

    I like your thinking, big time, but quite honestly I don’t think Adobe gives a hoot about its devoted users. All they really care about is the almighty dollar, which is really sad because I love the CS platform. Why do I say this? Well, last fall, when I was contemplating purchasing the CS package as a hobbyist wannabe designer, I agonized over whether to purchase the CS6 Master Collection or go with the subscription model used in the Creative Cloud. For me, the thought of losing my software once the subscription ended did not seem good; I wanted to be able to keep the software without having to fork over $49 a month, so I decided to purchase it outright. Now I’m beginning to second-guess that choice.

    It seems that Adobe is throwing all its weight behind the Creative Cloud, and as a result we paying customers are now relegated to second-class castaways. They are advertising features, software and even premium updates to my CS apps that are only available to subscribers. How fair is that? In my humble opinion they should give us the choice over which model we wish to use, and make all their really wonderful tools available regardless of which way we choose to go.

    Please forgive my rant here, and know that I do not for one moment regret diving into the CS world. I am like a kid in a candy store, having so much fun learning InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Fireworks. I have been an IT pro for 20+ years now, yet it feels like a whole new world has opened for me!

  • I do not for one second think Adobe has given up on its users

    Okay fine, Adobe cares about the almighty dollar. They have stockholders n stuff. Whatever.

    If you were to tally every single company I’ve interacted with (and believe me, that includes groups that really truly did not give a rat’s ass), Adobe rises high in the compassion dept.

    Imagine Adobe to be a sort of massiveHive, comprising a lot of extremely bright and caring people. I have never seen a collective try more hard. Mistakes are made, always, but when Adobe (the collective) can solve them, they make it right. I’m not apologizing. These are seriously really great people.

    The Creative Cloud thing is a risky step. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out. It’s like an old dude trying to remain relevant once the box apps die and everything’s an on-line update. Oh, sorry, did I say it was like that? It is that.

    But there is no doubt that, at this moment, Adobe currently holds the best design, graphics, and imaging tools on the market. And the people in control of these tools want to (sincerely) keep them the best.

    My job: Tell me your problems and I’ll pass them along to Adobe.

  • I agree - Adobe’s the Best Software

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that Adobe is by far the best software out there for design and graphic work. Why do you think that I put down my hard-earned bucks to buy the whole kitten caboodle? (and it took me several months to convince my wife to agree to it. :) )  I have also invested hundreds of hours in on weekends and evenings to learn and eventually master at least some of them. I continue to do all this because 1) I enjoy it tremendously, and 2) I see the potential for a new career in design and web dev.

    My only beef is that they have developed some very cool tools like Muse and Edge that are simply unavailable to those of us who have chosen to purchase the software. So if you ask them to give purchasers and subscribers equal footing, and make the same wonderful tools available regardless of the model chosen, it would be most appreciated!

    Take care!

    Michael Sheaver

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