A Diamond is Forever?


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a problem. Not all of the nations in the world are happy with their primary identifier, the red cross. Although this is not the first time the symbol has come under fire (a red crescent was added as an acceptable symbol in the Nineteenth Century during the war between Russia and Turkey), a new search is on for a truly benign, unconnotative and neutral symbol with which to represent the organization in countries who are not comfortable displaying a cross or crescent.

Forgive me if I tread a little too close to my profession, but I spend a good part of my life visually representing organizations and other entities. Using color, shape, symbols and typography I find ways to express the abstract traits a company or person possesses. The ICRC dilemma seeks to do exactly the opposite.

Born out of a reversed version of the Swiss flag, the red cross emblem was thought to be completely neutral since it was derived from an emblem of a neutral country. The crescent was introduced to address an Islamic perception of the cross as Christian. Both symbols are officially recognized as the identifiers of aid by the signers of the Geneva Convention.

So what's the problem? Some countries (like Israel) are uncomfortable with the potential religious connotations of the symbol for an international aid organization. So a search for a new shape has been underway and a finalist has been selected.

The diamond. Or should I say the crystal.

As with any symbol, different people from different cultural backgrounds interpret them in different ways. I can't stop interpreting the red diamond as an indication of danger. Curious about why this is, I remembered that this shape is used by the Department of Transportation and other agencies as a way of identifying hazards. Perhaps that is why we use a cross that is red in the United States?

A conference is under way right now to amend the Geneva Convention so that the signing nations have a choice of three symbols. Without this approval, the "red crystal," as it is known, cannot represent the organization.

For more information about this movement, take a look at this article from the ICRC or this site.

guido, Sep 15 2005 9:48PM

it should be a red circle. No one has a problem with circles. They are loved crossculturally.

Chris, Sep 15 2005 11:03PM

Also known as a bullseye?

mark, Sep 22 2005 9:46AM

what about a red, horizontal line? at least it contains part of the cross.

guido, Sep 23 2005 7:24PM

it should be a heart, the same icon used during February the 14th.