The universal language of wit

Panda Eyes: 100 WWF panda collection boxes rotating automatically to make eye contact with spectators.  Jason Bruges Studio, UK. 

Panda Eyes: 100 WWF panda collection boxes rotating automatically to make eye contact with spectators.  Jason Bruges Studio, UK. 

The comedian Victor Borge said ‘Humour is the shortest distance between two people’. Used in the right way, wit can shorten the distance between continents and cultures.

A Smile in the Mind is a celebration of wit and ideas in design. The original 1996 edition by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart has been extensively revised and updated by new co-authors Greg Quinton and Nick Asbury. The new edition includes examples from over 500 designers and creative thinkers, drawn from 40 countries around the world.

Some of the best ideas featured in the book work in any language, because they require no words or local references in order to work. Instead, they play with universal iconography and give it a surprising and meaningful twist. The result is a smile and an emotional connection that works anywhere in the world – a powerful thing for any brand or social cause. Here are some of our favourite ideas that transcend borders. Many of these ideas were featured in Campaign Asia

Like a good teacher, wit can communicate complex information without making it feel like work. Wit can even help you learn a new language. Chineasy is an ingenious system for learning Chinese by matching characters with simple illustrations. ShaoLan Hsueh / Noma Bar, UK, 2013.

The design of the retail space has become an art form, none more so than this beautiful window display for Maison Hermes Japan. A projected image of a woman appears to blow the Hermes scarf. This is a beautiful, simple example of serene wit. Tokujin Yoshioka, Japan, 2009-10.

There are always at least two elements to a witty idea, the moment when they collide or combine produces the click of pleasure in the brain. One of the ways these ideas can come together is through transformation, when one idea turns into the second. In this series of Chinese New Year’s greeting cards, a map of the world morphs into the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. The cards represent that by piecing together our nations, there can be peace. Kentaro Nagai/Graflex Directions, Japan, 2007-12.  

For this piece from the Mag + Art series, it’s all about bringing together the past with the present. The series brings together magazine covers and classical art to create portraits with a third dimension of time. Eisen Bernard Bernardo, The Philippines, 2014. 

In a world of emails and status updates, receiving physical post has become a rare delight. This envelope which seems unassuming at first, is opened to reveal Japan’s tallest peak, Mount Fuji. Tomohirp Ikegaya / Goodbymarket, Japan, 2011. 

Everyone loves the classic video game Pac-man. And what a better way to exploit the expansive wit of 3D objects and large scale applications than creating a real life version for the Festival of Trees and Lights in Switzerland. There is an extra element of surprise when we encounter physical wit in the world and in this case causing those who pass by to smile, laugh, and reminisce about the good old days. Benedetto Bufalino / Benoit Deseille, France, 2012.

Wit is not always funny or playful. In some cases it is able to sum up feelings without words, as is the case with this tribute to Apple founder, Steve Jobs. Using a homage to the Apple logo, this designer was able to capture the emotions of millions of people who mourned the life of this creative genius. Jonathan Mak Long, Hong Kong, 2011.


For more examples of wit that transcends borders check out Campaign Asia