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SXSW 2021

Avoid this Terrifying Talk About Nuclear Semiotics

Nuclear semiotics (an interdisciplinary field that deals with long-time nuclear waste warning messages) shows how important, exciting, and mind-bendingly complex it is to design for the future.

This talk takes future-proof design to the extreme: how do we design something that will last for millennia, when the alternative is the end of the human race?

Our nuclear waste will outlast us and will still be lethal to our distant descendants. Languages go extinct, and humans are tempted by secrets and puzzles. So how do we design a warning sign that will stand the test of time?

Cue a whirlwind tour of the grimly imaginative world of nuclear semiotics, where cats tell you you’re about to die, religion gets a radioactive update, and the end goal is the ultimate skull-and-crossbones sign.

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  1. Designing for the future is complex but necessary: the results of our choices will outlive us by far. The least we can do is leave a warning.
  2. True innovation in design (and other disciplines) is easier said than done: we rely on systems and shorthand to communicate our message for us.
  3. Designers have a responsibility to make their message accessible to everyone, and that includes those who will come after us.


  • Anne van de Wijdeven, Senior Copywriter, Dept


Anne van de Wijdeven, Senior Copywriter, Dept

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