3D, Design Thinking, UX - “ 3D Universal Language”

Article on "Eden Tartour designed seven 3D printed blocks which she hoped would result in a “universal language” of sorts where those shapes represent words, and each could be shifted around to change their meanings and the meanings of their full combinations."

“There is no words to describe it” - 3D Universal Language

“There is no words to describe it” - 3D Universal Language


This project is an attempt to resolve a problem that will solve all the others. The problem of communication.
How can two persons that speak two different languages can not understand each other in 2019?
Not being able to communicate our ideas lead to conflicts, therefore, communication is the answer for the well-functioning of our societies.
We need a UNIVERSAL language. It doesn’t matter if someone is mute, deaf or blind or which cultural background you hold. Abstract, non-cultural and non-personal, this language suits to the majority of the humanity. This project might seem to be ambitious.
The idea is that each of us has a role to play.You can contribute to the spread of a new language.
If you start using it, you'll help the world to resolve uncountable problems!

If we haven't acted, we have to react!

Pieter Bruegel - The Elder The Tower of Babel (Rotterdam)

Pieter Bruegel - The Elder The Tower of Babel (Rotterdam)

As described in the Bible, when the Lord wanted to punish humanity while building the Tower of Babel he gave each person a different language. Nobody could understand each other’s speech anymore.
This was the best punishment one could think of to prevent a common project to come to life; breaking the communications. Today, even though it is getting easier to communicate, due to technological advancements, it is still not possible to communicate with the whole of humanity.

The Esperanto language could have worked but what about the mute and deaf? Is there an alternative way to communicate more broadly? It seems obvious that visual communication is more universal than any spoken language. But then what about the blind…?

Communicating with Everyone: a simple wish or a possibility?


First thing first. I needed to identify these key elements to go any further. Is this project worth existing?

  • What forms of language exist?

  • Which ways exist to communicate with disabled people?

  • Learn about semiotic studies

  • What is universally understood?

Hands Collage - Sign Language Experiment

Hands Collage - Sign Language Experiment

VALUE PROPOSITION - How can we resolve this issue?

When words are not sufficient to communicate, non-verbal communication can be powerful. Problems of communication could be partly resolved by inventing a visual language that would speak to anyone, without them having to learn it because the signs would follow the principles of semiotics. It doesn’t mean getting rid of the spoken languages and the cultures they contain, but creating a new one — a modern and universal way of communicating. Moreover, communicating with blind people should be considered: their sense of touch is more developed than it is for sighted persons, and they could be able to recognize a visual sign, code or symbol by touching it as a 3D object.



TARGET AUDIENCE - Who is it for?

Basically, E V E R Y O N E. And that’s the biggest challenge ever. If not everyone, at least most of us. We should consider everyone regardless of their:

  1. Nationalities,

  2. Religions,

  3. Cultures,

  4. Genders,

  5. Access to information / Technology

  6. Disabilities…


What I learned. What I discovered. What inspired this project.


I had questions. I needed numbers. For this research, I created a survey in order to examine how culture is embedded to logos, signs and colors. I sent it to 40 young adults from different cultures and countries (French, Russian, German, American, Irish, Israeli, Bosnian, Indian, Saudi, Swiss, Japanese, Luxembourgish, English, Netherland, Algerian, Colombian, Chinese, Jordanian, Venezuelan, Belgian, Canadian, Singaporean, Italian, Egyptian, Tunisian). They were able to choose their favorite logo among four options presented to them. In each logo I played with the colors, ratios, words, natural or artificial forms. The results are meaningful.

Surveys Questions/Answers.

Surveys Questions/Answers.


In this survey, twenty-seven of the forty respondents, which represents 67.5% of them, chose the 1:1.618 ratio logo out of three other options. This proportion, first discussed 2.300 years ago in the book Elements by Euclid of Alexandria, has become so famous that it’s been called «Divine Proportion» or the «Golden Ratio.»

Given the importance of the colors in a logo, which serves as a symbol or an identifier of the logo. I created one logo which was repeated using different colors in order to find out what color combinations were the most popular internationally (blue, green, black and white, yellow and red — FIG.1). Fourteen respondents voted for the red and yellow logo (interesting to notice that these are the colors used for the original universally well-known McDonalds logo), followed by ten votes for the blue one and black-and-white one. It is not surprising that people, in general, prefer the red and yellow logo — these colors have positive psychology qualities such as stimulation, appetite, hunger, speed, energy, happiness, friendliness and attract attention. As colors can influence the way we feel, it is a fundamental element in the formulation of any project and the color palette has to be chosen to express the message in the clearest and most understandable way.


Creating a system map helped me to get a more defined sense of the big picture for this product.

How can we organize and create a system out of shapes and based on a language? I took a semester to study the Philosophy of Language at the New School to get a deeper understanding of what this implied.



System - Dictionary.png


I started sketching shapes by hand and they turned to the software Rhino to design the first “words” in the newly created language. Based on the system that I developed I was able to translate a first sentence into this universal language. “THERE IS NO WORD TO DESCRIBE IT”

Based on research, architectural inspirations, minimalism, touch and feel these shapes came to life one after the other.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 12.14.40 PM.png


The design is the result of a process. It was not pushed, or dictated. It has been generated by the thought process, the research, the purpose.

3D blocs.jpg



Good design is the result of a long process and of many iterations. Considering users’ opinions and experiences to make a project better, smarter.



Issue I encountered: The original plan was to hang the 3D shapes from the ceiling. As I started prototyping the experience where I would interact with an object hanging from the ceiling, I wasn’t convinced. So I tested an experience where the object was sitting on a table, at the height that was slightly under my shoulders. I realized that the user experience was more powerful when the object was easily accessible. I tested the experiences with some friends, and they all felt more inclined and less confused to touch and interact with the object on the table vs the one hanging from the ceiling.


In the making: That was the exciting part. I printed a total of seventeen 3D objects. 7 big ones, and 10 smaller ones (the one that indicate if the word is a noun, pronoun, verb…). The seven 3D shapes took each between seven and eight hours to print. I had to 3D pint them over night, every night, during 8 days. If one failed, it would extend the process for a day longer. Every morning was a surprise; Did it break?


360º Design Thinking:

  • The design is thought out

  • The research is done

  • The shapes are 3D printed

  • The user experience has been tested

I had to finally design the object that will hold the 3D shapes. I used transparent plexiglass, that I laser cut to create individual stand for each 3D word. I then heated the plexiglass, fold each piece to get a 90º angle. And fixed each piece to the wall. In order to fix the 3D shapes to these plexiglass, I created a turning rounded piece so that the shapes will be fixed to the plexiglass, yet people could touch them and turn them 360º.


This is one of my favorite project I ever worked on. It hasn’t been resolved yet. It’s the first attempt of a lifelong project. I hope it will change, evolve and inspire me and other people over time. It is so complex to think and design for such a purpose. It seems impossible to be unsolvable forever, yet it’s exciting and challenging to try.

Since this project was born, I thought about it more, and figured it could be interesting to create an online version of a translator. You would basically type in the sentence you’d like to translate to a universal language. It will be translate into a 3D shape that you could send to anyone you’d like to communicate with. This person could download your file, 3d print and reply back with the same translator you used.

See a first attempt of the code I created:


3D language - Project part 2



This is a forever on-going project. And I hope to bring updates over time.