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I have an application that displays information about people in an organization and their accomplishments in the organization. It is non-religious in nature and members can be of any or no religion.

I want to have an icon to represent that a person is deceased when a list of people is being displayed but I don't want something that would have religious connotations, so a cross or angel wings are out. Any sort of small icon that would tastefully indicate that the person is deceased would be appropriate.

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closed as off topic by Benny Skogberg, Rahul May 20 '12 at 9:28

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Is it necessary to differentiate between those that have left the organization and those that have died? – Jacob Sep 6 '11 at 22:02
Skull and cross bones, obviously ;-) – KaptajnKold Sep 7 '11 at 8:00
Try something new: use a refresh-icon; at least it will appease the Buddhists. – Konrad Rudolph Sep 7 '11 at 16:02
<strike>John Doe</strike> – George Sep 7 '11 at 18:49
What about [Respawning in 3... 2... 1...] for buddhists? :) – user3416 Sep 8 '11 at 1:00

22 Answers 22

up vote 84 down vote accepted

Don't do it. This is not a video game (well, maybe we live in the Matrix, but still...NO). No cross cultural iconography exists, plus it would be in poor taste to use graphics even if a universal picture would be acknowledged as representative of what death is.

Do what Wikipedia does: have the date of birth and optional date of passing (avoid formulaic "date of passing: not yet" style forms). On pages where it is appropriate to call attention to the fact where someone is deceased put [deceased]...but again do not put [not dead, yet] for everyone else.

It's a sensitive issue, and only run of the mill if you work in a hospital or similar. In those clinical situations you don't want icons anyway, a check mark in a column suffices.

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When in doubt, do what wikipedia does. – peteorpeter Sep 7 '11 at 6:04
+1 [not dead, yet] – Muhammad Yasir Sep 7 '11 at 7:19
Wow folks, I'm grateful for all the upvotes and everything. But...isn't this just common sense? – HostileFork Sep 9 '11 at 4:21
@HostileFork Common sense, but clearly and convincingly phrased. – hheimbuerger Sep 11 '11 at 9:58
Actually, this is a real and common issue in CRM applications, where information about the deceased should be kept for the record, but where it's really important for staff users to be able to instantly see in lists where a (former) contact absolutely cannot be contacted, and when a living contact's relation (appearing in a list of relations) is deceased. Failing to communicate this clearly and efficiently could lead to people being contacted in an insensitive way. CRMs I've seen use one or more of: greying out the row, 'RIP', a coffin shape symbol, or strikethrough. – user568458 Jun 22 '12 at 14:33

It is difficult to encapsulate the sensitivities of death within an icon. Other icon conventions are unambiguous: stop, home, back, next and refresh as they define an uncontentious subject where death is different. The fact that you are asking for a non-religious and ubiquitously identifiable icon shows that you understand this as well.

Take a look at a military deceased list and you'll find that a soldier's name will typically be accompanied by "Deceased (dd/mm/yyyy)" label that is either different in colour (red?), size (smaller) and proximity (to the right) to the person's name.

This meets the needs of using an established convention without breaching any discussions of sensitivity that may come about through selecting an icon.

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We're talking about death here. As a subject, it's morbid in nature. I don't think an icon is the way to go. If anything, perhaps an asterisk or dagger or some other traditional footnote mark may make the most sense.

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I would go for a grave icon without any symbols in the grave (cross, star, moon, etc).
Maybe a RIP text on the grave for reinforcement, but can also be a little harsh.
If you can use color, you can make it even more perceptible without the RIP, i would go with it this one, because it is more subtle.

I made a quick sketch with and without RIP

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You might wanna add flowers on the non RIP tombstone. – Viraj Sep 6 '11 at 23:50
RIP stands for "Requiescat in pace" which is generally a Catholic (or broader - Christian) inscription. – skolima Sep 7 '11 at 9:58
And a grave makes some comment on religion - many religions do not bury their dead – Mark Sep 7 '11 at 12:03
I must agree with @hostile-fork, but to answer the question of creating an icon i think this is the most common approach for the western world. And i also agree that it is almost impossible to create a universal icon for death, given that it is a very religious and philosophical matter. – herkulano Sep 7 '11 at 12:47
tombstone or coffin would work here. – Joel Glovier Sep 7 '11 at 15:56

Maybe just a black dot (or an asterisk) with mouse-over explanation or legend somewhere on the page.

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Let me first say that personally, I don't think a symbolic icon should be used.

However, to specifically answer the question as asked, the poppy is the most appropriate symbol I can think of that might be used: enter image description here

From wikipedia entry for Poppy:

Poppies have long been used as a symbol of both sleep and death: sleep because of the opium extracted from them, and death because of the common blood-red color of the red poppy in particular. In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead. Poppies used as emblems on tombstones symbolize eternal sleep. This symbolism was evoked in the children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which a magical poppy field threatened to make the protagonists to sleep forever.

However, it also has association with wartime remembrance which may be regarded as a negative or at least a mis-association for some...

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i think a flower is probably the most appropriate icon, but I think I will go with the text "desceased" – Jeff Martin Sep 7 '11 at 16:19
although i will probably attempt to spell it right. – Jeff Martin Sep 7 '11 at 17:06
Very elegant. If I had to choose an icon, I'd choose this. – Felipe Almeida Sep 11 '11 at 13:00

A tombstone is still quite religious btw. A lot of people dont burry their dead.

How about just showing a person's face in a photo frame with flowers next to it? Or is that something people from the occident wouldn't relate to?

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what about just show (birth date - death date) in very tiny letters?

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They don't even have to be really tiny if the person is death. – Barfieldmv Sep 7 '11 at 12:27

If you need to be totally cross-cultural, you may be out of luck. Although treatment of the dead body is universal, the method varies widely. To take care of the casket and the grave marker:

  • In Islam, wrappings are often used, with no casket or coffins
  • In Hinduism, bodies are often cremated, with no burial or marker

You probably want to avoid offending people, so a skull and bones would probably be out of the question.

You may have to rely on people's knowledge of western customs and use something as universal as possible, in which case I would advise a grave marker with a generic design. These are at least known in the vast majority of cultures, even if not widely used.

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Also, Zoroastrians traditionally are left for scavengers (vultures, cougars, whatever) to eat. – Richard Gadsden Sep 7 '11 at 17:21

In movie titles they sometimes use a rectangular border around the name for this purpose.

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As mentioned, you're not really going to find anything understood equally across all cultures and religions. So you may want to think through who the majority of your users will be.

However there are some non-religious icons that apply well in specific cultures but don't have much of a religious context. For western cultures I would go for a gravestone with R.I.P. on it. You could also opt for a skull (no crossbones though) or a coffin without any religious symbols, but either of them may offend some people (some people are easily offended), so you should be aware of that.

Examples: enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description here

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Maybe not an icon, as there is no globally accepted symbol, but a [deceased] column without info when the person is still alive and a date otherwise.

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Instead of an icon Id consider these alternatives:

  1. light grey text with onmouseover a tooltip (the rest of the text is black)
  2. strike the name and add an asterisk with a footnote which explains that name = deceased
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A black ribbon, added diagonally in the top right of the div containing the person's name (a bit like the black ribbon usually put on photoframes)? I don't know how global this symbol is though.

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Most of the contributors above seem to have a big issue with using an icon that would have some non religious connotation to death, but I don't see the big deal, especially that the person who has submitted the question hasn't given enough information that may indicate that an icon may be of poor taste.

Personally, I don't see an issue with the usage of an icon in a list. My suggestion would be a thick black diagonal line \ such as the black markers that are placed on people's pictures when they pass away.

It's simple, it's universal (maybe a legend wouldn't hurt!), and it's non religious.

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Even if the majority of users wouldn't be upset, the remnant could respond with severe offence. In this case, I don't think the minor advantages of an icon over a single word 'deceased' are worth it. – Jimmy Breck-McKye Sep 8 '11 at 7:38

My first ideas where an exit-sign, and a skull, but more like in a pirate flag. Of course it will depend much on the context, whethter it is appropriate.

A Johnny B. Gone strike was another good idea, but somehow polluted with the bad idea of an asterix, which is often used for the day of birth. A black dot is very subtle but fine - or a black diamond like our moderators use :).

For an application for people from an organization, skull and exit-sign look too entertaining - I would go with the strike or a small, geometrical form - a triangle (think:pyramid) would do it as well.

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IMO using the exit sign would be really distasteful. Using ◊ is a bad idea too (vulva > symbol of life). – Knu Sep 7 '11 at 19:20
Yes, but it is unreligious. The diamond should be filled, not empty, therefore no vulva - but of course if you try, you can find arguments against every symbol (which shall not discourage you). I didn't think of a vulva, but I will do so the next 2 hours. Good idea! – user unknown Sep 7 '11 at 19:54

Depending on the context, you could simply groupe the dead together under a "deceased" header or something of that nature.

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On h2g2, we use a rose.

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on a less negativity note: perhaps a black rose, shovel, candle (kinda like amnesty international logo), umbrella?, elevator (going down?), just brain storming here, hope this helps.

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Lit Candle or laid flower can do.


  1. They are universal means of paying tribute to deceased.
  2. By using it, you are also paying tribute in a way.
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A small black ribbon could work.

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I would go with kind of a SPLAT style image that evokes Wiley Coyote doing a faceplant off a cliff while trying in vain to catch Roadrunner. HTH!

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