Summary: How to help people find their way in an unfamiliar environment where language is a barrier, be it a patient at a hopsital, a traveller in an airport or a tourist at London 2012.
A piece from Science Daily sparked my interest in the use of pictograms in public environments.
Although the US is more linguistically diverse than the UK, judging by the range of languages books are available in in my local library this is something that will surely become more important over here in the years to come.
The Science Daily report is about a design to project to extend the number of healthcare signage symbols available in US hospitals.
‘Develop symbols that could serve to guide any population – speaking any language and representing any reading or education level – to specific points in a hospital or other health-care setting. So, for instance, develop a symbol that would communicate and guide users to specific service areas: hospital admission, dental care, genetics counseling, mental health services, ophthalmology, nutrition counseling, pathology, radiology and more.’
Hablamos Juntos is an organisation that specialises in language policy and practice in health care. They have a good set of resources on their site for those interested in the issue. About Symbols covers universal healthcare symbols, and outlines best practice for the design and testing process. There’s also a good report called Symbol Usage in Healthcare Settings that provides useful context and background.
Elsewhere Professor Ravi Poovaiah provides a detailed piece – Graphic Symbols for Environmental Signage: a Design Perspective – that tries to analyze and articulate the visual language that seem to govern the process of ‘symbol’ design. There’s a supporting case study of the symbols developed for urban hospitals in India, which have to contend with 14 major languages, 1600 dialects, high levels of illiteracy and traditional cultural barriers which inhibit communication between different castes or religious communities.
For a different environment designworkplan provides a showcase, and commentary, of airport signage from around the world. There’s also links to other resources including case studies on Heathrow, Schipol and Dusseldorf airports.
Here, Yasmine of the London 2012 brand team discusses the ideas behind the pictograms that they developed for the forthcoming Olympics.
Previous sets of pictograms ‘convey little of the speed, the energy, excitement and the power of the Games, the cultural events and the athletes themselves.’
‘We really wanted to push the concept for the pictograms and one of the outcomes of this was to create two style versions – a silhouette version used for high visibility and information-based applications, and a dynamic version used both as decoration and where a more exciting version is called for, such as on posters or banners.’