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Design School Consortium

Phase II Symbol Development
Referent and Definitions

Our early work has shown symbols have much potential as a solution for communication across languages and poor literacy. Although an important early contribution, and promising as solution for wayfinding in facilities with diverse patient populations, the collection of UHCS’ need to be grown and research of graphic symbols for health environments needs to be advanced. Design schools, selected through a Call for Participation (CFP), are engaged in a highly-focused effort to develop sustainable national capacity for ongoing graphic symbol design and evaluation. In essence building the foundational knowledge base for the role symbols can play as a communication tool in health care.

These design schools, individually and collectively represent a broad spectrum of design education (e.g.; architecture, graphic design, new media, popular culture, visual communication, etc.) including graduate programs. Each of the member schools have developed programs to design and evaluate graphic symbols, nationally, and to conduct research on symbol use in wayfinding systems and other visual communication tools to reduce or eliminate communication barriers in health care environments.

Department of Art & Design, College of Liberal Arts at California Polytechnic State University is accredited by NASAD, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design as a professional degree program. The program offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with major concentrations in graphic design, photography & digital imaging, and studio art. With its emphasis on solid foundations and the development of studio practice tied to a focus on conceptual abilities, Cal Poly Art & Design has built a national reputation for producing graduates with an ability to contribute and innovate in their chosen field.  Lead Faculty: Kathryn E. McCormick, Area Coordinator and Associate Professor, Graphic Design

Digital Design Program, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati ranked among the globe’s Top 10 design schools by International Design Magazine, with over 2300 student enrolled the program is ranked as one of the best art and design schools in the nation. Lead Faculty: Oscar Fernandez, Associate Professor, Digital Design Program

Graphic Design Program in the College of Design at Iowa State University
is one of three program areas within the Department of Art and Design offers graduate and undergraduate programs. The College of Design includes the departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Community and Regional Planning. As part of a “research one” land grant university, the college has a strong emphasis on both research and outreach. Lead Faculty: Lisa Fontaine, Associate Professor of Graphic Design

School of Visual Communication Design at Kent State University is accredited by NASAD, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design as a professional degree program with graduate and undergradutate degree programs. It has a proven record of excellence in graphic design and is nationally recognized through many awards and respected alumni throughout the industry. Lead Faculty: David Middleton, Associate Professor, Coordinator, 3D Concentration.

Phase II Symbol Development

Design School Consortium is developing new symbols which will be available for use by the Innovator Sites. Eighteen referents were selected to guide development of new symbols (see page 4).  In addition, design schools will examine a series of key questions to better understand how symbols can be used in health care environments. These include:

Questions related to how new symbols can be integrated.
When adding a new symbol that represents a function in a facility, how should that symbol fit in with existing symbology

Questions related to what referents should have symbols. Health environments are known to be challenging even to college graduates because of a high use of biomedical terminology (e.g.; Cardio-Pulmonary Services, Genetics, Anesthesia, Gynecological Services, Lactation Specialist, Hematology, Oncology, Physiotherapy, Endocrinology, Metabolism Center, Cerebrovascular Center). While designing new symbols; it is important to stay grounded in the primary purpose of symbols, to communicate and guide. These questions are meant to be asked while in the process of developing new symbols. Can a symbol be designed for a highly technical referent meant to be used as part of the larger wayfinding process in health care facilities?  Can symbols improve public user understanding of unfamiliar terms?  How can wayfinding programs make less well known biomedical referents easier to understand?

Question based on the use of referents in health care environments. Special attention will be placed on the referent Imaging.  Imaging is used as a destination in health care facilities in different ways.  Some facilities have all their imaging facilities in one place while others have imaging services spread throughout a facility.  Mammography is often located separate from the other imaging. Design schools will examine what scenarios would work best when looking at different terms that fall under the broad reference for imaging? 

The objective here is to determine how best to approach symbol development when there are multiple subcategories of a root referent.  It can also serve as a platform for refining guidelines for symbol use in wayfinding systems (e.g.; when different equipment or services are located in the same general area/space; when services are intended for inpatients or outpatients)

Imaging/Radiology – Place where pictures of the human body or parts of it are taken.

  • CAT scanning/CT Room
  • diagnostic imaging – same as Imaging
  • MRI
  • PET
  • Ultrasound
  • x-ray
  • cath lab
  • Mammography – one of the original UHCS symbol

Questions related to referents that support multiple functions in a facility (e.g., Medical Support and Education). Design Schools will examine issues that health care facilities must work with when defining a symbol that can cover multiple functions. For example:

  • Can one symbol serve for all financial issues in a facility or multiple symbols?
  • Can there be a single symbol for all the administrative functions in a facility?
  • Can there be a single symbol for library and records or multiple symbols?
  • Can there be a single symbol for all medical and health education?
  • Can there be a single symbol for all nutritional education?
  • Can there be a single symbol for Chapel or is an additional symbol needed for Bereavement Room, or contemplation room?

Questions related to whether symbols emphasize health and illness. There are referents that are related to the same basic function but are used in broadly different ways. How can symbols be developed that meet the diverse needs of health care facilities:

Mental Health: Can serve as a clinic, an office, an inpatient facility or a testing location?
Dental: Can be for preventative services, a clinic or a place for surgery?
Ophthalmology: Can be a place for general exams, testing as well as surgery?
Ear Nose and Throat: Can be a location for general examinations, testing or surgery?

Questions related to how symbols can represent an umbrella of activities. Symbols often need to cover an umbrella of activities as opposed to one specific activity:

Health Services: Can one symbol cover the multiple health services in a clinic or hospital
Alternative Medicine/Complementary Medicine: Can one symbol cover all the services related to alternative or complementary medicine
Inpatient Unit: Can one symbol cover the range of activities involved in a residential hospital

New Referent and Definition List

Definitions for these target referents were developed using a Delphi method involving design team member, innovator sites clinical staff and Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO).  These definitions will guide designers and will be used to test user comprehension.

  1. Ear, Nose + Throat (Otolaryngology) – Place to get care for problems of the ears, nose and throat
  2. Anesthesia – Service to block pain during an operation or to help manage chronic pain
  3. Dermatology – Place to get care for skin conditions
  4. Neurology – Place to get care for the brain and nervous system
  5. Complementary/Alternative Medicine  – Place to get natural or spiritual healing services together or in place of traditional treatment.
  6. Health Education – Place to learn about diseases and staying healthy
  7. Respiratory – Place to get treatment and services for lung or breathing related problems
  8. Genetics – Place to learn about hereditary traits related to health and health conditions
  9. Health Services – Services to improve general physical and mental well-being
  10. Dental – Place to get care for gums and teeth
  11. Pathology –Laboratory where blood, body tissue and cell samples are sent to be tested and studied
  12. In-patient Unit – Place to stay when health services require overnight stays
  13. Medical Library – Place to find information about health and diseases
  14. Administration – Offices for management and business services
  15. Nutrition – Place to get advice about healthy or special ways to eat
  16. Ophthalmology – Place to get eye care
  17. Mental Health – Place to get help with mental, behavior and relationship problems
  18. Kidney Center – Place to get care for kidney problems