SEGD and Hablamos Juntos introduce new Universal Symbols in Health Care

27 September 2010
Washington, DC (United States) – A set of 56 graphic symbols introduced by SEGD (the Society for Environmental Graphic Design) and Hablamos Juntos will make hospitals and other healthcare facilities easier to navigate, particularly for underserved populations and patients with limited English or reading proficiency.
Washington, DC (United States) – A set of 56 graphic symbols introduced by SEGD (the Society for Environmental Graphic Design) and Hablamos Juntos will make hospitals and other healthcare facilities easier to navigate, particularly for underserved populations and patients with limited English or reading proficiency.

Universal Symbols in Health Care are the result of a two-year, multi-faceted research effort led by Hablamos Juntos and SEGD. The research team included a consortium of four university design schools, experts in wayfinding, symbols development, legibility and testing, as well as design firms specialising in health care wayfinding.

The symbols were being implemented in new signage programs at four Innovator Health Care Facilities that partnered with Hablamos Juntos and SEGD on the research and testing: Women & Infants Hospital, Providence, R.I.; International Community Health Services, Seattle; Children's Mercy Hospital, Kansas City, Mo.; and Grady Health System, Atlanta.

The research - the second phase of an effort that began in 2004 - is part of Hablamos Juntos' mission to develop practical tools to overcome language barriers to health care. Recognising that navigating through a hospital or health care facility can be a confusing, stressful experience if signage and wayfinding systems are not easy to understand, the project sought to develop symbols that would ease navigation at a range of facilities, from large, multi-building complexes to simpler, single-clinic settings.

"Making our signage easy to understand and eliminating language barriers is one simple way we can improve the health care experience for everyone", says Yolanda Partida, director of Hablamos Juntos. "Universal symbols also offer an alternative to bilingual or trilingual signage that can quickly become useless with unreadable font sizes".

During testing conducted at the four Innovator facilities, the symbols were found useful by patients from extremely diverse linguistic backgrounds, including English, Spanish, Khmer, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Somali, and Korean.

With Partida, SEGD Director of Education Craig Berger coordinated the work of the large research team, including the university consortium tasked with developing an ongoing framework for designing and testing the effectiveness of universal symbols in health care wayfinding systems.

"The most important culmination of this work is not just the expanded set of universal symbols, but the framework established by the university consortium to develop and test new symbols as they are needed", says Berger. "The project team recognises that universal symbols for health care settings will be an ongoing process".

Working collaboratively, the four university-based design schools created a curriculum to support developing and testing candidate symbols - 155 in all, primarily designed by students - and identify those best understood by linguistically diverse subjects. Participating schools were California Polytechnic State University (Department of Art & Design, College of Liberal Arts); University of Cincinnati (Digital Design Program, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning); Iowa State University (Design Program, College of Design); and Kent State University (School of Visual Communication).

The symbols research, development and testing was completed under a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio, which supports innovators whose bold ideas push beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and health care.

"Incredible innovation can result when experts from different fields come together to find solutions", says Paul Tarini, senior program officer with RWJF's Pioneer Portfolio. "With this project, health care and design experts have come together to create an adoptable solution that will make it easier for people especially those who often experience the most challenges, to get the care they need".

The research is documented in an educational guide for hospital administrators and designers entitled, Universal Health Care Symbols: Developing a Symbols-Based Wayfinding System, and in a series of technical reports and case studies prepared by the research team. These documents, as well as a poster and free production-ready art for the 56 symbols, are available on the SEGD and Hablamos Juntos websites. The full project team listing is also available on the two sites.



For more more information, please contact:

Ann Makowski
T: +1 202 638 5555
E:
W: www.segd.org

About SEGD

Founded in 1973, SEGD (the Society for Environmental Graphic Design) is the global community of people working at the intersection of communication design and the built environment. Through educational programs, research and publications, SEGD's mission is to provide learning opportunities and resources for professionals involved in EGD, promote the importance of the discipline in establishing place and continue to refine standards of practice for the field.

About Hablamos Juntos

Hablamos Juntos was established in 2001 to develop practical solutions to language barriers to health care. It is located at the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, a clinical branch medical education and physician training program of the University of California, San Francisco.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organisations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change.