Picture This: Using Pictograms in Health Materials


CommunicateHealth
Alt: A doodle wearing a beret paints a pictogram on an easel. The pictogram shows a person sneezing.

Visuals are a powerful tool in our health communication toolbox. They help us convey big ideas in a way that transcends language and cultural barriers. And here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we’ve really been digging a certain type of visual lately: pictograms.

A pictogram is a drawing or image that represents an idea in a simple, literal way. We can use pictograms to show recommended behaviors, symptoms, and other health concepts that can be tricky to explain. They’re especially useful for audiences with limited literacy skills, limited English proficiency, or cognitive disabilities. And as an added bonus, they help us reinforce key messages for all readers!

Try these 3 quick tips to create pictograms that will resonate with your audiences:

  1. Use literal representation instead of abstract symbolism. Some symbols or graphic conventions (like “Rx” for “prescription” or wavy lines to indicate heat) may not resonate across cultures. So it’s important to make illustrations as literal and concrete as possible.

    For example, if you’re creating a pictogram to represent sneezing as a symptom, show a person actually sneezing — not just a tissue box.

Alt: 2 versions of a pictogram appear above text that says “Seasonal allergies can cause sneezing.” The first one is labeled “Instead of abstract symbolism” and shows a tissue box. The second one is labeled “Use literal representation” and shows a person sneezing.

2. Incorporate realistic details that aid understanding. Use realistic colors and include details that provide context to help people understand your pictogram. In the example below, we’ve put the thermometer in the person’s mouth and added flushed cheeks and sweat on the forehead to more clearly show that the person has a fever.

Alt: 2 versions of a pictogram appear above text that says “You may have a fever.” The first one is labeled “Instead of ambiguous visuals” and shows a person with a thermometer beside their head. The second one is labeled “Use realistic details” and shows a person with a thermometer in their mouth, flushed cheeks, and sweat on their forehead.

3. Use a consistent visual style. Did you know that our short-term memory can only hold a few visual elements at a time? Interpreting a series of images can be hard for anyone, and it’s especially tricky for people with limited literacy skills. To avoid cognitive overload (overwhelming viewers with too much information), use a consistent visual style and similar characters across all pictograms in a single material.

In the example below, we’ve used the same character and art style for all 3 images to help avoid cognitive overload.

Alt: 2 versions of a 3-part pictogram appear above text that says “Eat a healthy diet. Get 8 hours of sleep. Get active.” The first version is labeled “Instead of mixing it up” and uses 3 different visual styles to depict the 3 healthy behaviors. The second version is labeled “Use a consistent visual style” and uses the same style for all 3 behaviors.

The bottom line: Pictograms can help us communicate big ideas in an accessible way. Try these tips to create pictograms that resonate with your audiences.

Tweet about it: Pictograms can help us communicate big ideas in an accessible way. Try these tips to create #HealthLit pictograms that resonate with your audiences: https://bit.ly/35pn9ov





First Published at medium.com on 2020-11-12 23:15:17

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