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Inclusive symbols concept design and testing feedback

Following on from the concept workshops, we’ve been busy developing the design for each symbol including a number of options which were tested with groups of people living with dementia.

Concept design phase

Getting into the design we quickly realised there were many different route to explore. After a series of iterations, we developed four options for each symbol to test various factors that could make the symbols more easily understood by people with dementia i.e. showing perspective, including people/figures ‘doing’ the action, shaded flooring.

We considered the styling of the ‘symbol people’ – if they should be ‘morph like’, if they should have necks, or if they should be more human in feature, showing details like clothing and hair. We varied their level of movement, the number of people interacting with each environment, and their activity in each context.

Environments were explored in perspective as well as elevation/straight on, and shading on floors and on objects like toilet seats were visualised to gauge people’s understanding. And we changed the scale on some symbols to see how much information is needed, on close up items like a hand on a door as well as entire rooms and the whole shape of an escalator.

The testing stimulus was prepared as A3 sheets with four options for each symbol alongside the relevant current symbol, and a ‘wash up sheet’ of alternative existing options to help stimulate the discussion. Facilitated by Steve Milton, Director of Innovations in Dementia, these sheets were used to evaluate the legibility and understanding of each of the concepts with groups of people living with dementia across a number of locations. The sessions were recorded and subsequently transcribed.

Testing and feedback

The symbol concepts were tested with 39 people of varying ages and stages of dementia. 33 of these were across five groups and there were six 1-2-1 interviews. Groups were consulted in Shrewsbury, Liverpool, Glasgow, Canterbury and Salisbury. Five interviews took place face-to-face in Stockwell and one via teleconferencing in Salford.

There was an overall enthusiasm from participants to feedback their views on something ‘practical’ rather than policy based that will impact positively on people’s everyday life.

Key learnings:


Feedback overview:

‘Morph’ figure (on the left) was generally preferred as people found it clearer/simpler.

Male / Female / Accessible Toilet

Feedback overview:

Everyone recognised this as a toilet.

Symbol ‘B’ in perspective with shaded flooring was unanimously preferred and the white figure on black background was least preferred.


Feedback overview:

Although ‘C’ got the highest number of votes, there was a preference for whole shape
of escalator handrail to differentiate it from stairs. The rounded shape also implies movement which is helpful. The two people interacting with the escalator in ‘A’ and ‘C’ was well liked. Maybe we could develop ‘A’ in 3D with perspective. Many liked the idea of adding an arrow going up, or down for a different version of the symbol, to emphasise the indication of movement.


Feedback overview:

There was a clear preference for ‘C’ showing perspective noting that the person should be clearly stepping from one space to another, rather than walking past the door. The tree and cloud were identified as representing the ‘outside’ and this was liked, as if moving from one environment to another. The floor shading could be understood better if lower down, so less like the person is in water.


Feedback overview:

There was a clear preference for ‘D’ showing perspective, doors and shading within lift.  There was absolute consensus that the people interacting are important to the understanding of this symbol. There were comments about the button increasing in size!


Feedback overview:

Everyone recognized the options as stairs. Although ‘B’ got the highest number of votes, there was a preference for whole shape of the staircase as shown in ‘A’. Everyone agreed that the handrail helped them feel reassured.


Feedback overview:

Almost everyone recognised this as parking and there was a unanimous preference for  the simplicity of ‘C’. Some of the options i.e. ‘B’ showed too much information and detail which was confusing for people.


Feedback overview:

None of the options shown were popular. Concensus was for the original ‘i’ symbol to be retained.


Feedback overview:

Much discussion was had about whether the symbols represent buying or or showing the ticket. In the end ‘A’ was agreed the most popular.

Priority Seating

Feedback overview:

Symbol ‘C’ was preferred and most people identified this as a seat for people who
need it. It was pointed out that, for example on buses, there is a space reserved for wheelchair users so we don’t need to include the wheelchair access symbol. We need careful development of the wording to support understanding of this symbol.

Waiting Area

Feedback overview:

Symbol ‘C’ was the clear preference because of its simplicity and perspective. The doorway through to another room wasn’t necessary. Everyone found the seated people helpful to the meaning, though they should look less rigid and more active. The clock (with no time shown) could be included as it was popular with most participants.

Fire Escape

Feedback overview:

The perspective of symbol ‘C’ was preferred, with the fire from symbols ‘A/B’. It would make sense to include the outside elements from the previous Exit symbol, as well as movement of the person from one space to another.

Wheelchair Access

Feedback overview:

Everyone correctly identified this and ‘A’ gained the majority of votes. Some pointed out that the person was controlling their own chair rather than being pushed as in the existing symbol. Some felt an attachment to the existing symbol and questioned whether we need to update the design of the symbol at all.

Hidden Disability

Feedback overview:

Most weren’t able to identify any of the options shown but for those who recognised some sort of need, symbol ‘D’ was preferred. Adding colour (red) to the cross at the next design phase may be helpful to the understanding around ‘health’. Careful consideration of the words that support this symbol is needed to aid understanding.

Next Steps

Our next step is to look at the user testing feedback in detail to develop and refine the design of each symbol.

We’ll consider the impact for the user of language and colour – which words that accompany symbols are most easily understood i.e. toilet / restroom / ladies /  WC / public convenience.

The trickiest words to consider and resolve will be ‘Priority Seating’ and ‘Hidden Disability’ and we will be working with language strategist Ben Afia to develop some options for testing at the next phase.

We will also consider colour i.e. does a green exit symbol or a blue parking symbol effect its communication?

The design development will lead into the next phase of testing with new groups of people in July.

Workshop: the first five #InclusiveSymbols

We’ve been putting our heads together for our #InclusiveSymbols project. In our first of three design concept workshops, we set up a sprint for discussing five of the 15 symbols to be redesigned. In a room with five creatives and three business professionals, we got to work on having an open conversation about each symbol and its reinterpretation, giving ourselves a strict 15 minute limit per symbol. To design symbols suitable for people living with dementia, we discussed how the instruction of the symbol could be interpreted at the simplest, clearest level. We challenged our most basic assumptions and pre-defined

Our first five symbols included:

  • Exit (for leaving a building)
  • Fire Exit (for leaving a building in case of emergency)
  • Stairs (for indicating location of stairs)
  • Elevator (for indicating location of elevator)
  • Escalator (for indicating location of escalators)

Laying in front of us was a collection of live examples of each symbol from our scoping exercise. This included symbols from well-known sources; BSI, ISO, AIGA, Bonnington and Noun Project. There was also a selection of additional unusual designs from a wider array of online sources to stimulate diverse discussion.

To give you a flavour of that discussion, here’s some of the questions we mulled over:

  • What are the most distinguishable characteristics of what the symbol is communicating? (visual and non-visual)
  • Do we need to show a person?
  • Does the symbol work better in 3D? If, so what perspective?
  • Do we need to show arrows? If we include arrows, does that confuse with directional signage?
  • How can we represent movement?
  • Do we need to show all of a thing or is it still clear if we show a key part of a thing? (i.e. the first couple steps in a stair or the buttons on a lift)
  • How can we easily visually represent less-tangible concepts such ‘outside’ or ‘leaving’?

Additionally, language/naming and colours cropped up time and time again. These are due to be considered at a later stage in the project but it was interesting to find how intertwined this is with interpretation and understanding at this stage. These factors impact meaningfully on our initial concepts.

The workshop has been recorded in audio segments and everyone was invited to jot down key points and draw initial thoughts/concepts. We’ve got many thoughts, designs and routes to investigate. Workshop two and three will be happening over the next couple of weeks and then it’s onto developing concept designs! And that’s where the real creative work begins.