Simple graphic user instructions : the “pill bag” of the NGO Medecins sans Frontieres

Posted on August 7, 2007. Filed under: Bibliographie, English, instructions |

I am a fan of simple instructions, most of them relying on images / graphics only, such as Ikea's or Lego's. Pat Hanrahan and Barbara Tversky from Stanford University have done a lot of good research on that subject. See also the very good book from graphic designer Paul Mijksenaar Open Here: The Art of Instructional Design . Graphic instructions are knowledge design at their best !!

Example of Lego instructionsIkea instructions 

Last June I was traveling by TGV and there was an exhibition in the train by the well known international NGO "Medecins sans Frontieres" (with French origins : the so-called French doctors). They were explaining who they were and the type of missions they were doing and had brought with them some paraphernalia.

I was especially interested in a few of them like this "pill bag" that display very useful instructions in a unequivocal way.

MSF pill bag

Doctors need their medicine to be taken the right way, no matter what language the patient speaks, or if he is able to read or not. By using this little plastic bag, they can deliver the right number of pills and indicate how many and when a pill needs to be taken. Such a bag is cheap to produce and can be used in the millions worldwide.

Other examples of simple and standardized instructions are the apparel / clothing care instructions  I had to battle with as a marketer trying to design one that would be accepted in all European countries in addition to the US. Just because all countries need some translation of the graphic signs, most apparel manufacturers' labels are in some benign way illegal (just imagine peeling 3 or four labels in your neck …, because that's what would be required to comply with French, Greek, Portuguese, etc … language and labeling laws). The label below does for example not comply with regulations that require the information of the manufacturer's name and address, has not been translated in any local language … Technically this product could be seized by any authority in Europe (except perhaps in the UK ;-)), but end up being sold anyway.

Care instructions label

I will come back with more on such design standards in a future post. They are in essence a universal language. See my previous post on this.


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3 Responses to “Simple graphic user instructions : the “pill bag” of the NGO Medecins sans Frontieres”

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[…] As I said earlier (see here and here), visual language is more "universal" than verbal language, but of course this is mostly true for some forms of visual language such as icons, pictos, graphs / matrix, schemas, and some more recent forms. This is far from being the case yet for photographs and colors (direct representation of nature), which signification can differ considerably from one culture to another … even if a certain convergence can be observed. […]

I couldn’t understand some parts of this article of the NGO Medecins sans Frontieres, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

Spasibo za vash trud!!

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