The WHO's SAVE LIVES, Clean Your Hands May 5th campaign is coming up fast. This year's focus is not only on hand hygiene but also its role in combating antibiotic resistance. It’s a time to raise awareness, discuss and come up with solutions. So we asked ourselves this question:
What is the one action we could take to improve hand hygiene not only among hospital staff, but the entire community?
Our answer: We would make hand hygiene a symbol.
Of course, symbols are everywhere. This one needs to be easily recognizable. People must be able to see it at a distance and think “that’s where I clean my hands”. It also needs to be distinctive enough to function past language, cultural and sociopolitical barriers. In short, it has to be universal.
But wait, there’s more!
It needs to be simple enough to function both at a small size in training materials and at a large size on signage. It should also be inexpensive to make on a large scale - one or two colours and very simple to print. Then there is familiarity; how can it trigger a memory and response passively.
It might seem impossible and yet, it’s quite common in many of the most profitable companies in the world.
Look at these logos. There are no words and yet you know what they represent. No need for Google, no need to ask someone for help, no need to wrack your brain to remember. The answer is right there, in your head, no action needed.
That is simplicity. That is cost-efficiency, that is familiarity. That is universality.
Symbols in branding have the potential for massive recognition power. These examples prove it! Not just for selling hamburgers or cars, computers or shoes, but also for public health and safety, too.
The Rod of Asclepius is one of the most recognizable symbols for medicine. It’s also proof that its symbolism is not fleeting but actually very long-lasting – it’s maintained meaning to the general public for over two thousand years! Nowadays it’s most often used inside a six-pointed asterisk to denote emergency medical services on vehicles such as ambulances.
But the rod is not alone in its instant recognizability:
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is instantly recognizable by the symbol worn by its humanitarian workers and distributed goods. It is instantly clear who is involved.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund) has been using a logo consisting of a black and white stylized giant panda to convey its conservation efforts since the early ‘60s. Despite being monochrome it is instantly recognizable and still functions well at sizes both small and large.
These examples should demonstrate the power that visual branding has. If you’re traveling, you can recognize ambulances regardless of what language the word “ambulance” is in. The symbol of the Red Cross can identify noncombatant medical personnel in a war zone. The WWF panda summarizes the organizations’ goal while keeping printing costs down.
What they have in common is that they are all used consistently whether for dozens or thousands of years and are used for the same cause each time. They’ve become visual shorthand for important concepts. When someone needs to say “professional medical organization” there is little reason or incentive to reinvent the wheel – the Rod of Asclepius’ imagery is often more than enough. So should it be for hand hygiene!
Just as the Golden Arches beacon hungry motorists towards hamburgers and fries from kilometers away, hand hygiene needs a symbol, an icon, a logo to get the public doing their part to helping prevent not only the spread of infection but the eventual decline of antibiotics.
We would love to hear from you. Please use the comments section below to tell us about your symbol to effectively promote hand hygiene this May 5th and throughout the year.
About Tagg Design Inc.
Leveraging 25 years of sign expertise, Tagg Design is driven towards preventing the spread of infection through the art of communications.
Tagg has recently released their graphical infection control symbols for public use in a downloadable package. These symbols are freely available for noncommercial use under a creative commons license.
Tagg is active on Twitter (@taggcleanhands) and promotes infection control communication, design (human factors, accessibility, graphics) and the use of social media in healthcare. Please connect via email firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook and on the web at www.taggcleanhands.com & www.patientguard.netfor more information.
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