A medical icon kit for low literacy communities

Graphic design student Jonathan Stannard has won an RSA Design Award for his medical symbol kit to help people in low literacy areas understand their medicines.

In response to the challenge of how to improve the way medicines are distributed, dispensed and taken in Sub-Saharan Africa, graphic design student Jonathan Stannard created a set of symbols that can be used in the place of words to explain medicines to people in low-literacy areas of Africa. The symbols demonstrate when, how and in what quantities medicines should be taken by the patient. The Medical Symbol Language Kit includes posters, stickers and instruction sheets. We asked Stannard a few questions about his design. 

Can you explain how the system works?

It’s a universal medical language that can be used and understood by all people but specifically those who struggle with reading. I have designed a series of symbols/pictograms that instruct the user on how to correctly use a specific medication using imagery that is commonly understood and can be easily recognised. 

What inspired it and how did you develop the idea?

The idea came from a brief set by the RSA student design awards called AfricaPack, which asked the designer to - "Improve the way medicines are protected, dispensed, distributed and/or taken in Sub- Saharan Africa.”

After some initial research the problem of illiteracy throughout Africa and the effect that it has on medication misuse, this quickly became where I wanted to focus my project. I started by looking at how I could communicate specific instructions that could be used without the need for the written language.     

After I had developed a range of symbols I looked into how this could be applied, I decided to develop these into a kit that could be used either on specific medicines or could be distributed to pharmacies around Africa. This would allow the symbols to be used on many different forms of medication and would improve the knowledge around the correct use of medication.

How did you research the project? What kinds of questions did you ask to find out what you needed to include in the design?

The initial research that formulated the idea came from existing medical research/statistics and articles specific to sub-saharan Africa, I tested the designs as I created them with the people I had available to me which allowed me to see what different symbolism people responded to and in what way. The challenge was developing symbols to instruct, that could cross varying cultural and social boundaries.    

Could it be used beyond Africa?

Because this has no need for the written language, with some slight adjustments for cultural differences, this could be used anywhere in the world.

What do you understand the role of the designer to be today?

I think that the role of the designer today is becoming more of a social one, not only is it important to design visually and technically beautiful products and solutions, but its also important to look at the problems that those solutions are being designed for, there are so many social issues facing the world today that can be vastly improved by the application of good design. 

What are your three biggest learnings from studying design - what (methodologies or philosophies) do you hope to take with you?

Everything can be improved. I think design has taught me that no matter how good you think something might be there is always room for improvement and you should always strive to move forward.

Adapt always. I think that in order to be good at anything not just design you need to be willing to constantly learn and evolve your skills, and your way of thinking.

Stay Curious. I think the best tool a designer can have is curiosity, to be constantly looking at the world around you, how it works and how you can improve it.

What does winning an RSA Student Design Award mean to you?

I am very honoured to have won this award, It has opened many opportunities for me looking to the future and I am very appreciative to the RSA. 

What are you career aspirations? Where are you hoping to go from here?

Having just graduated from university this is something I am still figuring out, I am currently based in the north-west of England and one thing that winning this award had done for me is open up the possibility of working in London. I have already met with some London-based design companies to discuss my work and to get there advice on possible next steps.