Icon Overload

Satirical photo of overhead sign with many icons.

We all know the international icons for restrooms, information, and elevators. But how do you direct a non-English speaking visitor to Outpatient Services? Icons? Oh wait, what is the icon for Outpatient Services? How recognizable is it? Some wayfinding graphics are developed with the thought that icons solve all problems, but unless they are familiar or intuitively recognized, they add a visual layer to signs that may not be the best solution for your visitor and patient population.

It's important to evaluate your specific use scenarios before placing too much reliance on icons.

People moving through a building corridor–motion blur

There are excellent studies and recommendations for icons in wayfinding, but icons are not yet a "one-size-fits-all" solution to wayfinding. It's important to evaluate your specific use scenarios before placing too much reliance on icons. We ask our clients a few important questions before embarking on extensive icon-based solutions:


What percentage of your visitors don't speak English?

If the percentage is high, are these people best served with language translation on directional signs rather than icons?

Multilingual exterior emergency department sign

What other staff and services are readily available to assist?

Many medical centers have other effective solutions in place that help serve a multilingual community.


What will the wayfinding graphics look like with more icons or a second language?

In not handled with design sensitivity, signs can become ineffective and confusing based as the number of elements increase.


What is the elderly visitor population?

If significant, it may be better to have visibly clean wayfinding signs that are easier for this population. Adding translations and icons may only add confusion rather than clarifying navigation.


Analysis of your visitor population is key to development of facility-wide icons and the extent of their inclusion.

Every detail matters. Learn more about how we think.

Posted in: ADA, Exterior Signage, Interior Signage, Wayfinding  |  Tagged: ADA Compliance, ADA standards, Americans with Disabilities Act, Directional Signage, Facility, Icons, Signage, Wayfinding

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