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First Aid Kit

Information Design

How can designers show respect to refugees? By providing clear and quick information in situations where they need help the most is one way to go. Coming to places of shelter, they often have the same questions regarding safety, stay and medical help. The information needs to be easily understandable, this is where good design comes into place. ​​​​​​​

Facing the so-calles refugee crisis in 2015, we realized as designers we could actually help by designing a communication signage based on pictograms. Shortly after, the language-independent, icon-based information system FIRST AID KIT was installed in various shelters. It supports the communication process between refugees and NGOs, bringing structure to these often chaotic places.

Entrance area to a shelter for refugees with various sticky notes on the door, including some neon-green First Aid Kit notices
Interior of a shelter for refugees with people talking on the phone and printed pictograms on the wall on neon-green paper, indicating WIFI access

Refugees all have the same urgent questions: Where am I? Am I safe? Where can I get medical help? Where can I eat, sleep? Many varying notes on doors and walls tried to give answers to these questions, in different languages, and often even misleading guidance: like that water is not potable in Vienna. The opposite of course is the case, as the city has one of the best urban drinking waters. The information chaos didn’t help the refugees at all. The helpers were more engaged in providing additional information and translating, instead of helping.

Tearable notes hanging on a door with the address of the location on a neon-green paper
Sink with a pictogram on neon-green paper hanging above it, indicating that there is drinking water here
A person walking down a hallway past a door with various notices hanging on it, including a neon green notice for the women's restroom
Entrance area of a shelter for refugees with a big welcome sign and a map on neon-green paper to indicate where the refugees are in Austria

Easy Reproduction
Our icon system can be easily printed and hung up. How helpful it actually is can be seen by its usage: the Red Cross applied it in all their Viennese centers. Feedback helps making the system better over time.

Hijab – yes or no?
The system labels infrastructure, communicates dos & don’ts and also considers ethnical differences. E.g. the sign for women: headscarf – yes or no?! We designed an icon that serves to all religious beliefs – the head can be perceived as hairstyle yet at the same time as a headscarf.

Icons for medical first help
Soon we discovered that also pictos for medical help were desperately needed. Although the diagnosis of course needs communication, pictures of the most common symptoms can help the dialogue betweens doctors and patients. The pictograms help with a faster diagnosis by showing the areas where patients experience pain.

Pictogram for women that has been changed several times to be as inclusive as possible. The hairstyle can also be understood as a headscarf.
Comparison between raw sketches of different body symptoms and the finished pictograms with different ways of a hurting body

Prototypical designs consulting the Red Cross show us that pictorial signs are urgently needed in the communication between doctors and patients.

Open Source
Our information system lives through feedback and is constantly being adapted. That’s why it is important to us, who uses this free open source set and where it is being used. We are grateful for critique, especially regarding understandability. We evaluate, adapt, advance our set and provide constant updates.


Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag

First Aid Kit von buero bauer ist lizenziert unter einer Creative Commons Namensnennung – Nicht-kommerziell – Weitergabe unter gleichen Bedingungen 4.0 International Lizenz