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Signs of the times - ISO standard for universally understood public information symbols

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Graphical symbolsFrom representing car parks, to toilets, to hospitals and to full accessibility, the universal language of information symbols used in public places is contained in a new International Standard.

Published by ISO (International Organization for Standardization), ISO 7001:2007, Graphical symbols – Public information symbols, provides a method of communicating public information through a collection of symbols designed for use in buildings and other places, and for services used by the public, regardless of country or culture.

It covers the main requirements for images displayed on signs in all kinds of public areas, but it was also produced with the expectation that the graphical symbols would be used on maps and guides.

"Continued growth in international trade, travel and tourism requires a common method of communication," said Barry Gray, Chair of the ISO technical committee that developed the new standard. "The publication of ISO 7001:2007 will help both provider and users, including those with disabilities, and particularly where text messages alone can be a barrier to understanding."

The standard covers 79 public information symbols designed for use in all locations and all sectors where the public has access. Each is displayed by a visual illustration together with the image content, function, and meaning.

For the convenience of users, the symbols have been grouped in categories according to the areas where they are normally expected to be used: public facilities; transport facilities; tourism, culture and heritage; sporting activities, commercial facilities and behaviour of the public (excluding public safety).

ISO 7001:2007, which replaces ISO 7001:1990, has been revised and expanded with accessibility issues in mind.

According to Barry Gray, the standard will be developed further to take into account the increasing demands for a clear and concise way of presenting information readily to the widest possible public. Over 100 potential symbols have already been identified for future consideration in such areas as sports, tourism, commerce and transport.

ISO 7001:2007 is intended to be used by all ISO technical committees which require information symbols in their industry for communicating to the public and, with its associated standard on safety signs (ISO 7010), is intended to ensure that there is one internationally used symbol for each message.  

Also published at the same time is ISO 22727:2007, Graphical symbols – Creation and design of public information symbols – Requirements, to assist ISO technical committees and others who wish to make new proposals for symbols. These design requirements are there to help ensure consistency in design and comprehensibility.

ISO 7001:2007, which costs 154 Swiss francs and ISO 22727:2007, which costs 108 Swiss francs, are available from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details) and from ISO Central Secretariat through the ISO Store or by contacting the Marketing & Communication department (see right-hand column). The new standards are the work of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 145, Graphical symbols, subcommittee SC 1, Public information symbols.