Graphical symbols crop up everywhere - from public information and safety signs, to product and equipment safety labels and user guides, and to consumer documentation. If people misunderstand them, the consequences may be on a scale ranging from simple inconvenience, to waste and misuse, and as far as danger to life and limb.
The recently published ISO/IEC Guide 74 sets out to reduce the possibilities and adverse consequences of misunderstanding to a minimum by ensuring that the needs of consumers are considered when graphical symbols are designed and developed.
The Guide 74 project team sets the context for the work in the Introduction: "Poorly designed and researched graphical symbols, and also the proliferation of graphical symbols with the same intended meaning, can cause confusion for consumers. Such problems will become ever more common in an age of mass travel, mobility of labour and global trading unless graphical symbols are designed, evaluated and standardized in accordance with procedures set out in the relevant International Standards."
They go on to say: "However, these benefits are not always achieved in practice and the purpose of Guide 74 is to ensure that the needs of consumers are adequately addressed when a possible new requirement for a graphical symbol is being considered."
The Guide is intended in particular for standards writers, although it also puts an international consensus on good practice in designing and developing graphical symbols with the consumer in mind at the disposal of public authorities, manufacturers and service providers, consumer associations and graphic designers.
John Perry, the Guide 74 project leader, summed up: "The use of graphical symbols in signs, on labels and in product instructions and other product documentation has a number of advantages. Well designed symbols stand out visually, save wordy explanations and convey the intended message across language barriers. ISO/IEC Guide 74 will help to ensure the design and development of graphical symbols that get the right message across to consumers worldwide."
ISO/IEC Guide 74, Graphical symbols - Technical guidelines for the consideration of consumers' needs, costs 64 Swiss francs and is available from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details) and from ISO Central Secretariat (see below). It was developed jointly by the ISO/COPOLCO, Committee on consumer policy, and ISO technical committee ISO/TC 145, Graphical symbols.