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Are language barriers an issue?


I'm a graphic design student at Bath Spa University. I am starting a project where I want to create a unique design that communicates a visual language to overcome and eliminate language barriers.

After doing some research I have found that language barriers can be a problem in the medical field. I have chosen three conditions Asthma, (As I am an asthma sufferer myself), Epilepsy and diabetes; these are incurable life long illnesses. I have chosen these three conditions due to the high number of sufferers.

As we can communicate through signs and symbols what I want to do it design something that will inform people about maybe the medication needed (this could also be colour coded to the colour of inhaler, etc.) also an illustrated step-by-step guide on how to help someone either having an attack or an epileptic fit.

This will inform someone who may not be able to speak English what help is required, this could also work if you went on holiday and ran out of medication you would be able to give whatever I design (a card for example) to a doctor and from the symbols, signs, icons, etc. they could understand what condition you have and what medication you require.

Do you think this idea is viable? Do you think this idea is necessary? How could it be improved? What design outcomes do you think would be most appropriate? (e.g. a card, a website, an app, booklet/leaflet?)

7 Replies


I think it's a great idea, I think a card is great and would be my first choice, as you can just put it in your purse or wallet, an app/web site is good and I would probably download an app (I do love apps) but internet access could be problematic depending on where you are although if it was an ap that didn't require internet once downloaded that could solve that problem, apps also rely on people remembering to charge their phones/tablets and booklets/leaflets are great but can be a bit of a pain to carry depending on whether or not you carry a bag and the size of the bag. Good luck


I was vegan for many years and the Vegan Society produced a 'vegan passport' which stated my dietry requirements in about 20 different languages. I would pass it to whoever I was trying to tell, open at their language if I knew it. I think something like this would be beneficial, more so than signs and colours I'd think.



Have you looked at what already is available?

There are a few companies out there who already translate this information into small cards.

I have used one to produce an allergy alert for eggs in Estonian and what to do if I have an allergic reaction.

Signs and symbols - have their uses but they need to be universally recognised. There is a small book called Point It which has very basic medical pictures in...


An inhaler just shows an inhaler, although different colours could determine reliever or preventer but they won't show dose or the drug type.

Remember that the generic names of drugs are usually universal eg Ventolin is the brand of Salbutamol.

Running out of medication - this should really be written down, either generic names and dose or properly translated! esp if another alphabet apart from the 'English' one is used such as Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic etc

A symbol /picture guide on what to do for someone having an asthma attack could have pictures with what meds to give with a tick eg Blue inhaler.

Position such as sitting up with a tick, and a cross for lying down.

Keep the symbols very basic in B&W stick people if it works...

A phone with the usual emergency numbers such as 999, 112, 911 etc though lots of countries will have their own emergency number so use a basic picture of an ambulance.

Also, each one would need to be tailor made. Each country may interpret signs in a different way.. you don't want to offend!

Just some ideas!



Thank you Kate

Very helpful points.

As I am just starting this project, I will be doing further research, questionnaires, interviews etc. with sufferers, doctors, etc.

And also as part of my research I will be looking at symbols colours meanings etc and also doing a load of testing to see what works and what doesn't

I think colour coding could work well, but also if there was a section to write what medication you have could also be beneficial.

As I am trying to avoid using words as much as possible, I think looking into health care and medication from different countries would be useful.

If I create an app this could work in many different languages which may also prove to be more viable.

I think looking into cards, books, apps etc already available is the next step and seeing if what I'm doing is different.

Thank you again!



I think Kate's point about using the generic name and/or a card that displays that name in non-English scripts would be much safer than relying on color.

Unfortunately, the color coding on inhalers is not consistent. See ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articl... . I think things are improving, but one simply can't count on the color of the inhaler instead of the drug,


Ok just a stupid thought

What happens if they are colour blind ? My brother in law is colour blind luckily he doesn't have asthma

Hugs fluffy


Fluffy stuff, that is a very good thing to highlight.... red greens get very muddled etc with colour blindness, that is why I thought ticks and crosses but didn't mention colours of ticks or crosses.

And yes , inhalers can be all sorts of colours these days...


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