Pictogram-me: A visualization of a difficult life

We can all feel underprivileged and have a "difficult day". It can apply for shorter or longer periods and it may affect us as an individual or as part of a group facing challenges in society. In "Pictogram-me" we will work with some of those who have a difficult life. By asking the "Disadvantaged" to show us (visualize) and tell us about their lives, we will collect the stories of a difficult life and transform them into a series of pictograms.

Funding: The Project Programme under the direction of The Norwegian Artistic Research Programme and KHiB
Duration: 2012-2015 (three years)
Project Leader: Ashley Booth, Professor deoartment of design, KHiB

The objective of "Pictogram-me" is to conduct a visual examination of various experiences and perceptions. By using pictograms as a visual instrument to create an open language that can be ambiguous and impartial and may also may provoke new interpretations that question attitudes.

The desired outcome of the project is to highlight the challenges of an underprivileged existence. By presenting the new pictograms in public spaces, the project wants to promote empathy amongst the general public for "Disadvantaged" persons and their situations.

The "Disadvantaged"
The "Disadvantaged" is used here as a generic term for individuals or groups of individuals who, for shorter or longer periods of time, have faced debiliating challenges. There can be many different types of challenges - related to being unemployed, in poverty, a victim of crime, incarcerated, a prostitute, an immigrant, a drug addict, elderly, a sexual deviant or having lifestyle diseases, physical or sensory disabilities or mentally challenged.

The word "empathy" can be translated as insight, solidarity and sharing feelings. Being empathetic means you have the ability to emotionally put yourself into another's place, into another's feelings and how another, with his background and history, experiences his situation. We want the pictograms to challenge established prejudices by providing new insights and opportunities for interpretation.

Pictograms are by definition simple characters that convey information effortlessly. We are surrounded by thousands of them each day - as the friendly couple on public toilets, on cell phones, computers, weather maps and road signs, they are there to inform and warn, or sometimes just to decorate.

The project "Pictogram-me" aims to experiment and investigate whether pictograms, which are normally accepted as simple and not very flexible visual messages, can express com plex social messages. The target is to develop pictograms that encourage the viewer to reflect on human existence and moral values, thus inspiring new philosophical perspectives.

Experimentation and testing
Traditional pictogram development typically focuses upon recognition through research: first, how much a pictogram must resemble the object it aims at representing, and secondly in the extent pictograms should be freed from cultural influences. The project "Pictogramme" is also concerned with the issue of cultural influence, but will have a 'reverse' focus and will examine the visualization of difference of social cultures. In addition, the project will investigate, both in static pictogram development and as part of an inter active tool, how new combinations can be generated and/or how a series of stories can en courage new experiences and insights.

We will also test methods of collecting data from "disadvantaged" groups where empathic and ethical considerations make great demands on both the research and practical applications of pictograms.

Professional challenges and project goals
The overall objective of the project is to conduct a visual examination of various experiences and perceptions by experimenting with pictograms to visualize the experiences and attitudes. The desired outcome of the project is to use pictograms to create an open language that can be ambiguous and impartial, but also may provoke new interpretations that question attitudes and alternative interpretations that may act as a catalyst to encourage the viewers to form their own philosophical reflections on human values.

Key question
How can a pictographic examination of various experiences and perceptions contribute to reflection on what it means to be human in a difficult life?

Sub issues
• How can pictograms express abstractions, differences in degree, nuances in definition and philosophical concepts?
• How can simple visual symbols encourage empathy?
• How can a pictographic language be enriched by words and phrases?
• What methods can be used or developed in order to best get in contact with the "Disadvantaged" and to collect their stories?
• How can an interactive tool help construct new visual compositions that may create unexpected views and unique experiences?

Project goals
The intention of this project is threefold. First, to challenge how empathy can be expressed in a pictographic language. Here we will examine several issues related to pictogram development: Should a pictogram be free or charged with cultural influences, to be better perceived by different groups and challenge social conventions? Should pictograms be context sensitive to the definition and understanding? Can we develop subtle distinctions that challenge traditional pictogram design to communicate a deeper and more socially significant message? Do pictograms have to be unique, or we can challenge ambiguity, encouraging the viewer to form his own holistic picture to gain a deeper understanding?

And how can pictograms be combined together in a whole or in series, and possibly with words, to better encourage the recipient to form opinions? By presenting the new pictograms in public spaces, the project wants to promote empathy amongst the general public for the "Disadvantaged" and their situations.

The second intention is related to the collection of 'data' - the stories of the "Disadvantaged". How can we collect the stories from various groups of "Disadvantaged" people, groups who may see it as a great challenge in itself just to meet us, because of anxiety, shame, or mental and physical disabilities? For the disadvantaged who have a varying daily form, it may be difficult to keep appointments. It is desirable and probably necessary for us to base the method research on new methods for outreach research or participatory action research.

The final intention is to develop interactive communication, to appeal to as wide a audience as possible and with the most effective tools. A key challenge is how the inter - action can vary the configuration of the pictograms and word pictures so that it can ran - domly or systematically create new associations that can create subtle distinctions and give ambiguous messages with room for conjecture? We believe that an interactive tool is both an excellent tool for conceptual experimentation and represents a good communi cation platform for attitude awareness across national borders. While we will initially, in the pilot project(s), start by developing pictograms for national groups and audiences, the project aims to involve schools and research communities internationally with workshops and presentations in Europe. Also the interactive tool is planned to be published in both Norwegian and English, and further development for other languages is possible but not planned within the project's present ambitions. The project's three year timeline will limit the number of disadvantaged groups possible to be 'visualized.' However, we hope that as many groups as possible are included, since the use of an interactive tool will allow the project to be expanded and supplemented to an almost unlimited level for future publication.

Although the use of pictograms has become more and more extensive, we may have forgotten their roots, which here is defined as Neurath's isotype. Isotype was developed as a language without words, and isotype visual representations of facts and statistics to make information available to all, including illiterate and those with reading difficulties. Pictograms were used as a visual language to democratize communi cation. Otto Neurath (1925), who developed the isotype (Anacronym for - International System of Typographic Picture Education), said in his time: "Words divide, pictures unite".1 As Neurath, we believe that pictograms can create messages that are understood more effectively than messages commun icated in words. One question explored in this project is whether isotype idealism can be revitalized so that we can use the pictograms with the philosophy that they belong to us all. Based on isotype philosophy that every picture tells a story, we want to use pictograms to tell stories that can arouse strong emotions in us, and leave lasting impressions.

There are organisations, such as ISO (the Inter national Organization of Stan dardization), international and national transport companies, mobile phone producers and PC manufac turers, who are now developing methods to streamline and simplify pictograms based on rational methods and traditional considerations: the level of recognition (realism), neutrality/cultural conventions and internal elements/complex icons (Vaillant and Castaing 2003)2. Even though pictogram programs are being designed with the aim of being understood by as many people as possible across language and culture boundaries, we will ask if the project's pictograms should be context-dependent or non-dependent of definition and under standing. And how can pictograms be combined together or in series, and possibly with the words, in order to better portray the experiences of "Disadvantaged" and encourage the public to form their own opinions? In addition to research into pictogram development and methods of data collection, presented in "Working methods and tools", the project will contribute to the current international academic discourse about the social role of design and the designer's role in society, as the project will experiment with how design can help to change attitudes. Design for the social world The project "Pictogram-me" is led by the Bergen National Academy of the Arts. It will be anchored in the institution's academic community through the project leader: Professor Ashley Jane Booth and by the participation of former Research fellow now Associate Professor Linda Lien and by Associate Professor Charles Michalsen. The project is linked to the Department of Design's professional strategy and priority R&D themes "Design for the social world" and "Designing processes of change". The project hopes to provide new insight in user involvement based on empathy, respect and tolerance. Methods to enable and ensure dialogue and participation between designers and groups of the disadvan taged, should interest disciplines within the visual design and service design fields. In the pilot project phase, we will conduct two workshops held as part of the curri - culum at design colleges in Bergen and Oslo. The project hopes to ex pand to other relevant educational institutions nationally, and as pictograms are a universal language, we will encourage international cooperation.

Working methods and tools

Pilot projects
In the pilot projects students will develop pictograms and word pictures based on their meetings with the "Disadvantaged". This will give the student unique training in the facilitation of work shops and outreaching research methods. By carrying out two pictogram courses with workshops as pilot projects, we will systematize our exper ience with data collection and pictogram visualization, we will evaluate the pilot projects for improvement possibilities for further courses. As the project moves forward, we will organize several work shops (5-6), an academic seminar and publish actively.

We will work with various types of disadvantaged groups. Based upon the methods of social design. The groups that are hardest to organize meeting points with and those with the most anti-social challenges may be particularly relevant, as these will put our methodologies to the most rigorous test. For the development of pictograms it may be the most stig matized groups that are most relevant, for example, because these we believe to provide the greatest challen ges when it comes to creating empathy. As for reaching out to interest the widest possible audience, it may those groups that have social challenges in the near future that could be most appropriate to focus upon. We will include all these three types of "Disadvan taged" in the project.

The starting point for getting in touch with the "Disadvantaged" and their stories is the method that is refered to as participatory action research (O'Brien, 1998). The project will also be inspired by Human-Based Design (IDEO). Through this project we will use and develop visually-based methods for user involvement. The goal is to identify and develop methods that can help open up dialogue with vulnerable groups the "Disadvantaged", with an emphasis on making the threshold for participation as low as possible. Our references for methodology will start with IDEO's Human Centered Design Toolkit3 and Outreach Action Research4. A central question in our research should be, who is looking at who, are we just looking at the "Disadvantaged" or are they looking at 'us'? We will seek to establish good cooperation with the organizations that represent the "Disadvantaged". The "Disadvantaged" may be vulnerable, and in accordance with ethical standards for research, we will ensure that the participants have understood the information we provide about the project and that they participate voluntarily. Participants may maintain their anonymity in the presentation of the project.

Pictogram development
On the basis of the students' visual ideas a collection of pictograms and word pictures will be established as a visual toolbox. The pictogram development group will coordinate and/or further develop the pictograms and word pictures to ensure consistency. As the visual toolbox is developed, and it's integrity ensured, it will open for further experi mentation into the cultivation of humour and irony, nuance in definition and subtle distinctions.

In the pilot projects we will develop proposals for publishing surfaces to exemplify and inspire local authorities, businesses and/or organ izations for participation and funding of publication in the public domain.Through interactive tools, and publishing on everyday but unexpected media surfaces, we want to reach out to as greater public as possible and create an arena for reflection. Which surfaces we use will depend on which group of "Disadvantaged" we will represent, where opportunities lie for publication funding and where we can interact with our audience.

Publication, presentation and documentation
As the project's intention is to encourage greater awareness the project is dependent upon the publication of the work in public spaces to achieve our goals. Publication of the project need not be in traditional form. We envisage that the use of unexpec ted media or surfaces, such as on public transport signs (discussed later in the text). The choice of media and surfaces is an important part of the investigation, where various forums and media must be based on what is appropriate for messages that have ambitions to change - or at least question - values and beliefs. The choice will also depend on which group of "Disadvantaged" is focused upon and in which context. However, we hope to choose media and surfaces that benefit the "Disadvantaged" themselves, possibly commercial products such as T-shirts or buttons. We will publish in the public sphere which 'public areas' will depend on local availability and potential financing. In this context, we are inspired by the Migrantas Project, where their goal was to make their pictograms visible in public spaces: "They appear as posters where there is normally advertising, as projected digital animations on public screens, as flyers or postcards or shopping bags. Migrant womens' perspectives and lived realities are taken out of the individual private space and made visible in the public space, thus creating an encounter which triggers reactions and self-reflection in the passerby". ( 06.04.11)

In the dissemination of the project we will also create a new experimental arena for "Pictogram-me's" ideological messages. Here we will examine how interaction can invite more questions on the topic and hopefully greater involvement in the issues raised. By facilitating a tool that can generate a constructed or random juxtaposition of icons and text, the user can initiate their own visual com binations, where new and unexpected messages can be revealed. By varying compositions unexpected views and unique experiences can be created. In this part of the project, when working with texts and word pictures and how they work together, we will work with a language expert. Documentation of the project will take place continuously, and reflections on the project's challenges and development will be presented in the participating school's academic environ ment. The results will be communicated to other designers during the project for example through the creation of a project blog, a seminar in 2013/14, presentations at conferences such as Visuelt (an annual conference in Norway, organized by Grafill, the Norwegian Organisation for Visual Communication) and a final report.

Project organisation
Professional competence and resources
Pictogram-me is an important project within the Department of Design's research focus in social design. It will also realize a common desire for cooperation in research and development between the National Academies of the Arts in both Bergen and Oslo. The Bergen National Academy of the Art's (KHiB) financial contributions to the project "Pictogram-me" are significant, substantially supporting a significant amount of the R&D and teaching time of Professor Ashley Jane Booth and Associate professor Linda Lien and support from Associate professor Charles Michalsen, in addition to direct financial contributions. The National Academy of Arts in Oslo's (KHiO) supports the project through the participation of Professor Reidar Holtskog in project planning and pictogram development.

Ashley Jane Booth
Project leader, pictogram development and interactive development Ashley Jane Booth is an English citizen, but has a long experience as a graphic designer in Norway. Booth has been employed as a graphic designer in a design studio, as Art director in A-magasinet (Aftenpostens weekly magazine), and Department manager of graphic design at the Lillehammer Olympic Organ ising Committee (LOOC) where she was responsible for the development and implemen tation of the visual profile of the Lillehammer '94 Olympic games. For many years she has also run her own business, Ashley Booth Design AS (ABD). Booth specializes in the development of identity and communication and has been responsible for the development of several pictogram programs. In her earlier research projects at KHiB Booth has had the pleasure of the guidance of Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen in her ongoing project "Rubbish reflections" (see /index.php/khib/KU-FoU/FoU-prosjekter/Ashley- Booth/Ashley Booth Rubbish-reflections). Booth teaches, among other things, identity design and pictogram design at KHiB.

Linda Lien
Workshop manager/design methods of participatory action research
Linda Lien has recently been a research fellow in the National Scholarship Program for the Arts, where she has been working with identity design for geographically defined areas. The emphasis of her research include the testing and development of inclusive design methods and "Design-your-own" concepts. The project "Pictogram-me" allows for further exploration of the themes she has already gained knowledge of and interest in and relevant to the field og methodology both nationally and internationally. Lien teaches, among other things, identity design, facilitation and methodology at KHiB.

Cooperating groups
There will be established several working groups for the project, where the project will also involve other disciplines, including a social anthropologist, language expert, in addition to representatives from organizations for the "Disadvantaged". There will also be established a working group for the development of the interactive tool, and a planning and implementation cooperation with programmers.

Resource group
Anthropologist: Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen, University of Oslo
Language Expertise: Journalist Andreas Wiese, Dagbladet, Professor Reidar Holtskog,
KHiO, Associate Professor Mosse Sjaastad, Architecture and Design College in Oslo (AHO),
Associate Professor Linda Lien KHiB and Professor Ashley Jane Booth, KHiB (chair).

Pictogram development group
Designers: Professor Reidar Holtskog, KHiO and Ashley Jane Booth, KHiB

Workshop group
Associate Professor Linda Lien, KHiB and Associate Professor Charles Michalsen, KHiB

Interactive development group
Professor Ashley Jane Booth, KHiB
Associate Professor Mosse Sjaastad, Architecture and Design College in Oslo (AHO)

Published: 6/27/2013 by Linda Lien Updated: 8/17/2015 by Gard Andreas Frantzsen