Healthcare Graphics Need Help – from Barbershops

Here’s a real simple problem:  How do you make something important very easy for people to find?  There are many ways of doing it, for example you could just put up a big sign.  What about if it both has to be accessible by a majority of the general public (who may or may not be literate or speak your language) and is necessary for community health so miscommunication is best avoided?

These guys came up with a solution back in the middle ages:

Photo by Tagg Design

Photo by Tagg Design

You know what this means: it’s a barbershop!

Nowadays, this means a place to get your hair cut, to look nice.  Back then, you would go there to get a shave or maintain your haircut, but you’d also go there for medical treatment.  Sure, treatment often meant getting bled by leeches or receiving a questionable enema, but it could also mean getting rotten teeth pulled or having wounds stitched.

In general, people in the Middle Ages were illiterate (if they weren’t clergy, that is).  A big sign saying ‘BARBER’ would surely be visible, but not mean very much to your typical townsfolk as they walked by the building.  However, they would look for the symbol of a barber: it resembled bloody rags wrapped around a pole.  Simplified to the spiraling colour-wrapped pole we know today, it becomes the recognizable symbol of barber shops the world over and has the added benefit of being clearly recognizable from a great distance.

Sure, the townsfolk could talk to each other or poke their head in the door to find out what the shop was for, but because they were clearly marked with the poles, they knew what the building was for from the very moment they saw it.  The next time they needed a wound stitched or a limb amputated, they knew exactly where to go.

So what about healthcare?  It’s simple:  if the (may as well be illiterate) general public can see and understand where a facility’s hand hygiene stations are, they will be more inclined to use them.  If the general public is doing so regularly, facility staff will follow.  Then we all win!

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  1. […] symbols are universally accessible – literacy and language spoken are no longer barriers when communicating.  This means that they are effective in improving the […]

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