When I was at CommunicateHealth, I had the pleasure of working with a really great team of usability experts on Show Me, a project for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Emergency Preparedness Bureau. DPH contracted us to create a communication tool for use during emergencies, focused on assisting individuals requiring additional assistance (IRAA). Along with my team, I spent six months sketching, designing, and iterating on the tool.
Prior to joining the team as a designer, our usability experts had conducted focus groups to help determine our audience. They narrowed down our IRAA as people with cognitive disabilities, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with limited English proficiency. This formed the basis for our future usability work, including interviews and user testing.
Once we had an audience to target, we sat down with DPH and brainstormed what specific emergencies and scenarios could we best cover with a communication tool. After some intense back and forth, we narrowed down our scope just to emergency shelters. Shelters had become particularly relevant after the previous summer’s devastating and unexpected tornado.
Knowing our scope, our team got together and hammered out some more details about the tool. What form should it take? How should it be constructed? While our team leader spearheaded the physical construction of the tool, I started working on a series of icons representing key needs our IRAA may have within emergency shelter situations. I drew upon existing public domain iconography, revising and designing from scratch as necessary.
I refined both the design and concepts behind our icons after watching our team speak with and test initial icon designs with public health professionals, shelter staff, caretakers, and IRAA themselves.
Once we had a working prototype, I sat in on testing with IRAA, including one of several sessions in which we watched an IRAA and public health professional communicate a series of needs through the tool. I helped interpret our research findings and translate them into design revisions.
There were several instances where we faced difficult design decisions. How should we represent food allergies? Should we use colors, or keep the tool monochromatic? I ended up adding in color where it could help reinforce icon meaning, such as adding red to medical icons. All icons depicting shelter staff included orange vests, which mirrored the vests public health professionals and volunteers were likely to wear at shelters.
On our allergies pages, in addition to wrapping the icons in a prohibition symbol (which is not universal), we added in an image of a person rejecting food being offered to help get across that these icons were food you could not eat.
Our final product was a small, dry erase compatible booklet that could easily fit in shelter workers’ smocks or back pockets. With each booklet, we would include a dry erase marker.