The Guemil project aims to develop a set of emergency icons that can be easily understood by people all over the world. And as part of their testing process, they need you to tell them how well they're doing.
Based in Santiago de Chile, the capital of one of the most earthquake-prone nations in the world, the Guemil project is part of the Design Network for Emergency Management, an international think tank that employs the potential of design thinking to minimise the negative impacts of emergency events.
The word Guemil comes from the Mapuche language - one of Chile's indigenous groups - and symbolises writing systems and knowledge itself. It's an apt name for a project that aims to find the best possible way of visualising and communicating information in potentially life-threatening scenarios.
What they have come up with is basically a language of icons that symbolise different actions and pieces of information. They want to develop a system that is precise and quickly comprehensible, wherever you are in the world - as unambiguous as possible and easily understandable regardless of language or different cultural contexts. The symbols are primarily designed to be used to mitigate the negative impacts of emergency situations and allow people to best protect and look after themselves before, during and afterwards. The whole project is open source, meaning that feedback and contributions are more than welcome, in fact, they're intrinsic to its success.
Testing the Icons
In order to work out just how universal they are - and how they can be made even better - the icons have to be tested. Anyone who has access to the internet and a programme that lets them enter information into PDFs can take part. For an icon to be accepted, it must have a recognition rate of at least 83%. And if 5% of the participants understand a symbol to mean something completely different, then it's back to the drawing board. You can check out the current test results online here.
It's certainly an interesting approach, and it will be interesting to see how this "language" of symbols develops further. It will only work if enough people participate - from a wide range of countries, cultures and from different backgrounds. The fact that the test is only available in English and Spanish currently might be a pretty big hurdle to achieving that.
An open source project like this - where everyone is free to contribute - seems to be the ideal approach when it comes to mitigating the effects of emergency events. They can happen anywhere in the world, after all, and pooling knowledge and resources can often get the best results. The same is true for Facebook's new Community Help feature - that hooks up people offering help with those in need of it, after emergency events have happened - and the team from MapAction, who gather data from a variety of sources and collate it in a map, to help set out plans of action in the early stage of a humanitarian reponse to a disaster.
For more about the Guemil project, check out the video below.