Social Change Via Graphic Design
Combating social stereotypes with small changes to a familiar icon
Posted May 29, 2013
Little changes can make a big difference.
This is the principle underlying many a tweak to public policy or organizational procedure designed to nudge people to alter behavior. So for example, many of us have stayed in hotel rooms with signage asking us to think of the environment by hanging up and reusing towels. These signs can be effective, but especially so with a tiny tweak: learning that a high percentage of previous inhabitants of your very same room have reused their towels leads to significantly higher rates of compliance.
As outlined here, the guiding principle of the changes to the symbol is to portray the iconic individual in an active, forward-moving manner, as opposed to the more passive, stationary old image. In the new icon the head tilts forward, the arm angle implies a wheel about to be (or having just been) spun, and the wheel itself appears in motion.
So it’s an interesting question whether this update to the familiar handicapped logo will have any effect, even small, on perceptions of individuals with disability. I’m tempted to ask, non-rhetorically, what you think: do you think it’ll shift, even slightly, people’s expectations about disability?
But my guess is most of us would quickly say no, it’ll have no effect. And my guess is also that this knee-jerk response is likely wrong. After all, how many of us would’ve thought that learning about the previous guests in Room 211 would dramatically change our own towel use when we stay in that room?
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