as part of the CARBFUNC study, 
University of Bergen / Haukeland University Hospital
Bergen, 2018


Pictogram-me was invited to contribute in the University of Bergen and Haukeland University Hospital´s research project CARBFUNC (aiming to reduse obesity by long lasting lifestyle change). Participants in the CARBFUNC project were invited to a workhsop to reflect on and visualize their own goals, resources, barriers and successes related to dietary change. The goal was to contribute to make it easier to complete the initiated lifestyle change. The workshop took place in Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Designs building in Møllendaldsveien 61, Bergen.

The Christie Conference,
Bergen, 2017

Pictogram-me toolbox - PictoTheatre

PictoTheatre is a mobile theatre that can be used to illustrate an on-going conversation. The toolbox consists of a scene (the cover) and a set of pictograms. The user slides the iPad into the cover of the box, and can immediately start visualizing stories and scenes. By using the already installed software iPhoto the user can choose photos or videos as backgrounds. By using a mobile camera you can document the scenes, and create a storyboard. The stories told and the person who tells the stories owns the visualisation. Recording the scenes can be helpful for drug addicts and others that tell their life story over and over again to different social workers. As the toolbox is part do-it-yourself-product, it is also very flexible. The users are co-creators, which can lead to empowering. The stories visualised also have the potential to be presented in exhibitions or books. The toolbox is realised as a prototype. 

Test tools at pictogram-me.com

Unity through pictograms

Resilience and the city: Art, education, urbanism,

Selected Presentations from the Thematic Mobile Sessions,

15th ELIA Biennial Conference (2019, p. 39-44)


Empthy and Creativity

Paper presented at Cumulus Johannesburg Conference, 
South-Africa, 2014 (Booth, Ashley and Linda Lien, 2014).




Short paper presented at International Conference on Artistic Researh, Society of Artistic Research, Helsinki, Finland, (Lien, Linda and Ashley Booth, 2017).


Unity through pictograms

Pecha Kucha, 15th ELIA Biennial Conference,

Rotterdam, November 21-24, 2018


Pictogram-me app
Developed by students at Western Noorway University of Applied Science, in cooperation with the Street Church Mission in Bergen, Ashley Booth and Linda Lien. Presented for the public at at feast arranged by the Street Church Mission in Bergen, June 2017. 

Klich here to download for free at Google Play (beta version)

Life as a pictogram
The Pavilion at Møllendal Almenning
14th – 17th June 2018

How can pictograms contribute to increased awareness of the complexity of life? The exhibition showed glimpses from the Pictogram-me process 2012-2018, and presented planned and not planned outcome. 

An additional voice

The project has led to several digital and physical tools for visual dialogue; the PictoTheatre, a PictoFont, a PictoBooth and a website, and in addition a written reflection. The writing and the reflection in the Research Catalogue will continue as the project is to be presented at different conferences and receives feedback from a broader audience.


A paper was accepted and presented at the international Cumulus-conference in South-Africa.


Pictogram-me font - PictoFont

PictoFont is a symbol font expressing challenging life situations and feelings. The font is made of pictograms developed by bachelor students at Bergen Academy of Art and Design in the period 2010-2015. These pictograms are further developed and simplified, and we have added some pictograms that were missing. The missing pictograms were identified after dialogue and testing with for example drug-users. The Pictogram-me font can be used in different situations, for example for printouts used in conversations. The printouts can easily be personalized by choosing different combinations of pictograms. Since pictograms are neutral, everybody can read their own stories into the pictograms. The font is also used to make physical accessories for the small mobile theatre, developed to create visual dialogue or illustrate on-going conversations. Like the Pussy Galore font (Women’s Design and Research Unit by Teal Triggs, Liz McQuiston and Sian Cook) and the Olympukes font (Jonathan Barnbrook and Marcus McCallion) the Pictogram-me font has the opportunity to pay attention to a specific subject, this time people with challenges and their everyday life.19 One difficulty has been to find logical categories to group the pictograms to avoid stigmatization, oppsite the reference projects who seeks to provoke and exagerate. 



The PictoBooth is a digital tool where you instead of a photo, get a pictogram of your self. You can add symbols for emotions and accessories. The PictoBooth is entertaining but has yet to by thoroughly tested in its ability to tell complex stories. But, we believe that the PictoBooth could also be developed as a therapeutic tool, creating series of pictogram representing future choices and encouraging the participants to choose between their own future scenarios, or as a non-verbal communication tool for people with language challenges. The design is completed, but we are still waiting for the programmers to finalize their job.


Pictogram website

We are experimenting with designing a website that is based on the symbolic communication and where the use of text is limited. Dissemination is our main priority, how to make the pictogram stories and tools accessible for all. The website will also be linked to activity from the PictoTheatre and the PictoBooth, and the PictoFont will be available for downloading. The possibility for uploading your own pictograms or visual stories independently of using our available tools is being investigated. Our challenge is how to present the material without stigmatising and categorizing the content.




Pictogram-me was presented at the conference RØST in Bergen in May 2016, arranged by the Bergen clinics, focusing on innovation in user involvement. This was an opportunity to get feedback from a broader audience, and to discuss how to develop some of the results further on. In October 2016 Pictogram-me will be presented at Norwegian Artistic Research Autumn Seminar in Stavanger, and in November 2016 at an international illustration venue, Visibility, arranged by Bergen Academy of Art and Design. 


In general

It seems clear that we already from the start should have focused on fewer or smaller groups, even if we wanted to increase reflection on life’s challenges in general. This would have helped us to progress faster. During the process it was a massive change of focus: From producing the pictograms ourselves and exhibiting them to create attention, to developing tools for dialogue where the participants create their own pictogram stories. The last PictoTheatre solution opens up for empowerment in a larger degree. 


There is a greater need for visual tools to create and enhance dialogue with people who are challenged in society; this encouraged the development of the PictoBooth and the PictoTheatre. For example the Street city church in Bergen faces challenges when it coms to communicating with visiting African prostitutes, and have already started to use simple pictograms in an attempt to create a better dialogue. A tool like the PictoTheatre could influence the communication with and about this challenged group. 


We realized through the process that dignity was important. Communication should not only be effective, but should seek to bring equality into the relationship. Like Otto Neurath, many of the involved had experienced that words divided. Some had a limited vocabulary because they seldom spoke to anyone. The PictoTheatre’s success is that it opens up for more complicated stories, not just single figures as in the PictoBooth. The Pictograms neutrality enables anonymous stories, it´s easier to tell, and easier to share. People can identity with the pictograms, and feel empathy. Pictogram allows participants to ’fill in’ their own stories, and they get power and ownership over the stories. Feedback from social workers is that the tool could be useful when it comes to finding former drug-users resources and focusing on their qualities, instead of shortcomings and failures. Our focus has been to create tools for better dialogue, and potential professional use should be discussed more carefully and tested further. 


The physical tools have other qualities than verbal and digital tools. The conversations turn into small workshops, where the focus is on the action on the scene, the story being told, instead of only the person.


Co-operation with other institutions

The project has also been aided by reference groups one with whom we have had several meetings to discuss the project initiation, which theme groups we should involve, language use and presentation advice; this group includes former Professor in Graphic Design Reidar Holtskog and former Dean Stein Rokseth from Oslo National Academy of the Arts and Professor in Social Anthropology Thomas Hylland Eriksen University of Oslo In addition we have spoken with Professor in Graphic Design Wanda Grimsgaard Buskerud and University College of Southeast Norway and journalist and culture critic Andreas Wiese from The House of Literature Oslo on ethics, the communication of the project and user participation. 


Ethical dilemmas

A challenge has been related to the language we used and the categorization: Part of the time we did provoke and receive critics, and at a point we just had to decide which term to use (people with challenges). We also experienced the need of giving something back to the participants, not just to collecting their stories and then disappearing. Research by design also raises the question about how we can be sure the participants know what they take part in, when we don´t know ourselves what the process will lead to. We also experienced that empathy could kill creativity. Another important question is in what cases the tools we developed should be used by professional social workers and psychologist. 


The next step is to do more testing of the tools. How will they work when we are not there, and for example if the users are not familiar at all with visualization?

Why are pictograms chosen as the main communication tool for this project? 
Spoken or written language is a powerful tool that might not be equally shared by all the participants, thus by using visual tools, pictograms; the aim is to give more power to the focus groups enabling them to express themselves more easily. We are inspired by Neurath’s ideology....“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 communication.” (Booth, Pictogram-me project description 2011).


In Art and Visual Perception - A Psychology of the Creative Eye, Rudolph Arnheim explains about the recognition of form “Simply put, “the physical shape of an object is determined by its boundaries, like the rectangular edge of a piece of paper.” (Arnheim, 1954). Scott McClould talks about Amplification through simplification (which could be a pictogram). He pertains that people respond to cartoons as much or more than a realistic image. “By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.” (Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, 1993.30). In his theory of Universal Identification Simplicity, he discusses mind-pictures which are not as vivid as reality but a simplification, this simplification is a non-visual awareness (Marshall McLuhan, 1964) that allows our identities and awareness also to be invested in many inanimate objects every day, clothes, cars etc. that gives us a bigger and more comprehensive picture of ourselves also in given situations – our extended visual identity. Our extended visual identity does not use the complicated data of realism, but simplified visual concepts. “The awareness of these extensions is greatly simplified.” “By de-emphasizing the appearance of the physical world in favour of the idea of form, the cartoon places itself in the world of concepts.” 


“In 1867 Ernst Mach in a popular lecture on ‘why has the man two eyes?’ observed the principle employed by the Egyptians might be described by saying that their figures are pressed in the plane of the drawing like plants in a herbarium. Only when similar methods were adopted by artists of our own century did theorists begin hesitantly to realize that deviations from correct projection are not due to such operations as twisting or squashing the faithfully perceived object, but are freely invented equivalents of the observed shape in a two dimensional form.” (Arnheim, 1954). Egyptians used orthogonal projection, because they preferred it, it was faster and easier for their minds to recognize, it is a form for Universal Identification Simplicity. Also Neurath was inspired by Hieroglyphics as they made language pictorial and his development of the pictogram standards in Isotype was influenced by their visual communicative clarity.

Therefor, we believe that pictograms, and their simple outlined forms can communicate as well as or better that reality-true illustrations. And, there are even more benefits of using pictograms – their anonymity. 


With drawing it is not uncommon for someone to put into pictures an experience or speechless terror that is difficult for him or her to put into words”. (Savneet Talwar, Accessing traumatic memory through art making: An art therapy trauma protocol (ATTP) s. 26)


Pictograms are neutral, and traditionally impersonal, which makes it easier for our theme representatives, to tell us stories whilst remaining anonymous. A pictogram is like a picture, it can tell stories, rather than negotiating narrative conflicts and personal traumas. When it is easier for the participants to tell their stories using visual tools, pictograms that are anonymous, it is also become easier for students and designers to collect and interpret these stories. Empowering the target group with tools also empowers the designers. We have argued that visual tools can enable the target group, and us the designers to tell stories more freely, stories that are very sensitive and personal can be more easily told with a degree of anonymity.


Our collection of data is subjected to statutory confidentiality as we observe and visualize stories of our informant’s personal circumstances. Our informants are informed about the project and the use of the information, that is their stories that they share with us. Our subjects remain anonymous and we do not store any sensitive data or process any personal data related to these stories. We are well within the law and research ethic guidelines, but we still meet ethical challenges, so our dialogues with our focus groups must be based on trust and empathy. We have been told stories that are shocking, but we have had no experience of unpleasant behaviour with our focus groups, quite the opposite we have received only positive responses, people that are so happy that someone cares for them and wants to hear and visualize their stories. When publishing the visualizations our subjects remain anonymous, that is why we chose pictograms as a tool, they are excellent for telling stories, whilst remaining unidentifiable.


Have we rekindled Neurath’s ideology – sharing the power of visual storytelling?









Pictograms are my friends

Essay by Ashley Booth

A big question for the future of pictograms is if their opportunity for self-expressiveness is their future strength or, are pictograms forgetting their roots and global responsibilities as in Neurath’s Isotype project (Isotype, the International System Of Typographic Picture Education) to develop an international picture language? 

I love pictograms they are my ubiquitous friends. I greet thousands of them every day - on my mobile phone, my MacBook, weather maps, web pages and street signs. They are our helpers and supervisors presenting information, directing or warning.

I drew my first pictogram at a very early age, as a stick figure with lines for a torso, legs and arms and with a head as a circle, sometimes embellished with details such as hair, eyes and smiles. To express emotion, simple and exciting additions could be added, such as facial expressions and activity hints like angry eyebrows and farting clouds.

As I grew up ‘No entry’ signs decorated my bedroom door and a pictographic cookbook taught me how to make very tasty scrambled eggs. At Art College my projects often had ‘simple’ graphic forms and were built from interesting geometric structures - here I was introduced to ‘pictograms’. I realized that I already knew them well. 

Neurath’s visual and text less Isotype pictograms were designed to democratize communication  “Words divide, pictures unite”. This was also the ideology of amongst others Charles K. Bliss’s International symbol language (Blissymbolics). Many pictogram programs, and others inspired by them, still surround us; DOT (U.S. Department of Transport), ERCO (Otl Aicher’s pictogram system) and ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) guide us daily in an international communication language – by informatively responsible icons and pictograms.

Pictograms are omnipresent and belong to all designers, we see them, collect them, use them on our blogs, make them for- or use them from Modley’s clipart or Noun’s pictogram archives, print them on our T-shirts or send them as emojis (from the Japanese for picture (e) and character (moji) or better known as smileys). 

And some of our friendly pictograms have become so iconic that they have become immortal, surviving generations of design directors identity redesigns. Among them are Microsoft’s floppy disc’s symbol for save, telephone icons and traffic signs. Some pictograms even survive the scrutiny of the credibility juries – I have approved an Olympic paradox (as Department Leader for Graphic Design at Lillehammer’94) that pictograms can be inspired by two thousand year old rock carvings and yet can carry 20th century rifles! 

The pictograms days of anonymity and slavery as pure bearers of information are over. Where as Neurath tried to remove individual style from his pictograms it now appears that one of the Pictogram’s aims in life is not only to give directions, orders, warnings, prohibitions or instructions but also to express themselves with personal style and emotion. 

The modern Olympic games has some wonderful examples of pictograms searching to say more about themselves; from the psychedelic pictograms of the Mexico games in 1968, Spanish expressiveness in the ’90s and to the kindred excellence of the sports pictograms of Athens and Beijing in 2004 and 2008, where they express their cultural heritage. Do their new personal identities outshine their informing-, warning- and directional identities?

I do not believe that the pictogram’s responsible roots have been weakened in their search for expressiveness. They are still active and responsible to the ideology of international language (beware slippery floors and Tidyman). They have just expanded their obligations into newer fields of cultural identity and local expressiveness. In my project Rubbish Reflections Tidyman became an opinionated figure encouraging us to challenge human values. 

Pictograms have also adjusted themselves to the technical world of screen-based communication, with pixel icons and stylish user interface graphics. And proving their engagement for our needs emojis have been developed not only enabling them to express themselves but also helping us to express ourselves more emotionally. Emojis are similar to, but more comprehensive than the more primitive emoticons (combining punctuation marks to create faces) and dingbat fonts. Emojis are being further and further developed from their Manga roots to fill our human need to convey emotion and personality, in an otherwise cold and technical screen-based interaction in our messaging and storytelling. I believe that pictograms are showing even more responsibility by letting us use them to express ourselves, and by so doing they not only continue to inform, warn and adorn for us, they also accommodate our expressive and emotional needs, they are really good friends. 





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1) Isotype, Available at www.designhistory.org/Symbols_pages/isotype.html (Retrieved 01 10 2013). See also Annink, E. & Bruinsma, M. Isotype. 2008. Lovely language. Words divide pictures unite. Rotterdam: Veenman.

2) www.graphicbirdwatching.com/featuredbird/womens-design-research-unit/ (Retrieved 01 10 2013). Pussy Galore. Available at www.graphicbirdwatching.com/featuredbird/womens-design-research-unit/ (Retrieved 01 10 2013). Other references: True Art. Available at: www.truearts.biz/cityart/life. constructions.html (Retrieved 03 02 2012).

3) Olympukes. Available at www.virusfonts.com/fonts/olympukes (Retrieved 01 10 2013)

4) www.r-bup.no/CMS/cmspublish.nsf/($all)/C40D2FD08B2EE453C1257E110030926F?open&qm=hovedmeny,1,5,0,0,0 / 02/22/2016

5) www.spesped.no/spesped/index.php?innhold=kurs / 02/22/2016

6) www.helse-bergen.no/no/OmOss/Avdelinger/pbu/Spesialpoliklinikken/ Sider/KAT_kassen.aspx / 02/22/2016

7 )http://carolgraysocialstories.com / 02/22/2016

8) www.cat-kit.com/?lan=no&area=catbox&page=catbox / 02/22/2016

9) www.cat-kit.com/?lan=no&area=catbox&page=day) / 02/22/2016

10) www.isaac.no/hva-er-isaac/ 02/22/2016

11) www.pictogram.se / 02/22/2016

12) Download at www.dubbeltutsatt.se / 02/22/2016

13) http://linguadigitalis.com / 02/22/2016

14) Kinect is a motion sensing input device developed by Microsoft for gaming.

15) Migrantas. Available at www.migrantas.org (Retrieved 01 10 2013). www.migrantas.org/web_migrantas_english.html 02.11.2011)

16) Meeting at Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Kong Oscarsgate 62, 28.09.15. Ruth Marie Donovan is responsoble for part of a conference arranged by Bergensclinics spring 2016. RØST will focus on innovation in user involvment. Meeting at Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Kong Oscarsgate 62, 09.12.15.

17) Arna Active is a public rehabilitation and aftercare service for people with drugrelated challenges, both in and outside of LAR-treatment. Owned by Bergen municipality.

18) LAR-treatmeng means physician assisted drug treatment.

19) Pussy Galore and Olympukes: www.graphicbirdwatching.com/featuredbird/womens-design-research-unit/ (Retrieved 01 10 2013). www.virusfonts.com/fonts/olympukes (Retrieved 01 10 2013)