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.
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.
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.
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?