‘Public Health Iconathon’ at Insight2



If you look through my most recent posts on this blog, you’ll notice a recent explosion of public health related icons I created back in October during my self-hosted Iconathon.

A summary piece of the Iconathon (above) will be featured at Insight 2: Engaging the Health Humanities at the University of Alberta in May. I mention this because not only am I delighted to take part, Insight 2 is one of the few exhibits that I know of that is exploring the intersections of design, art and health promotion. Moreover, Insight 2 is based in Alberta and, generally, I find that the conversation around design+art+health is limited here in Canada. Here is a quick blurb from their website about the aims of this project:

InSight 2 explores how we can engage the health humanities to help us work collaboratively across disciplines 
and communities, to imagine and design innovative and transformative processes, communications, products, environments, services and experiences that can help to promote our health and well-being.

Based on this description and my goals with the Iconathon, I thought it would be an appropriate addition to the exhibit. Here’s my explanation of how it aligns with this greater mandate:

“Public Health Iconathon” is a visual summary of an ‘icon marathon’ completed in October 2012 in response to the lack of recognizable, universal and usable imagery conveying complex public health concepts. Over a one-month period, twenty-five public health concepts were iconized, with personal Twitter followers and peers of the illustrator involved in helping brainstorm terms to visualize. Icons were created in less than one hour in order to encourage rapid ideation, iteration and prototyping.

The iconathon represents a type of visual design ‘jam’ or ‘charrette’ that I believe is important to incorporate into public health practice. Through ongoing and creative collaboration and a participatory co-design process, we can create new visual imagery in order to expand the public’s understanding of health and wellbeing, and improve health literacy, signage, and wayfinding. The ultimate goal is to create a more robust visual vocabulary for health.

Anyhow, if you’re in Edmonton AB in May, I think this showcase will be a great opportunity to see how practitioners, healthcare users, artists and designers are promoting health through creative and less conventional means. I look forward to seeing the other submissions!

The Final 3: EMR, Ageing & Community Building

Electronic medical records:

Ageing/Chronic condition:

Community Building:


So I’ve learned that I can get the icons done, but the posting has been slightly delayed. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the final 3 icons. Feedback and thoughts always welcome. This has been a fun exercise and I hope to do it again in the near future 🙂 Just need to be a bit better about my posting schedule!

Icon #20: Empowerment



Empowerment is a tricky word. During my graduate studies, we joked about how empowerment (while it can be quite powerful and important as a concept) gets overused and abused across various contexts, particularly in health promotion and talk around the health system. We often hear about the need to “empower people” to become healthier and happier, for instance. I recall my first year class talking about the need to design an “empowerment bullsh*t scale” to assess how meaningfully this word gets used…Sadly, I think we could agree that more often than not, the scale would probably lean toward the “bullsh*t” end.

In itself, empowerment is a complex concept…and something I had a difficult time iconizing. What I’ve created above could either be a clever play on the “power/on” symbol (with a person in the middle) or just plain confusing. You tell me!

Icons #14-19: Backlog!

My iconathon came to a brief pause last week here on the blog…at least posting-wise. The icon making didn’t stop.

Here is a collection of icons related to the social determinants of health and the conditions needed for health to flourish. These account for the missing days of this iconathon. Enjoy!

#14: Fresh, Healthy Food


#15: Justice


#16: Peace

#17: Income

#18: Housing


#19: Resistance/Unity


Bonus: Education


Icon #10: “Male + Female Condom”



When I was originally trying to create an icon to represent birth control / contraception, I came up with some ideas…none of which I thought really conveyed the concept well: A barrier between egg and sperm, a crossed out fetus (which I quickly realized might be interpreted as referring to an abortion), and then the specific methods themselves (e.g., condoms, Depo, patch, ring, IUD, etc.).

I ended up creating the above icon of a male condom. Condoms are commonly used to represent birth control, barrier methods and contraception. I find that most people will tend to automatically associate the male condom with pregnancy prevention or better yet, safer sex. I decided not to create a female condom icon because it is less well known and in many cases, people just don’t know what the female condom looks like. And then…I started thinking that this is a great reason to create an icon and some visibility for it! So, Voila:



Female condoms can be a very powerful tool for safer sex and best of all, insertion and use is female led. They are a bit unusual looking (people joke that it’s like a large, noisy plastic bag) but in the end, they are protective and a great option for many women. I don’t think I did it much justice as an icon, but I’m not sure how best to visualize it. I placed the inner ring at a tilt to show that it’s moveable and versatile compared to the outer ring. Would love your thoughts on any improvements I can make.

Icon #9: “Social Determinants”



How does one iconize the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)?

Good question. SDOH is such a massive and complex concept, I’m honestly at a loss here! Let’s start with a definition of SDOH:

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. – WHO

As you can see, there are a lot of upstream factors that SDOH refers to, but illustrating this is no easy task. I thought of the word “upstream” or “pump handle” as potential concepts to play off of, but as a stand alone visual I struggled to find something that clearly conveyed SDOH in a single icon. So, I figure the letters “S-D-O-H” are a starting point. To the average person this may not make too much sense, but the concept in general is not that commonly understood to begin with. What do you think?

Icon #8: “Nausea”



It is never fun to get food poisoning. Nausea, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea and cramping — it can be quite debilitating.

As you may have heard, there was a recent outbreak in Germany among 8,400 children in schools and daycare centers. That’s an incredible number of affected individuals, and even more mind boggling to think that the root cause of the virus was likely a single food source. Cases like this really make you reconsider how our food systems function and how wide scale food problems can be as a result of how and where we source our food.

I wanted to create an icon to represent “sickness” of the gastrointestinal nature. When I came across the Barf Blog’s piece on the German outbreak, I saw a little visual which you can see in the post itself. Rather explicit, no? I created a variation above that includes a toilet (which may or may not work well in certain situations or cultural contexts). As I look at it, it also doubles well as a “hangover” icon.