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Icons Help Refugees door goodkinThe Communication Breakdowns for Refugees

Cities in Western Europe are seeing a drastic increase of displaced refugees coming from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Clear communication is the highest priority. Many people of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds are living in close quarters and are in need of medical attention.

Erwin Bauer, of the Austrian design studio Buero Bauer, applied the skills of his team to solve these communication breakdowns for refugees.

Bauer worked with the Red Cross on a refugee camp in Wien Mitte, Vienna. After receiving their first round of feedback from refugees and their translators, they titled their universal pictograph system, “First Aid Kits.” More NGOs like the Red Cross are encouraging more designers to do what they can to help refugees in their cities.

“More NGOs like the Red Cross are encouraging more designers to do what they can to help refugees in their cities”

They focused on the most common questions a refugee might ask themselves or a translator:

  • Am I safe?
  • Where do I receive medical treatment?
  • Where can I eat?
  • Where can I sleep?

Erwin Bauer Designed Icons help refugees communicate portrait goodkin

Bauer says, “Everywhere there were volumes of notes on the doors and walls, in many languages, with often contradictory statements: ‘Drink no tap water’ in Arabic. The opposite is the case, because the water in Vienna is very good drinking water.

The chaos of information leads to uncertainty, the insecurity to even more confusion. And the helpers are concerned with informing and translating, instead of providing the real help.”

Adaptable Design Solutions

Buero Bauer’s contribution can show us the significant impact they can have. “What can designers actually contribute to improve the situation of the fugitives? A language-independent, icon-based system for first-time accommodation clearly shows the most important information and subtly but efficiently addresses ethnic features. Part of this project is to show designers themselves that they can do something.”

“What can designers actually contribute to improve the situation of the fugitives?”

Checkin counter icons help refugees directionThe First Aid Kit can be downloaded from buerobauer.com . It is open source and responsive to constructive criticism. Bauer wants to promote adaptable design solutions and recognizes that systems may work better in certain refugee camps than others. That is why his team opted for an open source platform. They have a number of professionals assist them in refining their icon library. This includes a typographer from Berlin who digitized the system. Soon after their program was implemented in Wien Mitte, the Red Cross began to use it in every location in Vienna.

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