United Nations uses Icons to Coordinate Humanitarian Action
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) leads the charge toward a cohesive and coherent response to natural disasters and other emergencies globally. By coordinating humanitarian action, it is OCHA’s goal that all crisis-affected individuals receive the support and protection that they require.
An essential component of working to overcome obstacles that impede humanitarian assistance in a time of need is communication — how can we collaborate with humanitarian actors to ensure our communication to crisis-affected individuals is understood? How can we communicate complex problems simpler, to individuals who have experienced a severely traumatic experience?
In 2012, OCHA developed 250 icons representing subjects of interest to the humanitarian community. Why? “These icons were developed because at OCHA we understand that during the response to an emergency it is critical to share and understand complex information in a timely, visual, compelling fashion.” Since the initial release in 2012, the public domain of icons has been downloaded over 300 times per day.
In December 2018, OCHA released an updated set of almost 300 icons. What has changed? Let’s break it down:
#1 User Experience Research
- The second generation of icons includes a larger breadth of humanitarian categories based on feedback received from the humanitarian community, including those working in the field, and other UN agencies
- Icons were then categorized based on themes of interest
- Research showed that themes of interests were quite broad, so OCHA designed icons that touched on a wide range of humanitarian issues, including shelter kits, refugees, and mobile health care facilities
#2 Establishing Design Standards
- This revamp was developed alongside a standardized set of design standards. A visually consistent and balanced set of icons with similar visual complexity strengthens user experience.
- The guidelines are not intended to be creatively restrictive; they are meant to establish consistency across the icon family
- Some best practices within the UCHO icon design standards include using solid-filled shapes or strokes that are at least 3px. See the full guidelines here.
The OCHO icons are meant to be utilized throughout information products, such as infographics and maps, developed by the humanitarian community for the greater public. It is their hope that a more clear and consistent flow of information to the public will mean more efficient and educated decision making in the event of a humanitarian crisis.