A few months ago we saw a fascinating image of Noun symbols etched on wooden tiles. Our interest was piqued even further when we found out Noel Wilson, an Industrial Engineer at Catapult Design, was using these symbols to communicate about water in rural Indian villages.
Catapult Design is a non-profit design firm providing engineering and implementation support to the thousands of organizations in need of technologies or products capable of igniting social change. Their mission is to develop and implement human-centered products to help the world’s population that lacks access to life’s basic needs.
We reached out to Noel to find out more about how Catapult is using the symbols from the collection.
by Noel Wilson
Catapult Design first tapped The Noun Project resources when making a research tool for a project investigating water access and use in rural India. I needed to get an understanding of symbolic literacy in Rajasthan villages. I etched a series of icons onto interlocking wooden tiles (some of them gleaned from The Noun Project) and intentionally left a lot of tiles blank. In each village we visited in Rajasthan, I asked people to experiment with the tiles in 3 ways: first, I asked people to identify what the icons referred to; then I asked people to explain a story using the tiles; finally, I asked them to draw some tiles of their own. The intention was to experiment with ways of discovering symbolic literacy, as well as use those findings to inform any instructions or guides we would have to make relevant to our water project.
The next time around was much more topical. Literacy Bridge, an organization empowering children and adults with tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning, contacted us to help them solve an issue with their Talking Book interface. The Talking Book is an audio computer that shares locally-relevant knowledge and improves literacy in areas with limited access to literature. Literacy Bridge interacts with communities in Northern Ghana where there is no word for ‘arrow’ in their lexicon. They needed to be able to instruct the user to press a button relative to a spoken instruction. We experimented with a bunch of different icons and shapes, some of them from The Noun Project site, some of them created by us, and a few lifted from other sources. Thanks to the timezone difference between California and Ghana, the feedback loop was quick. While we slept Literacy Bridge would report back the responses they got from the field, we would adapt the icons according to their suggestions, and the next day they would be tested again. We worked our way through icons that had issues working with the spoken instructions of the device, icons that implied too much of a specific task (‘fish’ = food), that had too much potential religious connotation (‘plus’ = cross), or that even had too much local political association (‘umbrella’ & ‘rooster’ are local Ghanaian political party symbols). We are continuing to help Literacy Bridge achieve an appropriate interface through their piloting stage (they are testing Talking Books in the thousands!).
Thanks Noun Project! Keep up the good work! We will see you at the next Iconathon!
And here is thanks and attribution to all of The Noun Project icon creators that unknowingly helped us out!
Pavel Pavlov: Thumbs Up/Approve
Stephen James Kennedy: Auto Rickshaw
Roger Cook & Don Shanosky: Baby, Train, Person , Ground Transport
Nick Levesque: Cooking Pan
Connor Cesa: Water Drop
Mike Endale: Hut, Community
Udaya Kumar: Rupee
Adrijan Karavdic: Elephant
Gibran Bisio: Paint Can
Edward Boatman, Saul Tannenbaum, Stephen Kennedy, Nikki Snow & Brooke Hamilton: Childrens Library
Valentina Piccione: Tree
Tak Imoto: Leaves
Michal Stassel: Axe
Jeremy Linden: Knifes
Kyle Scott, Roman J. Sokolov: Glasses