Study on public information symbols

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Development and application of a set of standardized pictograms for public facilities which respect the universal design principles and enable international travellers, including persons with disabilities, to recognize them at a glance.

Graphic symbols used at high-traffic public facilities such as public transportation, tourist attractions, sports venues and commercial facilities can be effective means of providing important information. In Japan, these symbols were used inconsistently, not being standardized by the Japanese Industrial Standards association (JIS).

In 1999, the Eco-Mo Foundation, a public service organization affiliated with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, established the Study Committee of Public Information Symbols. Its task was to standardize and improve the public information symbols, with growing attention to the perspective of normalization and the idea of establishing a barrier-free society.

Objectives :
- to enable international travellers, including persons with disabilities, to recognize the graphic symbols at a glance at public facilities;
- to standardize pictograms that can be easily understood by international tourists who might not understand the language;
- to apply universal design principles.

Description :
The study committee spent the first year collecting existing public information symbols internationally, classifying categories, selecting referents variants and studying descriptions. During the second year, the designed symbols were tested for visual recognition and understanding, which were followed by further study and modifications. The committee included graphic designers as well as groups for persons with disabilities, who all took part in the tests. The symbols were also posted on the Internet, and opinions from the general public were collected.

- a substantial inventory of approximately 1,200 pictograms was collected from 63 institutions, from which candidates for standardization were selected. The symbols of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the pictograms developed by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) were also examined;
- the Japan Sign Design Association and Kenzo Nakagawa of NDC Graphics designed the first symbols, using the graphic elements by a study committee and under its editorship;
- the graphic symbols were evaluated for their appropriateness by means of comprehension and visibility tests specified by the ISO and Japan Industrial Standards Association (JIS).

The resulting pictograms are action-oriented images featuring designs of simple forms that attract attention and ensure easy interpretation. Based on principles of universal design, the pictograms are easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

Results :
- the Study Committee settled on a total of 125 public information symbols;
- in 2002, the Japanese Standards Association adopted 104 of the symbols as the Japanese Industrial Standards;
- pilot projects were initiated in Tokyo, Shinjuku, and other large train terminals have already started to employ some of the new pictograms;
- the symbols have been used throughout the new World Cup stadium and at the East Asian Games held in Osaka.

Resources needed :
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Nippon Foundation co-sponsored the project.

Partner :
The project was made possible with supports and cooperations, including from
- government organizations such as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the National Police Agency and the Fire and Disaster Management Agency;
- travel and distribution associations;
- consumer groups;
- groups for persons with restricted physical ability;
- welfare groups;
- academic experts;
- designers.
Key element :
Commitment of public-private partnership to work together to develop standardized pictograms as public signage.

The pictograms are available on the Eco-Mo Foundation Website (http// together with usage guidelines. The standardized pictograms, though copyrighted, that can be freely used by anyone.

Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation (Eco-Mo Foundation)
Syuwa Kioi-cho, TBR Building, Suite 808 5- 7, Kojimachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 102-0083 Japan
Phone : +81-3-3221-6673
Fax : +81-3-3221-6674
E-mail :
Website :