In April the United States Department of Agriculture released its new Food Pyramid for healthy eating, a pictograph destined to be grouped with the Department of Homeland Security safety symbols in cautionary tales about miscommunication. The pyramid generated unflattering headlines across the country. Research papers that distinguish it as a low point in ergonomic communications are likely to follow.
The Homeland Security safety symbols have already earned that distinction. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) published a press release in January with the headline, “Article Highlights Confusion about Homeland Security Safety Symbols.” By way of illustration it noted that the symbol intended to mean, “Use a whistle if one is available,” was interpreted by participants in a study as, “Yell when you hear a whistle.” HFES concluded that up to 79 percent of the symbols are “unacceptable for communicating hazard-related information.”
An article published in February in The Ergonomics Report