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Use appropriate images in a meaningful way

2014 Annual Conference brochure (2)The use of images can make a piece of health information more inviting, as well as illustrating the content or key messages.

However, inappropriate pictures, tables and graphs can cause confusion and send out the wrong messages. Visual representations should be user tested to ensure they explain or add to the content. See the section of ‘involving users’ for more information and resources about how to do this.

Flashing, blinking or animated images can difficult for visually impaired people. See the section on meeting the communication needs of your users for more information about clear communication for different groups.

The choice and standard of images will have an impact on how a document is perceived. For example, poor quality clip art may look unprofessional and damage the perceived reliability of the health information.

Why is this important?

Visual displays can be a powerful tool to convey health-related statistical information… However, some caution is warranted as visual displays may not be intuitively understood by everyone… Overall, all visual aids should be pilot tested for understanding (not simply preferences), and developers should take care to avoid using misleading images (such as graphs with misleading scales).

Trevena L, Zikmund-Fisher B, Edwards A, et al., Presenting quantitative information about decision outcomes: a risk communication primer for patient decision aid developers. (2013.) 13(Suppl 2). BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making.

The pictograms for the 10 different instructions and warnings showed great variation in interpretation rates...Pictograms have the potential to help patients understand information on drug therapy. This study shows that some existing pictograms are not easily interpreted and that testing is needed before their implementation.

Knapp P, Raynor DK, Jebar AH, Price SJ., Interpretation of medication pictograms by adults in the UK. (2005.) Jul-Aug;39(7-8):1227-33. Epub 2005 May 16.. Ann Pharmac other.
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Resources to support you

  • Coloured dots help people understand performance data

    This study looked at how different presentation formats influence patients’ comprehension and use of comparative performance information.

  • Harding Center for Risk Literacy

    Harding Center for Risk Literacy has a range of factsheets on different health topics showing how to express risk clearly using different visual representations (Facts Boxes).

  • Visual Rx

    A programme to create visual representations of statistical data.

  • Visualizing Health

    Graphic displays of health information that have been tested to see which which ones made the most sense to the general public. Each image can be adapted for your own objectives.

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How have others done this?

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