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New Perspective Through Thoughtful Design

June 25, 2013



Any logo or symbol that has stood the test of time has done so by adjusting to emerging trends in design and shifts in public perception. While many companies take the approach of continually refreshing and refurbishing their logo, the practice is certainly not limited to business.

Take, for instance, the latest update to the Handicap symbol. We’re all familiar with the static stick figure sitting in the rough outline of a wheelchair. The logo, having been in place and unchanged since 1968, served its purpose of making accessible areas more identifiable. But recently, many people living with disabilities have noted that the old design reflects a culture of immobility. What’s often neglected when thinking of the Handicap symbol is that people living with disabilities do not lead disabled lives.

A design team out of Gordon College responded to this criticism by crafting a brand new emblem that better reflects the mobile, active lives of the people represented by the symbol. The new Handicap symbol displays a more active figure; the arms are bent upward and the back and head are angled forward, depicting the actual movement of a person in a wheelchair. Even the subtle design change of placing the stencil cutouts at a 45-degree angle gives the wheels the appearance of motion.

The design team responsible for the updated symbol is being praised for the improvements that more accurately represent the community while still maintaining the easily recognizable appearance of the original design. The symbol has been certified as a Modified International Symbol of Access (ISA) and is quickly gaining significant traction; New York has already begun the process of implementing the new design and advocacy groups across the country are calling for its continued use.

Just like your home, if a logo is not maintained over time it loses value. Sometimes it can be as simple as updating a typeface or refining edges to match current design trends. But in other cases, more comprehensive changes may be necessary, as was the case for the revamped Handicap symbol. The rationale for the broad change was two fold: First of all, the symbol needed to reflect the current positioning of the represented community. Secondly, the change needed to be drastic enough to remove the “bad taste” that developed for the old image. The result is a refined design that more accurately reflects the current opinion of people living with disabilities while not appearing condescending or over-the-top.

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