Icon and user interface design for emergency medical information systems: A case study

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This is a review of Salmana, B. Y., Chengb, H.-I., & Patterson, P. E. 2012 article, “Icon and user interface design for emergency medical information systems: A case study”.[1]


Researchers designed a collaborative icon and graphical user interface design process between both medical personnel and professional designers to develop a usable system for emergency medical information systems. In order to achieve user satisfaction for the final icon design, the case study took several different steps including: medical personnel task analysis, surveying emergency personnel, icon sketching, result evaluation, and on premise installation. Research Design The main approach which has taken in this research for the process of medical information system development was a user centered development method which focused on users from the initial stage of development to final installation. In order to implement this approach, researchers took the following steps:

  1. Identification of the final user and elicitation of their usage context
  2. Business and functional requirements gathering
  3. System design
  4. Test system usability

The researchers explain how they applied ethnographical observations and contextual inquiry techniques in their system pre-design stage. They indicate that “ethnographical observations did not provide significant results” but they found the contextual inquiry useful in their research.


In order to introduce the study to the medical personnel of case study sites, verify research task analysis results, and collect employee feedback about icon, researchers performed a survey meeting with emergency personnel. They have collected 23 tasks from this meeting and asked emergency unit personnel with 85% rate of familiarity with computer icons to draw icons for these tasks. Then they evaluated and examined sketched icons and made modification by ergonomists and icon designers. Next, they evaluated the understandability of their sketches results by asking another group of medical personnel to test icons understandability by matching the icons to the correspondent tasks.

Results and Discussion

Since medical personnel had interest in the final results of the research and enjoyed the process of developing icons and graphical user interface, researchers believe that the participatory design was useful. In addition, they also believe that this process produces better design, which will allow for easier use and asserted that “participatory icon design process was effective in reducing system complexity and increasing usability”.


This research emphasized on an important aspect of graphical user interface design of electronic healthcare record systems and the impact of user centered icon and layout design on the final usability and user acceptance of the system. One point mentioned by the authors is the fact that the sample of medical personnel in this case study was limited to one region within a specific country, which is Turkey. Researchers mentioned that most of the personnel in the case study hospitals were Muslims and proposed a mosque for the “Religion” sign. The researchers resolved this issue by replacing 2 praying hands with original suggested icon by the employees. The fact is that there are some uncertainties about other users' comprehensions related to the icons designed. Users with different background and level of expertise might comprehend icons with a completely different meaning.


  1. Y. Batu Salmana, Hong-In Chengb, Patrick E. Patterson. Icon and user interface design for emergency medical information systems: A case study. Icon and user interface design for emergency medical information systems: A case study. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1386505611001699