Apply the UPL

Principle 6: Communicate Visually

A picture really can be worth a thousand words, if it’s the right image, used thoughtfully and deliberately. Since patients learn in many different ways... Read More

A picture really can be worth a thousand words, if it’s the right image, used thoughtfully and deliberately. Since patients learn in many different ways, by making visuals integral to our communications, we are supporting many different communication styles. Moreover, we do a disservice to patients when we neglect to incorporate visuals, because there are important, complex ideas that are best communicated through the effective use of visuals.

We believe that when we communicate visually, we gain an opportunity to reinforce and reiterate important information, so that patients are more likely to understand, remember, and take action.

Tool: UPL Rules

The UPL Rules provide detailed guidance on how each of the Principles can be applied in practice. We think the UPL Rules are the best way to get a good understanding of how to put the UPL into practice.

Below is a sample of rules pertaining to Communicate Visually:

Rule 35. Repeat important, complex concepts in both words and pictures.

  • a. A label or words must always accompany icons.

    Using icons alone is not sufficient; while icons can help people navigate a communication, they are not effective for explaining complex ideas.

  • b. Photographs and decorative graphics can be used to create an emotional connection with patients, but they are often not effective when communicating complexity or serving a specific purpose such as helping the patient understand something, helping them organize their thinking, helping them interpret the text, or highlighting important information.
  • c. Use color to reinforce the connection between words and visuals.

Rule 36. Use images when explaining things that cannot be seen, such as how things work in the body.

  • Visual explanations are easier for most patients to understand.
  • a. When possible, use visual metaphors or analogues to help patients connect new medical knowledge to existing knowledge from outside of healthcare.
  • b. Try to avoid a hyper-realistic visual style, which often distracts from the most important messages for patients.
  • c. In general, do not re-use the same visuals from communications aimed at doctors, since they will usually be more difficult for patients to understand. (However, visuals from doctor communications will often be appropriate as a resource for patients who want to seek out more detailed, complex information.)

Rule 38. Use standard, recognizable shapes whenever possible.

  • a. Include visual conventions and internationally-recognized symbols to 
    convey meaning.
  • red octagon = “stop”
  • triangle with exclamation mark = “warning”

Download the complete set of UPL Rules:

Ready But Limited

This tool still has areas for improvement, and more resources will be added over time.

Tool: Graphic Assets Library

The Graphic Assets Library provides a starting collection of visuals that can be reused to support and strengthen patient understanding.

What you will find in the download:

Icons and Illustrations

In the library you will find reusable icons (.png and .eps) for actions, anatomy, treatment, and concepts.


Download the complete
UPL Graphic Assets Library:

A Starting Point

This tool contains some early work and may change significantly.

Case Study Highlight

Reimagining an Informed Consent Form

This case study highlights how we used the UPL to redesign an Informed Consent Form (ICF). To break down complex concepts for potential study participants, we incorporated charts and diagrams that visualize the information throughout the document.

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