If a picture is worth 1,000 words, having the right picture is worth even more. When conveying a concept as nuanced as the difference between equality and equity, developing a visual that effectively engages diverse audiences and helps generate meaningful conversations can take time and a great deal of input, thought, and care.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has long recognized that graphics are an important educational tool, especially given how people consume information in our fast-paced world in which nearly everyone struggles with information overload. That’s why, in 2017, we developed what we refer to as our “bike” visual, to help people understand the difference between equality and equity.
That visual, available in English and Spanish, has proven to be extremely popular. We heard from elementary, middle school and high school teachers, schoolbook authors, pediatricians, human resource department personnel, and people all across the United States as well as in other countries. They told us they were using our visual to introduce and explain the concept of equity to students, colleagues, family members, and friends. It quickly became one of the most widely used visuals this foundation has created.
Still, the many requests led to many conversations, and they reinforced our view that our bike visual did not work well for everyone. So we concluded that it might be time to refresh it.
Two illustrations show pedestrians of various races, genders, ages and a person in a wheelchair. In the first entitled “equality” an adult male rides a bicycle with ease while the others cannot ride the same bicycle. In the “equity” illustration everyone rides bicycles tailored to them and the person with a disability rides an electric wheelchair.
We also decided that, while offering both the original and the updated versions of the bike visual, we would create a new and different visual about equity that is more inclusive. We wanted to offer an option that represents a more real-world situation, aligns better with the Foundation’s commitment to advancing health equity, and fits better with our style.
What You Told Us
To inform development of a new image, we surveyed readers of RWJF’s weekly newsletter, Advances, this year. In the survey, we asked subscribers to vote between the original 2017 graphic or an alternative we had just created.
Our survey got a massive response, with more than 1,100 people voting for their preference and more than 500 taking the time to share comments. Many commented on how useful the visual was, but also offered suggestions to improve it:
- Both options were highly regarded, with preferences almost split right down the middle (662 respondents preferred the original visual, and 520 liked the new version).
- There were differing opinions about whether to include text.
- Other feedback focused on racial and ethnic diversity, disability inclusion, and community conditions.
A New Equality/Equity Visual
The survey results led us to create both an updated bike graphic and a graphic based on an entirely new concept, which uses a curb to visualize the issue and introduces different characteristics of individuals and their environments. We used a human-centered design approach, ensuring the process was transparent and sharing drafts with a broad, diverse set of people including RWJF staff and consultants, members of our diversity-related committees, and many others. We gathered feedback from people with lived experiences with disability, parents of children facing accessibility challenges, and people in many fields and sectors. Their perspectives added tremendous value to the work.
Our process took into account how the visual would be used and in what situations and we prioritized developing a clear, simple graphic that was accessible and could be featured in fast-moving environments such as the web and social media, and in presentations. Our goal was to make it simple enough for a wide array of audiences to use and understand.
Two illustrations show four pedestrians of various races, genders, ages and people with disabilities attempting to cross an intersection. Structural barriers prevent some from crossing in the first entitled “equality”. In the “equity” illustration, a curb cut and accessible pedestrian signals provide safe passage.
We’re excited to share the new version. We hope that it, too, will be used widely by educators, employers, parents, policymakers, media, and many others. We also fully recognize that this work is never static—strategies, language, and the environment in which we do our work will change, so we are sure there will be further refinements and updates over time.
I have always believed that good design advances conversations and makes choices clearer. With our new equality/equity visual, we hope we have done that. I try to approach this, and all design challenges, with empathy for the audience. I think that makes me a better designer. But this one is very personal to me, as I know firsthand the importance of equity and removing barriers.