The project was led by Helen Whittle, working with Tina Detheridge and Cate Detheridge at Widgit Software.
To ensure that the changes to the symbol system and guidelines for new symbol production were useful to a wide range of people the Widgit Symbol Development Project had at its heart a consultative group. This was made up of 23 individuals who included speech and language therapists, educators, a psychologist and an AAC user. We are extremely grateful to this group who gave unstintingly of their time and expertise.
The project took the format of sending a series of questions to the group with a deadline. They were asked to answer the questions over a cup of coffee or in consultation with the symbol users they worked with. The replies were of a consistently high standard and were very detailed. All available space on the feed back forms were used to let us know what people thought of the symbols, and it was clear that there was significant consultation with users.
Initially the original symbols were examined closely to identify the key elements in the system, such as a question mark or shop symbol. Key elements and common design features were worked on first. The vocabulary was then considered in topics.
Some groups of symbols were easier to rethink than others, such as the symbols for shops and other buildings. Once a suitable key item had been found then the whole group of these symbols could be redrawn. These groups of symbols were the first to be put out to consultation. These were a good place for the project to start as in general they did not take too long to think about and agreement was reached quickly. In this way the consultation process became clear for all members of the group and the project produced some results fairly quickly.
As a result of this feedback new symbols were drawn and resubmitted for approval. Where there were no suggestions about alternative symbols from the consultation group or where there was no consensus a number of alternatives were drawn. These were sent out for further consultation. When these replies were returned the final decision about the content and format of the symbols was made from the consensus reached by the group.
At times there have been two clear viewpoints about a certain category of symbols and this has tended to be a split between those professionals working with people using symbols to develop literacy and those using symbols to support communication. This has in part lead to the development of alternative symbols for some concepts, and an intention to create differentiated wordlists for use with different types of users.