Introduction to cartoons, icons and symbols

Cartoons, icons and symbols are very flexible forms of visual representations. In benefit-risk assessment of medicines, for example, they can be used to describe treatment procedures, possible outcomes or complications of a treatment and to show the benefit-risk balance in different populations. They can represent outcomes or concepts related to benefit-risk assessment, or may also be used within other types of visual such as the risk ladders, pictograms and scatter plots. They are suitable to be presented to the general public through mass media and the patients. They may also be good educational tools for experts, for example in illustrating medical procedures to medical practitioners.

Cartoons, icons and symbols have the potential to cross the language barrier and would be particularly useful for people who are sighted but are unable to read. It is important that cartoons, icons or symbols use in benefit-risk visualisations to be recognisable images which the intended users would have had experience seeing in the past to support the understanding [Wickens et al. 2004]. They rarely provide any information about the extent of a possible outcome, or may not be able to convey them accurately. There may be plenty of rooms for misunderstanding. Cultural differences may be the most prohibitive when it comes to cartoons, icons and symbols because the images may not be common or could even be offending to some cultures.

More specialised software packages are required to create more complex cartoons, icons or symbols. Script-based software such as D3.js and Processing could handle these types of visualisations but may require extensive programming and imagination. There are many ways in which cartoons, icons or symbols can be used as interactive or dynamic visuals such as allowing filtering by subgroups or to allow users to select the symbols to appear (e.g. men, women, pregnant women). On another level, these types of graphic also include videos and computer animated graphics to better tell the story and could help improve viewers' understanding, such as those can be found on