They’re on the minds of a few peo­ple around work lately. We’ve got some pretty sig­nif­i­cant changes com­ing over the hori­zon, many hav­ing to do with a multi-​​year roll­out of an EMR system.

EMRs are basi­cally there to store patient records dig­i­tally rather than on paper. This is a stu­pe­fy­ingly obvi­ous con­cept, and it might be shock­ing to real­ize that a lot of med pro­fes­sion­als don’t use EMRs at all, par­tic­u­larly those in rural areas.

The rea­son is because of HIPAA. The law makes it plain that any dis­clo­sure of priv­i­leged med­ical infor­ma­tion to any­one not need­ing it will result in cen­sure, fines, fir­ing, facil­ity decer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the vio­la­tion of Brownie Scouts by Satanic biker gangs, and Earth falling into the sun.

Since there are always secu­rity con­cerns, par­tic­u­larly deal­ing with digitally-​​stored and network-​​accessible data, there’s a lot of resis­tance to adopt­ing the systems.

Anyway, the secu­rity group, com­mu­ni­ca­tions group, sys­tems group, etc. each want their own logos to inter­nally brand their work, which does make sense in a facil­ity that cov­ers a fairly wide county, deals with about 130 or so physi­cians, and ten times that num­ber of employ­ees. The trick is to do up a design that actu­ally meets those goals.

That’s a work in progress, though. More recently, I cranked out a design for a sur­gi­cal prac­tice with the ini­tials MSS. The physi­cian in charge there asked for a caduceus — hardly sur­pris­ing — but one that incor­po­rated the “MSS” into the design.

The thing about a logo is that it really needs to be a rec­og­niz­able sym­bol, some­thing that con­veys a con­cept while at the same time brand­ing a prod­uct or ser­vice. The term logo itself is rooted in the Greek for word, or pos­si­bly word-​​image. So even while it might not con­tain text, a logo has to con­vey some­thing that could be put across in words as well.

Think of the Nike swoosh: You know what it is just by its being men­tioned, and you know it con­veys speed. (To my eye it’s always resem­bled a road; it could also be seen as finishing-​​line tape.) The McDonald’s arches are an iconic ref­er­ence to the old design of their burger shops.

So I needed sim­ple, and yet evoca­tive, and rec­og­niz­able and scal­able. This is often over­looked by some design­ers; scal­a­bil­ity basi­cally means you can make the image wee teeny small or great big huge, and either way, it’s still rec­og­niz­able. Usually this means doing it as vec­tor art; how­ever, it’s pos­si­ble to make vec­tor art that’s essen­tially not scal­able. Draw a nice pic­ture at a can­vas size cor­re­spond­ing to a sheet of paper. Put some words in the image, then reduce its size to an inch across.

I was toy­ing with the idea of putting the ini­tials on a shield, mounted to the staff of the caduceus; or pos­si­bly on a rib­bon float­ing above or below; but those would have led to some­thing pos­si­bly baroque and def­i­nitely a lit­tle intri­cate to be iconic. Scalability would go out the win­dow on that one.

As I noo­dled and doo­dled, I real­ized in a well duh sort of moment that M, S, and S could them­selves be reworked to form a caduceus, if I was care­ful about it.

I scrib­bled a bit more and quickly saw that orna­men­ta­tion, such as the staff or feath­ers, wasn’t going to work. It clut­tered things up too much. So I boiled it down to the essen­tials. Got a work­able sketch.

And knew I was not going to be able to scan and live­trace this one in AI. The results would have been a lit­tle too organic. I wanted some­thing clean and crisp, but not entirely mechan­i­cal, a bit like a nicely-​​stroked, human­ist sans serif type­face. An image that would reduce or expand well, be clean enough to not belong to a par­tic­u­lar graphic style, but still have just enough warmth to it to feel less than totally clinical.

Well, after my Route 66 race shirt design, I was con­sid­er­ably less daunted by AI than before, so set to work draw­ing more or less freehand.

The first design was sort of there, but awk­ward. It felt a lit­tle too rounded and mushy, and I tried again — with results.

First, here’s the aborted attempt.

It really did not work. The em was head­ing along the right path, but it was too nar­row; and the snakes, in addi­tion to being over­sized, were asym­met­ri­cal. And I really did not care for their tails nor lack of heads; they looked a lit­tle too much like nema­todes. Not the kind of thing you’d want to asso­ciate with a med­ical practice.

Well hell. So I went back, more or less lit­er­ally, to that there olé draw­ing board, and with a bit of time, effort and tweak­ing, came up with this.

After that the rest was easy.

What pleased both the physi­cian and me was the way the em hinted at the look of the local dom­i­nant moun­tain range. That wasn’t entirely inten­tional, but when some­thing works, you go with it.

Now, with the EMR inte­gra­tion design, I’ll prob­a­bly be doing some­thing like it again in terms of process — start­ing out with a con­cept that’s a bit over­worked, but end­ing up with some­thing that can do well on its own. Along the way I’ll get to jug­gle the needs of sev­eral inter­com­mu­ni­cat­ing groups, each of which wants to feel equally important.

Ah well. Beats the hell out of work­ing for a living.

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