This blogs chronicles the abuse of the Swiss flag in place of proper medical signage. The goal is to point out that colors and symbols are important and you can’t just use whatever you like best when you’re designing something.
To remind you, this is the flag of Switzerland:
This is the Red Cross flag that is often abused to signify something medical:
So why are the Swiss flag and the Red Cross similar? Because the founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant, was Swiss and thought that an inversion of his (neutral) home country’s flag would be a good symbol to use for a humanitarian organization. Later the Red Cross symbol was used to label medical personnel, vehicles and buildings during battles.
Because the cross shape was associated with Christianity and this didn’t make everyone happy, the Red Crescent in the spirit of Islam was designed, as well as the Red Shield of David for the Israeli branch of the organization. This all gave rise to no end of controversy, so now we have a fourth symbol (the Red Lion with Sun, for Iran) and a fifth one (the Red Crystal, which is neutral). Hurray for symbol explosion! This stuff has its own Wikipedia article.
These are all protection symbols for use during wartime. None of them should be used on medpacks in games or on non-military ambulances during peacetime. The Red Cross and Red Crescent hates it when this symbol is abused like that. On ambulances, for example, you should instead put the Star of Life:
Since I am Swiss, I have to chuckle every time someone puts a Swiss flag somewhere and thinks it represents something medical, so in this blog I try to chronicle examples of this ignorance. I am not alone in poking fun at this, check out this editorial by Philip Stahel in the medical journal Patient Safety in Surgery, for example (it’s open access and free to read).
Putting your Swiss cross in a circle won’t make it any less Swiss or any more medical, either. Look at some traditional Swiss baked goods:
So is this biberli a medical item now? The hazelnut filling might be healthy despite the sugar, but no, the Swiss cross stands for Switzerland. There is even a law in Switzerland that states that you can’t put the Swiss cross on products that aren’t predominantly Swiss.
Of course that doesn’t apply to graphics artists and designers putting Swiss crosses on things that aren’t physical products. So in games and movies this goes unpunished, and it doesn’t apply outside Switzerland anyhow. If you’ve ever misplaced a Swiss flag but don’t collide with Swiss law for geographical reasons, you were just lucky so far!
Did you see a misplaced Swiss flag?
Let me know and I’ll include it here.