Pictal Health
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Pictal Health

Visualizing symptoms, sensations and stories

Trends in how people picture their health

Workshopping it

Visualizing what happened on a timeline

Timelines using just words

This timeline stands alone pretty well, even though it’s only words.

Just words paired with a line graph

This person is mixing words with different colors; red words combined with a red line graph show when things took a down turn. Green, purple and brown words show other events/context.
Another example using words and a line graph — in this case the line graph seems to be going higher to show ‘more’ symptoms (getting sick, going to ER)
The simple annotated line graph shows how the person was doing along with important moments or milestones in the story (election night, police, ER, etc)
I love this example — this person has created a timeline of what happened but has circled their internal thoughts. “I started to be worried” “Now I think I am going to die”

Timelines using mostly pictures

This timeline uses drawings to show an injury, seeing a doctor, getting antibiotics, then going to the ER and OR to get treated.
I believe this is showing a person who experienced depression and sleeplessness as a young person and then was treated with prescriptions. I’m not sure what the Google logo is for. (Update: the person who created this contacted me and this is her comment: “It described my losing battle to sleepiness, doctors visits to figure out what was wrong, googling “cataplexy” which led to me self-diagnosis, more doctors and meds which landed me in ER.”)
First half hour of ski trip! Bummer! This person drew how they were injured and then spent the rest of the trip in bed, then went to the ER. I liked that they used the whole paper to show the ski hill.

Pictures and words

Here is an example that reads more like a comic book; pictures and words together create a story that stands alone well. (By someone with strong drawing skills clearly.)

More graphical representations of ‘how I was feeling’

In this image, the y-axis of the graph represents the ‘size’ of certain symptoms at a given point in time.
This person used a line graph to indicate how they were doing — up is good, down is bad — along with faces and exclamation points to communicate their condition worsening over time.
This was an interesting example of heavy use of face/emoji representations over time, paired with words and other small drawings.

And the kitchen sink

This person is using an area graph combined with words, pictures, and facial expressions to show what happened. I liked that they used so many different strategies in their approach.

Legibility factors

Drawing symptoms on a body shape

What did we learn?

The color red means pain, heat, injury

Sharp shapes indicate sharp pain

Star polygons and lightning bolts combined with red-orange-yellow indicate sharp pain. The lower left image shows swirly patterns inside — perhaps this is meant to be a colon?
This interesting drawing seems to show skewers in the head, along with pain in the left eye. What appears to be a delicious slice of pizza in the middle I’ve just realized is a shining light…so this might be a migraine image.

Radiating lines from a wound mean pain

Dots showed ‘itching’

These red dots were used to show ‘itchy pain’

Cross-hatching meant ‘tightness’

The image on the left shows cross-hatching on core muscles; the one on the right is showing a tight back/back pain.

People drew both literal and figurative sensations

Both people drew lungs as pink — very literal. The one on the left drew yellow liquid in the lungs.
The image on the left shows a lower back cut open with a sharp knife and flames coming out. The cube on the right seems to communicate tightness.

Cool tones helped contrast the area of pain/injury with the rest of the body

Participants had different strategies for visualizing mental state

Three of the above images show a ‘cloud’ around the head. We see words like woozy, help. The person in the lower left seemed to draw an actual brain (with the left and right hemispheres) combined with the words ‘can’t concentrate on anything else.’
The lines seem to indicate a feeling of alarm, worry.

People used facial expressions to communicate mood & sensation

The person on the left is clearly not happy. The one on the right is happy enough but has a lot of questions.
This is a fascinating way to think about pain. It makes me think — what if people could draw or paint on their actual bodies to show how they were feeling?

Body fluids

Note the colors — sweat is blue, vomit is green, the wound is red.

UTI similarities

What we learned, overall

Intent listening in progress

Takeaways for people who want to help patients tell their stories

In conclusion



Turning health histories into visual stories

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Katie McCurdy

Designer and researcher focusing on healthcare; founder of Pictal Health; autoimmune patient; chocolate-eater. katiemccurdy.com and pictalhealth.com